Hunches, hopes, hints about grace
Question: If we are saved by God’s grace and yet we continue to turn our back on God, i.e., we don’t practice our faith, we don’t pray, we don’t read God’s word, we continue to repeat the same sins over and over, etc. if we die are we saved or did we fall short of God’s grace? Ref: Hebrews 10:26-31
This is why theologians get paid the big money [insert ironic chuckle here].
We are supposed to know what is going to happen when we die and why.
Let me be straight up and, on behalf of a whole bunch of us, say: We don’t. For sure. We have hunches, we have hopes, we have hints, but we don’t really, really know.
It’s tricky, right? There are texts that can really scare the dickens out of a person. Take a look at the one you mention: Hebrews 10:26-31.
And why stop there?
Matthew 7:13, Luke 16:26, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 20:13-15 all can be cause for deep fear and even despair….and there are a lot more where these came from.
Of course, other texts aren’t so frightening, and actually suggest a wider door.
1 Tim. 2:6, 1 Cor. 15:22, Romans 5:17, Col. 1:20, 1 John 2:2.
Of course, each of these texts are bound to the verses before and after it, and bound by the author’s historical context, and many can be interpreted a number of ways.
My point here is that the Bible (in the cases listed above, the New Testament) isn’t as monolithic as one might believe.
Not that it is a huge surprise for those who read my blogs carefully, but I am of the mind that the question of what happens after we die is largely a theological question, and that in the end, we have to humbly say that we don’t know…and that we will not be paralyzed by that notion.
The way in which you phrase your thoughts, however, raises some interesting questions. You begin by saying that “If we are saved by God’s grace….” and close by wondering if we can “fall short of God’s grace.”
My immediate thought is, saved from what?
My second thought is, what is grace?
And my first answer to the first thought is, sin.
And my first answer to the second thought is, the gift of something undeserved.
And so two theological questions:
If we really believe that God offers grace (an undeserved gift) to we who sin (namely we who reject God in favor of something else) then:
1. isn’t the demand to repent, to stop the sin, to pray, etc…..aren’t these all acts to make us deserving of grace? And along side of that (this doesn’t cut into my two questions, btw! ), then what is grace, really? Can we fall short of something we don’t deserve in the first place?
2. Who doesn’t sin, and (again, still part of the same question!) who is aware of all the ways in which one sins? Is it ever possible to confess and repent of all our sins?
These are just beginning questions. Then begins a whole run of ‘em.
Are all sins choices, or could there be sinful behaviors which are bound up in mental illness, in fatigue, in family systems?
Do we really want to say that only Christians are going to heaven…and does even Scripture make that case?
Is this a slippery slope to universalism?
And if “all people get into heaven,” then what’s the point of believing?
Ah, but then there are counter-questions:
Like, if a person believes to get into heaven, isn’t the integrity and authenticity of the belief self-serving, since it appears to be motivated by a protecting one’s own eternal hiney?
When does one believe “enough” to be in God’s good graces?
Is there anyone who is purely good? And even if not entirely good, are there parts of people which are fundamentally good, and then are those parts not in need of salvation….and what would that mean?
But don’t good deeds matter somehow?
And yet if we say that they do, then don’t we say that we in part can save ourselves?
And what happens if we’ve lived a pretty good life, and in the moment that we allow ourselves to wonder these sorts of things, get hit by a car? What is going to be God’s final answer?
Regardless of how one comes down on the question of heaven/hell, salvation/damnation, this much is safe to assert is true:
If one says that they believe in God, then there are implications for how they live their lives, for the choices that they make.
We all mess up, sometime quite gloriously, even those who say that they–and in fact really do–believe.
There’s a reason why we have the word “grace,” in other words. We need it.
But generally, if one says that something is core to who they are, then they live life consistent to that notion: not to get something, but because they can’t help but to live in such a fashion.
I told my husband that I love him not to get him to love me, but because I love him. I play with my kidlets not to get them to respect me, but because I adore them.
Actions are an expression, in other words.
And let it not be missed that some of the most life-giving people are those who are not connected to any one particular religious tradition.
So the point is not to “diss” confessing and repenting and praying and discerning what is faithful and striving to live accordingly.
The point is to rather raise the question about whether these are pre-reqs for salvation…and if we answer that they are, well….who doesn’t fall short of that?
It’s all clear…as mud.
I always tell people who ask these questions variations on what you say, but you said it better and more authoritatively.
I don’t know about either, but it is kind of you to say so.
I LOVE this post! As a person who nearly earned a philosophy minor due to curiosity and a healthy appetite for trying to answer impossible questions, I’ve wrestled with this subject before. You’re questions are so wonderfully organized that they helped me answer some of my own. Keep it up!
Glad it resonated with you.
We really don’t know, and I think to acknowledge that with humility and yet conviction is tricky…yet not entirely impossible.
Again, in the end, at the very least, we can come down to a hunch or a hope. But how we get there is a question of systematic theology; that is, what is our system, or framework, for posing and thinking through the question? That, perhaps even more than scripture, is a huge hint as to how we arrive at our answer.
Moreover, that system, that framework, also must be identified and grounded. As I have often said, one can make the case that God is love, but you can not leave it there. What do you say, then, to the victims of persistent and captive abuse, or to the victims of Auschwitz, or a mother suffering because her children are dying of starvation? They might well laugh at the notion of a loving God.
That is, on what basis do you make the claims you do about God?
Now there’s a question.
I know that I do have a low fun threshold, but that, my friend, is fun.
Anna…I think you are on the right thought process. But why do we always want to figure everything out. If you believe in the bible and what is says. God says if we ask Jesus his son to forgive us of our sins. He will. It is as simple as that. The rest is a journey like everything else in our lives. You mentioned your husband and kids. To have a relationship with them. You talk to them and share with them. That is what God wants from us also…. And so the journey continues..
Thanks for this one.
I have to begin by meeting your question with a question: What do you mean by “believe in the bible?”
So, the story of the lost coin is in the Bible, as is the lost sheep.
One is an inanimate object, the other is, well, dumb.
Neither one knew that they were lost, or cared, or, moreover, asked to be found again.
They were simply AWOL, MIA.
And yet, their owners sought them out, rejoiced when they were found, and brought them back into their fold…or purse, as the case may have been.
There was no if-then expectation, but rather a because-therefore: that is, instead of saying, If you announce to me that you are lost and shouldn’t be, then I will come find you and take you back, we’ve got this: because you are lost and ultimately helpless in your plight, I will search you out and bring you home.
Do you see? The Bible gives us lots of ways of thinking through the notion of grace (these are just two well-known faves), and some of them don’t line up eye-to-eye.
I don’t know that a person can ever hope to figure things out–and frankly, that would be a bit boring, would it not?
But I do think that there is much to stimulate the imagination, to generate passion and curiosity and thereby even more investment in our pursuit of clarifying God, and our relationship to God, and what difference it makes in and to the world.
What say you?