(Reposted from 2011 under a new title by Ron Goetz)
My sister was born with brain damage. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. The doctors waited 24 hours before deciding to perform an emergency C-section. This was fifty-two years ago, before he great advances in fetal monitoring and he massive upsurge in emergency C-sections.
I was four years old when Jill was born. Holding her in my lap when my parents brought her home from the hospital is a vivid memory. “Be careful, Ronnie. Hold her gently.”
“They called me Bitarded!”
Jill was a happy little girl. My most vivid memory of her early years is of how she loved to sing. She didn’t start talking until she was about four, but she was singing her little heart out way before that. I remember several times hearing her singing in the bathroom. There she’d be, sitting naked in the bathroom sink with the cold water running, singing away with joy.
School changed much of that. You know what they say about how cruel children can be. For more years than I can remember I would come home from school and Jill would tell me how bad the children had been to her, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“They chased me and called me names.” “They pushed me against the fence and hit me.” “They called me bitarded!”
Every day after school for four or five years, I listened to her, weeping for a half-hour to an hour about how mean the kids had been to her that day.
These conversations continued even when I came home from Bible college for the holidays. Jill immediately corralled me for at least the first hour of my visit to talk about all her problems.
Theology, Ideology — Deady Combat
I did my undergrad work at Simpson College, the denominational school of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (A.W. Tozer country). I dove into the theological debates that are so typical of earnest young Christians: supernatural spiritual gifts, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and eschatology. In my classes I learned about the different ways Christians interpreted the Bible, and about the theological debates we’ve had throughout our history. The church was truly a diverse community, at least intellectually!
Illiterate Peasants in Hell — Accidents of Geography
The upshot of all this? In my courses I learned that Christians had disagreed over the Bible and theology from the very beginning, argued over it, and even killed over it. Somehow I knew that illiterate peasants born in Italy, England, Russia, and Saxony weren’t going to hell because their Pope, King, Patriarch, or Prince believed some “erroneous” doctrine or another. God doesn’t send people to hell because of where they happened to be born. During the Reformation Protestants killed Catholics, Catholics killed Protestants, and they all killed Anabaptists.
And I learned from Jill that the biblical and theological debates that were so interesting to me were not of ultimate value. They weren’t that important, no matter how fascinating they seemed to me, no matter how many books I’d collected on the subject. Jill had been baptized, believed in the Lord, she’d even received the gift of tongues. She loved to sing worship songs that she’d written herself. But theology? Bible interpretation. No, not even.
So, before I was barely into my 20’s I had reached a kind of doctrinal relativism, a deprivileging of theology and biblical absolutism. There are a lot of ways to describe it, I suppose. Our faith, our relationship with God, had to be simple enough for someone like my sister.
The “If-you-died-tonight-do you know if-you’d-go-to-heaven?” Evangelistic Strategy
In high school I was brought up on the following theological evangelistic strategy: “If you died tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven? If you appeared at the judgment seat and Christ asked you, ‘Why should I let you enter my kingdom?’ what would you say?”
Later on I learned that I didn’t need a made-up, unbiblical scenario for the judgment. A biblical scenario already existed in Matthew 25, and in Jesus’ version we don’t have to give a reason why we should be let into heaven. Jesus already knows who he’s letting in, his ultimate criteria for acceptability are clear, and there is no doctrinal exam involved.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Those who are acceptable to the Judge don’t even know they’re acceptable, or why.
I similarly believe the security of our salvation rests in God, and quality or our salvation rests in how we have responded to our personal invitation. Some refuse it all together. Some choose doctrine over relationship, and substitute minutia over the substance. To many, relationship is a fearful and unsustainable dread- most of the time, and yes even the most ardent of believers, some of the time, but Jill’s faith ‘rests solely’ on relationship, minus any biblical filter, and minus any dread of any sort. In Jill’s case unlike the apostle Peter, there has never been the need to ask Jill, “do you love me”. She accepted the invitation without worrying about where she would be seated, about how she might look in front of other guests, she came to celebrate her Lord clothed in what had been given her (as the bride of Christ), never worrying about how (she looked) as her eyes have always been focused on Him.
