Friday, October 8, 2010

Trusting in broken instruments

So, here at Oxford I'm taking a course on C.S. Lewis in context. The first part of that context is George MacDonald, who's books so influenced C.S. Lewis that Lewis called him his "Master," despite the fact that he never met him. As part of the course, I read Phantastes and Lilith, his two most popular "faerie tales." They were very enjoyable, Phantastes much more so than Lilith, and I highly recommend the first to anyone who has run short on books while remaining long on spare time. MacDonald uses these two books in large part to act out his theology in faerie land, most of which I found very enjoyable and agreeable. However, towards the end of Lilith I realized that there was one large aspect of his theology with which I did not agree. I actually felt bad for disagreeing, because it was such a nice, pleasurable thought to have--the thought that eventually, everyone, even Satan and his angels, not to mention every last person on earth, will be saved and end up in heaven.

While attempting to explain the problems to Anna and my other friends, I realized that it seemed difficult to do so without sounding like a jerk who doesn't want God to save everyone. I didn't really know what to do about this--I couldn't just accept it and believe it, couldn't even just let it go by unnoticed, but I couldn't really put the reason into words. Luckily, my friend Kyle did it for me--while we were talking about it, he said he knew what I meant but that "we don't really have the freedom to believe what we want, just because it feels good." That's not word for word, but I think it's pretty close (Kyle will correct me if i'm wrong). Now I'm gonna talk about that for a bit.

We can't just believe whatever we want to believe. This might come as a shock in an age where relativism and individuality reign supreme, where truth has become no more than opinion with a different name. If you are a Christian, you cannot believe whatever you want to believe. We do not have that freedom. We have truth--it has been given to us, and being given this great treasure, we cannot throw it away just because it doesn't suit us.

Now, this might sound really harsh, especially when I'm talking about the doctrine of universal salvation. It's a really nice doctrine. It makes me feel good inside. I wish that it were true--I wish everyone would eventually go to heaven. I think most people would like to think that. The reason we don't believe that is that the Bible explicitly says, in several places, that this is not the case. Not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat. 7:21). The devil and his angels have an eternal fire prepared for them and those who do not follow Christ will join them in everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:41-46). The fires of Hell do not go out (Mark 9:48). I could go on and on.

We do not have the freedom to believe whatever we want. We must hold fast to the truth revealed in the Bible, revealed by God himself. Now, I admit that this is very tough. It can be incredibly hard to hold at once belief that God is good, that God is love, and the belief that people will still go to hell. This is difficult. But it has been revealed that both of these things are true.

I'm going to finish up with a thought I've been carrying around for a while. We are fallen, yes? Our bodies are broken--we age, we hurt, we break down, we die. People are born deaf, blind, mute, or lame. Others (like myself) have impaired vision, some have impaired hearing. All of us have something wrong with us. We acknowledge that. It's a basic fact. Why is it that we forget that when it comes to our mental and spiritual faculties? Why is it that, with the imperfect nature of our bodies being demonstrated on an hourly basis, we retain the strongest confidence in our minds, our reason, our logic? Of course, we're not completely blinded, mentally or spiritually, but you would have to be a crazy person to insist, with all the physical affects the fall has had on even the healthiest person, that our minds are untouched, operating perfectly.

There's no perfect analogy for what I'm trying to say (or if there is, it hasn't occurred to me in the last half-hour). Let's say my vision is really bad (easy to say, because it's actually true). Let's say my contacts are out. I can't see very well at all. Now, let's say I'm looking out on the most majestic, beautiful landscape you can imagine--maybe I'm standing at the edge of Halfdome or something. Now, to me, that beautiful landscape is just a blur of fuzzy colors. It probably won't look very impressive. But there's someone standing beside me with perfect vision, and this person has proved himself to be trustworthy. This person is describing the magnificent view to me. Would it make sense for me to disbelieve him because it contradicts my personal experience? Of course not! My personal experience is flawed! The instruments with which I navigate the world are broken. The same goes for the spiritual world. When the Bible tells us something that we find very difficult to understand, we have to remember that we are spiritually impaired. We don't see the whole picture--in fact, at this point we are fundamentally incapable of seeing the whole picture. So we trust the Word of God, even if we don't understand.

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