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The National Soul – 4) problems

July 23, 2011

(previous)

So, what if you accept what I’m proposing, just for argument’s sake. Surely it de-emphasizes the importance of the church. Why be a Christian if this was true? I’ll answer that shortly, but first lets explore that complaint a bit. What is it exactly that seems preposterous? That Hitler might possibly “squeak in” to heaven if he actually had one moment in childhood when he obeyed Christ? What about those “backsliders” – why do they “get to have their cake and eat it too”? What about all that wasted anxiety over “good” people who we used to think might go to hell and burn in conscious agony forever, if they may possibly get in on a technicality. Why all the talk of Israel being the “chosen nation”, i.e. what is the real significance of being “set apart”? What about the first century Christians who sacrificed their life – wouldn’t they have been better off verbally accepting Caesar as Lord and repenting later? When we have these questions I believe we are displaying how poorly we understand Christianity in the 1st place and how much we really do want to do our religious tasks, get our ticket to heaven, and then coast the rest of the way.

"Envy" in Hieronymus Bosch's Seven Deadly Sins

We’re saying to ourselves “I really do wish I could do all those worldly things”. We’re seeing Christianity as a chore – a bitter medicine that’s good for us, I guess, so lets get on with it… We’re displaying how much our soul isn’t of Christ. Is yearning for worldly things (by saying “how come they get to do that and still get to heaven?) a godly character? Is looking at the task ahead we have as Christians as only burdensome “of the Spirit”? Of course not.

The beauty of seeing scripture in light of our national soul is that it reveals a new level of God’s awesome grace at two levels: First we see that God could somehow reach out and save the lost children of the world who never consciously knew him, no matter what sort of monster they later become (all the while still hoping they will complete the circle and repent again). Without this we have to invent the concept of the “age of accountability”, where at one point we look at a young child as a “misguided innocent” and then a few years later, after sufficient derailment, we regard him as obviously rotten from the beginning, and just give mouth service to the thought that God could actually save him – especially if he dies without “saying the prayer”. With this new understanding we have even less ability to ignore (consciously or subconsciously) the great “unwashed masses”. Instead we can view every opportunity to find glimmers of Christ in people around us and “fan the flames” no matter how far fetched any immediate results may seem.

Secondly, it reveals that the most immediate mission field we have is our own soul. If we were aware of the possibility that we will be witnessing at point blank range the unquenchable fire of Gods wrath against the sin and unrighteousness in our own lives, perhaps we’d be praying more earnestly for our own obedience to Christ. I get the impression that many Christians do treat Jesus as a ticket to heaven – you’re either in or you’re out. Now while I’m saying that its still true at the level of individual beliefs and attitudes, its patently false to say that all that I am today, being a baptized publicly confessed believer, is who I’ll really be in the eternal state. The only one we could say is completely like their “former self” (disregarding the post-resurrection super-powers) was Christ himself.

So lets say that Adolf Hitler does, miraculously, “squeak in”. How much of the monster that the world saw in the 1930s and 40s will actually be left? Of course none of us can really say, but I’d venture he’d be one of the ones most likely to come with a very child-like state as (not being a Hitler historian) I don’t see any evidence of Christ after that age.

When we see the backslider (formerly upright Christian who now has gone back to former sinful lifestyle patterns) with secret or subconscious envy – i.e. feeling anything other than pity for them – we are backsliding ourselves. My speculation about true backsliders (oscillating between states of true belief and outright self-centred defiance) usually leads to images of a checker-board personality in the eternal state, which even though less desirable than a fully godly countenance, God may yet have some unique purpose for in eternity.

What then is the difference between a Christian who (by definition) is saved and the non-Christian who in part is also saved by Christ choosing him? I believe the difference is the Holy Spirit. The former group has the awareness of the Holy Spirit as a constant presence in his/her life. In non-churchy language that means the Christian knows he/she is a Christian, they are conscious of who is the author of any righteousness in their life, and that constant “awareness of other” acts in their life to coordinate this good (Christly) thought with that good action, and coordinate good societal actions and events with other Christians around them. The latter group still has to still has to have the Holy Spirit acting within them at times, but I belief its more like the instances in the old testament when certain people at times were filed with the Spirit and at other times were not. Of course when God acts in history, he’s fully free to act upon the non-believing nations and individuals, even so far as using “deceiving spirits” – those spirits who choose to be deceiving(but that’s another side issue). The point is, instead of there being 2 groups in redemptive history – “us” and “them” – you can imagine it at first to be three groups: the saved, the unsaved, and the gray area in between. This is entirely in keeping with the concept of election (the idea that God chooses people for eternity prior to them even being born). A five point Calvinist is often criticized in his staunch view of election with the following taunt: “If the believers are truly elect from before they were created, why bother evangelizing at all?” Of course the answer is that God fulfils his election of an individual by way of his other children preaching the word to them.