Many are invited to the wedding feast. More than a few find excuses not to attend. And still others want to attend lacking any preparation (empty lamps). Coming to the feast carries the responsibility of relationship, not a well crafted case as to why we should be let in the door.
“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
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The righteous don’t know they’re righteous, or why they’re acceptable. They’re not concerned with issues of acceptability. They just act out their compassion toward people, the way you do. The only “final exam” is did you help them or not.
We all have pea-brains compared to all the knowledge there is. A professor only has deep knowledge of a very thin slice of things. Others only know an even narrower strip of life, like Jill–whatever few lines are on her current multiple-sclerosis feedback loop.
We know in part, we prophesy in part. And even what little we think we know will one day be done away with. The humility of people like you, and your willingness to help people even when it hurts your own interest, these are a good thing. They’re something lots of people can relate to, something to which lots of people can aspire.
Yes, I know that our little shreds of virtue don’t mean much on a planet of six billion people, but who cares? Name one person who lived 3,000 years ago, or 30,000.
None of us asked to be born. We’re all basically stuck in the same situation. Most of us are doing the best we can just surviving, and maybe trying to make sense of things (if we have the luxury of that energy). I am convinced that the best any of us can hope for is to make the lives of those around us a little less painful, a bit easier.
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Hello Ron, what an experience you shared in the post.
When I first noticed that the justified ones did not even know by what criteria they were justified, I was overwhelmed. I saw that these were consumed by the Spirit’s Life, living out the ultimate counsel and will of God. It was natural, spontaneous to them and they did not see the works as theirs. All of the works were of God, they had nothing to boast about. In summary, Christ was their life and God is LOVE.
For the other party there was a lot of evidence to prove them justified, but not before God. The works although with claims of being done in the Master’s Name were works of the flesh, not of the Spirit. The Master was not the one living through them. God’s Love was absent.
*God’s Love does not despise His Bride.
That was lovely and caused me to cry (which is a marker of good worship to me). Thank you for writing this,
Thank you too, for letting me know what the story meant to you.
Thank you too for your reminder of God’s chosen fast.
It would be nice to have a “search” feature, i.e., I thought this would be a good site for discussion on the anti-christ for whom I was told to keep a look-out for thoughout my childhood. I have a friend who really believes one in power now could be that dreaded one. (Though my friend’s not considered a religious person, he tries to be a good man. And he’s an educated man.)
While those paying attention fear for our country, I always expected the anti-christ, if one ever WAS born would have a high level of intelligence. I’ve grappled with the teachings of my childhood since before I’d reached even before the age of 10, because I saw so much hypocrisy. Even then, I knew God wouldn’t condone using tithe money to “fancy up’ the church, as my Granny said. She attended a small clapboard one where some spoke in tongues, which I also didn’t get.
Thank you for this site. I hope to figure a way to share the point re-emphasized about what it takes to get into heaven. (I’m not savvy to the ways of FB.)
Thanks for your comments, Debi. I identified with your experience, how you had intuitions of things wrong with what you were seeing. You had intuitions about the hypocrisy you saw around you, you knew God would not approve of how money was being spent.
Please keep your eyes open and your mind working, forever. You cannot trust other people to discern your situation, including your leaders. The Bible says that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
About the anti-Christ. Basically, there have always been Christians who would make a case for some big political figure being the anti-Christ. Virtually all the popes have been attacked as being the anti-Christ. Other people accused include Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon Bonaparte, Nero, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Frederick II of Prussia, Juan Carlos I of Spain, Javier Solana, Ray Mabus, Grigori Rasputin, and Charles, Prince of Wales.
After a while you just have to ignore people trying to prove someone is the anti-Christ. Just like you have to ignore people predicting the Second Coming of Christ. There’s so much here, there’s too much here.