fides apprehension

Every time I see a prominent Christian figure interviewed in the media I cringe, because every time, without fail, it is the same questions: Will the Muslim be in heaven? Will the Jew be saved? Will this sin or that be pardoned? Will the atheist, apathetic, or abortionist be shown grace?

But it is not the question of which I am afraid. Rather, I’m afraid that Steven Superpastor might attempt an answer. Nothing unnerves me more at these moments than the isolated scriptural reference; a sort of half-court chuck, thrown up, over, and far beyond the proverbial backboard in a premature panic, shattering a distant second-floor window and knocking unconscious some unassuming kid in his room wrestling with his brother. “Well Larry... Jesus said...and you just can’t argue with that, so I think he’s made it pretty clear.”

But what business do we have hypothesizing about the judgments of God? And what kind of person wants ever to rationalize the damnation of another human being? It is a sick business. Who are we to measure, assess, or assume the limit of God’s grace and forgiveness?

In the 23rd Psalm, as in all the Psalms, David reflects on his walk through the whole of life: through the good green pastures, from the monotony of still waters, to the deep depths of despair in what he calls “the valley of the shadow of death”. Amidst it all, he seems to sense God’s leading him, upholding him, restoring, and preparing a way for him. It’s a popular excerpt, probably one of the most comforting quotations lifted from the Bible today. It’s calming. David says that the Lord, “restores his soul”. What a wonderful thought. But interesting, just one Psalm prior, we have almost the opposite. There we find an intense lament from the writer. There he’s distressed, screaming out to God--whom he believed abandoned him--without answer. It’s deeply disconcerting. But a moment later, just down the page in the 23rd Psalm, there is this mysterious sense of relief, of safety in the presence of God. What a huge leap.

Most translations close the Psalm with these familiar words, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” But maybe the translators tamed this one down a bit for us. The verb being translated “follow” is the Hebrew word radaf which literally means to aggressively hunt down, take captive, or harass. Radaf was most often used in characterizing hostile actions done by one’s enemies. So it is interesting that David would use radaf in this context. We might expect an antagonist, a militant enemy, intending to radaf us to the death. The last thing we should expect would be goodness and mercy here--and certainly not God himself.

How ironic, the Psalmist's picture of God’s aggressive, excessive, unduly love for us. He persecutes us with his love, his goodness and mercy hunt down and subdue us, disproportionately, to some degree even inappropriately, for we cannot compete with or equally reciprocate his affection for us. Our love for God is therefore itself responsive, it is reactive in nature, not evidence of any earned worth, worthiness, or spiritual superiority. certainly it is not provocation for our salvation. The gospel of John puts like this, “We have the power of loving, because he first had love for us." Paul puts up a point after adding, "It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

We do not pursue God. We are incapable. In the letter to the Philippians, the writer instructs his readers to, “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling.” Why? Because, “ is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” This notion that I act out salvation in isolation, that I initiate this thing by myself,--to the degree to which it saves me--could not be further from grace. For we are ourselves pursued, sought, and afflicted by a terrible and weighty love. The totality of such a thing is distressing, perhaps more frightening than anything imaginable.

What could be more false than measuring infinite love? What could be more degrading to our own knowledge of God than to imagine the forgiveness, grace or mercy of the immeasurable one to be completely understood or attained by our own efforts? Do we imagine ourselves as ascending toward the divine? How foolish our professions. True faith can never be limitative. It can not be measured by harmony or accordance with what are merely rational human orderings of that which is divinely inordinate.

The Christian's hope should be that God's grace might be big enough for all people, his payment sufficient for eradicating all our outstanding debts. If the Christian should err in his assumptions, may he err in a grace that wishes to be too generous, too hopeful, too convinced that this God who loved the world, indeed loves it in entirety.

May his goodness and kindness hunt you down, subdue, harass and take you captive. And may we all surrender to his love.