I’ve often thought of the goal of evangelism as, instead of conversion which conjures up ideas that it is we who are “making the person into a Christian”, it should rather be thought of as “discovery”. That is, we explore the people around us gently like a puzzle and try to see if we can find Christ already there, and try to coax that aspect out of the person using the truth in scripture to the point of awakening and repentance. “But Dave”, you say, “God explicitly talks of the sheep and the goats”, and to that I say yes, of course, but that’s from Gods pint of view. From our point of view, I believe we are to look at the world not like Jonah nor Elijah, almost hoping God will smite all those pagans, but to expect there to be a hidden remnant God has placed there for us to bring out, and the remnant is inside the sinner in front of us (whether or not we’re looking in the mirror).

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2014 1:04 pm

    This is a very interesting point of view, David. It explains a lot to me about the dichotomy of “the chosen people” (or nation or tribe), and the not so lucky. I’ve never liked the idea of predestination; it always came across to me as an arrogance. But what I hear you saying here, is that there is the opportunity those seemingly excluded might still have for redemption–at least as far as we mortals know what God’s will is with respect to an individual. Which of us mortals knows if someone is truly an elect? Your final question “why evangelize at all?” is responded to clearly: that we allow for the possibility that there may be a hidden remnant of God placed there to bring out through evangelism. This is a generous position.

    From what I understand, Protestantism in general does not hold there to be any other requirement for salvation, but that faith alone is sufficient. But, I understand that under Calvinism, ” While people are said to retain free will in that they willfully sin, they are unable to not sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. To remedy this, Reformed Christians believe that God chose or predestined some people to save. This choice is believed to be unconditional and not based on any characteristic or action on the part of the person chosen.” (From your Wiki link). These two ideas don’t seem to fit together well, as you’ve discussed.

    I have before voiced my dislike of the concept of “the chosen people”, being exclusionary, of not being descended from the right tribe through no fault of one’s own, and I get the same feeling here, that some of us don’t stand a chance under Calvinism. I think at the bottom of it, we don’t stand a chance under your “inclusivism” either. It is a question of degrees. A lot like poor Dances with Bears, is he to be excluded from salvation? I think Calvinism is saying that he would not be excluded if God had predestined him to be saved, or excluded if he was foreordained to damnation. What role then does living a righteous life play in his day to day affairs? If all is preordained, how does morality fit into the picture? Without personal autonomy, I don’t think morality is possible.

    (As an aside: The point of morality is that it serves as a guide for people’s actions. Because of this, moral judgments are made about actions which involve choice. It is only when people have possible alternatives to their actions that we can say those actions are either morally good or morally bad. This has important implications because if the existence of God is incompatible with the existence of free will (other than the will to sin), then none of us have any real choice in what we do and, therefore, cannot be held morally accountable for our actions.)

    Dances with wolves would also be worshipping false gods, I presume, too, which you would say is a lie that can’t be reconciled with God.

    You mention that under Calvinism, a true Christian can’t lose his place in heaven, but to the Arminians, free will can cause man to lose his salvation. This, by the way, is a one-way risk. It doesn’t work the other way around, that one who is not one of the elect, can win their place in heaven.

    God may allow for some people to possess a shred of His Grace and thereby be elected, but for some others, God may choose to create people with no redeeming value at all. There is no chance for redemption, regardless of their faith, their morality, their actions. The grey area in between the saved and the unsaved isn’t really grey, it remains black and white under inclusivism too. Except, I hear you saying, that the way we look at each other must be inclusive “just in case”. You say, “Of course the answer is that God fulfils his election of an individual by way of his other children preaching the word to them.” But at the bottom of it, there is nothing you can do for a person who is not earmarked for salvation.

    And, as a last point, it is unfortunate, to me, that the followers of other religions cannot be saved. At all. End of story. There really is an “us” and “them”. I understand that this cannot be reconciled with God because of the commandment, I presume. But this idea sure limits the generous values of inclusivism. Still, the idea of “discovery” in exploring others’ redeeming qualities is generous. And as a Calvinist evangelical Christian (?), I see that yours is a generous position. And I admire that within the constraints of your faith.

    ——————————-

    Also, I appreciate and find compelling the idea of equating the nation of Israel with one’s character as a whole, while the kings and generations of Israel over the centuries represent our personal characteristics. From a literary point of view, this is indeed intriguing. And your arguments are well made and clear about this. The National Soul idea is a good one. I like your idea of the one/many pattern in the bible correlating with the individual person, the one, and the many–the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes which collectively make up a “soul”. There is room here for discussion! It seems quite beautiful an idea.

    ——————————–

    • Dave permalink*
      September 1, 2014 10:34 pm

      Hi Michael, I thought your comment deserved a long enough reply to require a separate post. I’m not sure how to link to it from here, but its dated Sept 1, 2014

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  1. The National Soul – part 3 « the National Soul
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