Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Is By Brains You Have Been Saved

So a bunch of people in my office had babies this winter. I went and bought some board books (the classic work of literature "Hand Hand Fingers Thumb") and left them at the desks of the baby-havers. With a friendly signed note on top telling the recipient why it was such a great book. It had to be signed, see, so that people would know who to be grateful to. 

Orthodoxy is right teaching. Orthopraxy is right action. My husband the Roman Catholic struggles with leaning too heavily on the -praxy side to assure his salvation. Like all good Protestant evangelicals, I lean too heavily on the -doxy side.

I got taught that we are not saved by our works, but by our faith. And faith meant belief. It meant believing, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus had died as a blood sacrifice for our sins in order to pay our debts to God. It was Jesus' death that allowed people who believed in his death to get to Heaven. If you believed and if you prayed a prayer asking God to forgive you of your sins and Jesus to come into your life, it meant you were born again.

One night I lay in bed sobbing because our neighbor was dying of emphysema and she wasn't born again. She had grown up in a Christian Science household and now she hated everything to do with Christianity. I thought that her going to Hell when she died wasn't fair. It wasn't her fault that people who said they were Christians treated her badly as a child and didn't tell her the right things. I wished that God could break the rules and let her into Heaven the way she was now, but I knew better than to ask God for something that was against God's will. So I prayed that God would change her mind and make her believe the truth so that she could be saved.

Fast forward to college, and I was asking all of the faith-crisis questions that people raised in that tradition ask: what about people born before Jesus? What about people who were raised in solid Muslim or Hindu households? What about people who only meet crappy witnesses? How come I get saved just because I was born into a Christian community?

I'll probably spend the rest of my life wrestling with questions about salvation, but right now I don't think you get saved by belief. I think you get saved by grace. Not by saying a prayer that God has to respond to, as if I'm clicking my heels and repeating "There's no place like home." Not by believing, with no doubts whatsoever, in all the bullets on a creed or church statement of belief. I can't summon up God and get myself saved with my own brain power.

I also think that God can save anybody God wants to, even if they don't fit the usual model of confessing Christian. This model where people get saved not by Christ, but by agreeing that Christ did save them, thank you very much, seems kind of like God leaving a signed note on our salvation: God will only save you if you understand what it means to be saved. You know, so you can be properly grateful. 

And it's a great way to be lazy. The belief that my belief saves me becomes an excuse for me to not follow Christ. Why deal with the pain and poverty of others when I can smugly tell them that all they need in order to be okay is to think the same thing I think?

So now I'm not so sure about being sure. I don't think that I can think myself into Heaven. I don't know where that leaves me. A lot less secure. A lot more grateful. Certainty leaves no room for hope. Now that I'm uncertain, my life is a lot more hopeful.

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