Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Dark night of the soul, part MCMLXXXVIII

1 My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken ... 11 One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, 12 and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. (Psalm 62:1-2, 11-12, NIV, emphasis added)
I don't know if it's just the wreckage of my former faith tradition - but when we finished reading Psalm 62 a week ago as part of a Compline service (prayers at the close of day), I was instantly taken back to being 12-years-old all over again, and felt the pillars of my salvation shudder a bit one more time.

Even after years of knowing "justification by grace through faith," I can still read these four verses and hear this:

1 God loves me, and is my only way to heaven. 2 God is as solid and enduring as a rock, and I will not be shaken. 11 I've heard both these things about you, God - you are Power, and 12 you are love. BUT, regardless of all that, you are going to reward [read: judge] me based on what I've done....which means that, despite all the preceding nice stuff I've heard from God, I'm still screwed, and I'm still gonna burn.

Does anyone else get this sensation when reading stuff like this? (If you have never experienced Scripture like this, I'd ask you to drop to your knees, right now, in an expression of prayerful thanksgiving.)

You see, one of the bad things about a "searching and fearless moral inventory" as suggested by the 12-step programs is that I'm very well acquainted with "what I have done" - having written it all out (and, in fact, revisiting some of those issues again, even now). And let me assure you - "what I have done" is not a pretty picture. If I'm really, "surely" going to be judged on what I've done, I'd better get fitted for asbestos underwear!

Now, I know, intellectually, the truth of "You are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). I know who's given me a robe of righteousness, and I know that absent the saving power of Christ, I'd burn for sure (and deserve it). My soteriology is still pretty solid...trust me. But there are still moments - like this recent one - when things like this just seem to blindside me, and I can still get momentarily panicked for my salvation.

(Of course, I'm sure that none of this has anything to do with the fact that I'm back to being temporarily unemployed, still wrestling with my sense of call, and still behind the 8-ball on my finances, and struggling socially, emotionally, and career-wise to boot. I'm sure my momentary lapse of faith is completely independent of all that emotional baggage, and the related questions of self-worth.)

(Yeah, right.)

But it's humbling and a bit embarrassing to admit that, for all my knowledge and trust, there is a scared child inside of me that still is waiting for the divine footnote or contractual sub-clause that says, "Well, you could have made it to heaven, Steve, except for this one thing over here - but this one's a deal-breaker."

I'm grateful that I know enough, in my heart and soul, to be able to pray this: Thank you, God, that my salvation is not based on what I think or feel, but on your infinite mercy and grace!

1 comment:

Nick said...

Steve,

Maybe check out Dante's "Divine Comedy"

Cool preliminary glance:

Joseph Koterski on Dante's Divine Comedy: "Singing the Beatitudes" http://www.saintaustinreview.com/july04/mayjune.pdf

or "Purgatory for Everyone" by Jerry L. Walls, 2002 First Things 122 (April 2002): 26-30. http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0204/articles/walls.html