If we imagine our being as a room of any size, it seems that most of us know only a single corner of that room, or a spot by the window, a narrow strip on which we keep walking back and forth. That gives a kind of security. But isn’t insecurity with all its dangers so much more human?
We are not prisoners of that room.
~ Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1904
So I go from reading Peter Rollins’ latest The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction…to reading J.D. Greear’s latest Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How To Know For Sure You Are Saved.
Yeah. You could call it just a wee bit of whiplash.
Toggling from Rollins’ diagnosis to Greear’s remedy was actually quite enlightening.
Greear has a “thoroughly biblical” presentation of the security of the believer in Jesus – so says Paige Patterson, President of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, who wrote the book’s dedication (though he really doesn’t like the title “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart”; that actually made me laugh; I love the title; it’s why I picked up the book!). I totally endorse all the scriptures Greear uses. Since I’ve memorized the New Testament letters, I already have most of his texts memorized anyway. They are old friends.
At the center of the book is Greear’s self-portrait:
The question of whether or not I was saved was driving me to despair. I had already been baptized twice, but the issue of my salvation seemed no closer to being resolved. I spent Friday night chained to my desk scouring obscure commentaries to figure out what various verses about repentance and faith really meant. I memorized large sections of the Bible. I did Greek word studies to determine subtle nuances on New Testament verses on the gospel. I prayed and fasted. I made vows. I talked with pastors, professors, and friends. I interviewed Charles Ryrie. I went out in the woods and yelled at God.
Why was he withholding assurance from me? Why was he hiding? Had he predestined me not to be saved, and was that why I couldn’t find assurance? Or was he waiting on me to make some promise to him – about going to the mission field or living in poverty or something – before he’d let me find assurance? Was he punishing me for my sin?
One day I got so angry at God that I asked Him why he didn’t just make me a dog, since dogs at least don’t have to worry about going to hell. Often, through tears, I pleaded with God that if he’s let me have assurance of salvation, I’d be the best Christian who’d ever lived. But no matter what I did, what promises I made, or how many times I asked Jesus into my heart, I could not shake the fear that I was headed for hell. That might seem strange, almost delusional to some people. But if you really believe in heaven and hell, how can you not be desperate to know which one you are headed to? Toward the end of that year, I began to conclude I never really could know. I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt despair, like a dark storm cloud, coming over my heart.
Actually, I wasn’t thinking the word delusional as I read this and reflected on my own experience.
I was thinking neurotic.
Why are Christians at large so stinking neurotically obsessed with their “status”? I’ve been hanging out in evangelical halls for going on forty years, and I see Greear’s scenario constantly playing itself out. I saw it play out in myself for at least half of that time.
It’s Rilke’s prison cell, his narrow, neurotic strip. And do we ever constantly pace it.
No wonder in secret we suspect Buddhists are on to something!
I’ve been hearing and repeating Greear’s remedy to the neurotic quandary of “Am I or Aren’t I?” for decades. Quoting scriptures at such a neurotic obsession doesn’t remove it. It just seems to exacerbate, to amplify it. Like scratching a skin irritation and upgrading it to an infection.
Perhaps the neurotic obsession with our personal eternal status is a sign we’ve been asking the wrong question all along. If a tree is known by its fruit, then perhaps a tree consistently bearing such neurotically self-absorbed personal eternal status soul-searching is planted in the wrong place.
Perhaps we have missed the point.
“What if Christ does not fill the empty cup we bring to him but rather smashes it to pieces, bringing freedom, not from our darkness and dissatisfaction, but freedom from our felt need to escape them?” Rollins asks. “It is the claim of this book that Christ signals a type of apocalyptic event much more dramatic than the one we find in fundamentalist literature. For in the figure of Christ we are confronted with an atomic event that does not destroy the world, but rather obliterates the way in which we exist within the world. In concrete terms, this means that the darkness and dissatisfaction that make their presence felt in our lives are not finally answered by certainty and satisfaction, but are rather stripped of their weight and robbed of their sting.”
Perhaps, as Rollins postulates, salvation takes place “within our unknowing and dissatisfaction.”
Perhaps all this time we have been obsessed with finding our soul, when we should have been taking up Jesus’ invitation to lose it.