Thursday, October 6, 2011
Knowing Christ and Knowing Love
A farmer plants an olive tree and tends it with love and careful attention. As it grows, it spreads branches, and in turn these branches grow yet more. Despite his efforts and attentions, one of the large branches of the tree is barren, and bears no fruit. The farmer expresses no surprise that the branches extending from this limb are likewise barren, and he does not expect that any child limb of this growth would suddenly yield fruit. Yet, if the farmer sees that a limb is going bad, he has the ability to cut limbs from the tree and graft them back onto the tree on a healthier branch, and would then not be shocked when it brought forth fruits.
I have been continuing my musings begun in this prior post, bolstered by C.S. Lewis (Specifically The Great Divorce) and several happenstance conversations about God with people I know (or just happen to have run into) who live at very different places in their faith. I have been honing in on two things which I hold to be true, and trying to find the understanding which will help them to snap together in harmony in my mind. These two facts are that 1) It is not my place, or the place of any Christian, to judge if someone is learning about God in a way that is needful to them even if they have not embraced the Christian label. 2) Moral relativity is a seductive trap, and there are choices we make which lead us to evil ends, not all paths lead to God. Let me explore these ideas in more depth.
C.S. Lewis observed about Heaven; “Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already." We can make choices which are evil, we can turn from the face of God and elect to move away from him into sin. God is the Eternal Truth, the bedrock of ultimate reality, and actions which distance one or others from him are not a different sort of good, they are evil. God is not a circle which surrounds us and we will find him whichever way we choose to walk, he is the sun, and those plants which grow towards him flourish and bloom, while those which grow into shade whither and wilt.
Yet, as elements of his creation we are not wild plants at the mercy of nature, we are in His garden, and subject to his tending. He is capable of guiding us to grow towards the light, and if that fails, pruning us and grafting us back to a stronger part of the tree, just as with the olive tree in my opening tale. The sinner who has fought against God but feels his hand and lets himself be moved, and reborn on the new branch, is nearer to God than the branch which twines around another and sits shunted in the shade of higher branches, with no desire to flourish or grow more fully. For unlike plants, we can oppose God’s care and prevent him from doing his work to improve or save us. In this way, someone who is distant from God, but angry at Him, may still be listening for Him in their life, waiting for something that makes sense, while one who is sure that he is right with God stops listening and refuses his touch when God tries to give him guidance and correct his misconceptions.
The catechism of the Anglican Communion tells us the nature of sin is that which distorts of relationship with God and thus His creation. From this, we must take as an article of faith that the choices we make can be seen as good or evil, but that we as mere mortals may lack the perspective to know which is which. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, and our relationship with the perfect servant of God’s will, our Savior Christ, to provide us with ongoing guidance in our lives. Even so, when we come before the throne of God, every one of us will discover that we have sinned unknown to us, and that we have made grave errors in our understanding of the Eternal. Living in the here and now, we cannot elect to use the professions that man makes as to if he is right with God or not, we must judge him by the fruits of his choices.
Those who seek to spread love, to elevate others above themselves and to live in humility before the divine, even if they do not profess the name of Christ are drawing nearer to God, and preparing themselves to recognize their Savior when it is the time for him to be revealed to them. Conversely, those who parade the name of Christ but seek to promote themselves as the righteous, incite intolerance and hateful behavior against others, and promote a view of Christians as the rightful masters of the other people of earth distance themselves from God and possibly even blaspheme the Son, but they may yet be saved by the Spirit when the scales drop from their eyes and they see how far astray they have gone. This frustrating complexity drives home the reason why Judgment is not our role as Christians. Our role is to seek to live in a more Christ like manner, to spread his love and tend to the least among us, and to leave it to God to judge who are of his flock and who are not known to him.
To quote C.S. Lewis again, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell . No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.” We cannot know by the words or public appearances of a man if he is right with God or not, this truth extends even to what he profess about his faith. Some who think they do not follow Christ may in the end find they have known him all along, and rejected not The Son, but a specific mortal teaching about who The Son is which they were unwilling to accept, while others who live their lives loudly proclaiming their service to Jesus may find that at the Throne they do not recognize him, and reject the Joy of God to keep seeking for the Jesus of Pride they know in their hearts. In conclusion, I think that it is an easy and false trap to feel that respect and compassion towards those who do not proclaim the name of Christ is the sin of moral relativity which would deny and undermine his ministry.