Friday, June 23, 2017

What is the 'Kingdom of God'? (Jurgen Moltmann)


In the summings-up of Jesus’ message we are also told again and again: “The kingdom of God is at hand – repent.”  But what does the word ‘repent’ really mean according to these parables?

A sheep has gone astray and is found and the finder is delighted that his search has not been in vain.  The lost coin could do nothing about either its loss or its finding: the joy is solely and entirely the woman’s.  The lost son, finally, was not merely ‘lost and found; he had actually been ‘dead and was alive again’.  So if we look at these parables, what is the kingdom of God?  It is nothing other than God’s joy at finding again the beings he created who have been lost.  And what is ‘repentance’ which the sinner has to ‘perform’?  It is nothing other than the being-found, and the return home from exile and estrangement, the coming-alive again, and the joining in God’s joy.  We are experiencing God’s kingdom when something like this happens to us, something where we flower and put out fresh growth like the flowers and trees in the spring, and come alive again, because we sense the great in exhaustible loves from which all life proceeds.  When we experience God’s exhilaration in his joy over us, and our own vitality reawakens, the kingdom of God cease to be some remote and alien rule; it is the very source and fountain of life.  Then the kingdom of God is the wide space in which we can unfold and develop, because it is a place without any restrictions.  Once we experience God’s kingdom like this, we discover afresh the wealth of our potentialities for living.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions


I recently read Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli.

The book is an intimate look at the child refugee crisis as framed through the 40 questions posed to these children upon their arrival in the United States.  It is not a whitepaper or book of detached logic.  It doesn’t present the problems and then propose clearly achievable solutions.  So my intent here is not to ‘review’ this heart-wrenching, desperate book.  This situation is a nightmare, and the author practically begs for the underlying issue to be seen and acknowledged.  That the author does not know how this story ends is simultaneously a call to action and a sobering fact.

A few quotes from the book:

"It is not even the American Dream that they pursue, but rather the more modest aspiration to wake up from the nightmare into which they were born."

"In varying degrees, some papers and webpages announce the arrival of undocumented children like a biblical plague. Beware the locusts."

"No, we do not find inspiration here, but we find a country that is as beautiful as it is broken, and we are somehow now part of it, so we are also broken with it, and feel ashamed, confused, and sometimes hopeless, and are trying to figure out how to do something about all that."

"The political response to the crisis, therefore, has always centered on one question, which is more or less: What do we do with all these children now? Or, in blunter terms: How do we get rid of them or dissuade them from coming?"

"How would anyone who is stigmatized as an “illegal immigrant” feel “safe” and “happy”?"
"No one suggests that the causes are deeply embedded in our shared hemispheric history and are therefore not some distant problem in a foreign country that no one can locate on a map, but in fact a trans national problem that includes the United States—not as a distant observer or passive victim that must now deal with thousands of unwanted children arriving at the southern border, but rather as an active historical participant in the circumstances that generated that problem."

"To refer to the situation as a hemispheric war would be a step forward because it would oblige us to rethink the very language surrounding the problem and, in doing so, imagine potential directions for combined policies."

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Tweets (On Violence and Forgiveness)


This past Sunday morning, I woke up to the following two tweets right next to one another in my feed:

The first relates directly to the prior day’s attack in London:

@rcallimachi
10. Chilling testimony from eyewitness who says he saw assailants stabbing a girl, while screaming, “This is for Allah.”


And this followed:

@brianzahnd
Violence breeds violence.
Only forgiveness offers an alternative.
I know must don’t believe this but…
It is what Jesus lived and taught.
And it is what God has vindicated in…
Resurrection

**********

The degree and nature of the dialogue between the content of these two tweets is, I think, is of the utmost importance.  In an age where our world’s imagination for destruction and ever more deadly weapons seems to shape our vision of the future, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that it determines our future.

How do we hear this 2nd tweet?
  • As irrelevant religious blather?  Or as pointing towards the most relevant speech of all?
  • As fundamentally mistaken and flat-out theologically wrong?  Or as the truth at the heart of reality?
  • As cowardly, destructive, and leading inexorably to the deaths of the innocent?  Or as the courageous means to new life?
  • As weak?  Or as strong?
  • As luxury?  Or as necessity?
  • As perpetuating the cycle of violence?  Or as breaking the cycle of violence?
  • As hopelessly na├»ve, the result of privilege and distance from the death and suffering?  Or as sober and costly solidarity with the death and suffering in the world?
  • As indifference and “doing nothing”?  Or as the means whereby an active and potent moral imagination is ignited?
  • Which one "takes terrorism seriously"?

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Efficacy of Prayer as a House of Cards


Imagine you wanted a promotion at work.  So you prayed to a milk jug for two weeks and then applied for the promotion.  If the promotion came through, would you say it happened because the milk jug answered your prayer?  Most people would not.

Most Christians say that God answers prayer in three ways: yes, no, or wait.  If God says yes, you get whatever you were praying for.  If God says no, then you don't.  If God says "wait," then you keep praying for your desired outcome, knowing that God's timing is different from your own.

But the problem is, that covers every possible outcome.  Things either happen now, later, or not at all.  There's no other possibility.  How can you be confident that prayer works if there's, literally, no scenario that could prove it to be false?

Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue, p 50

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Like Pebbles Into the Deep


I read this today in How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin:
“The conversion moment in us is when we see from a new perspective,” Sister Anne said.  “Sometimes all we can see is that this is not working for us anymore.  That is all you can see, until you are ready to see from that new perspective.”  Everything she asked me to do that week was about perspective.  To walk along the shore and pick up small rocks, allowing them to become stand-ins for all my troubles – and then fling them into the expanse of the ocean.  As I did, I grasped their smallness; I heard the small plunk against the backdrop of the roar of the waves. (p 81).
I really like this.  I love the imagery.  I love that Sister Anne’s instructions expand beyond sheer will power and positive thinking to include hands and feet.  This is not to minimize or demean the life of the mind.  It’s just to say that we aren't brains without bodies or bodies without brains.  I can't think my way out of my troubles.  I can, however, take a pebble and throw it into the sea.  And maybe the mind follows.

"But sins and troubles are not pebbles" says Mike's brain.  "They are not a thing that you simply discard like an old newspaper".  

True enough.  And yet...

Walk along the beach.  Feel the sand in between your toes.  Is it cool or hot?  Breathe deep and smell the salt of the ocean until you can almost taste it.  Hear the sound of the waves.  See a small stone and pick it up.  Roll it around in your fingers. Close your eyes and envision this small stone as a sacrament of your troubles.  Recognize that this little piece of trouble is not you.  It does not define you.  Look up and out into the ocean. Take that small stone and throw it into the watery abyss.  Feel it leave your hand.  Watch it sail into the deep expanse of the ocean.

Imagine this expanse as the love of God. Watch that tiny sacrament of your troubles drown in the depths of this love.  Do you believe?  Imagine all that fear and suffering, all my failures, my will to be less than that to which I'm called, all of it swallowed up.  Death where is your victory?!  Do you believe?  The worst sins of humanity, all things resurrected to the goodness from which they came, redeemed in the depths of this fierce and inexorable tranquility.  Oh my soul, do you believe?


In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian:

“As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The "Confession" of Philippians 2: Salvation or "Forced Submission"?


"Every knee should bend.  In heaven and on earth and under the earth."
"Every tongue should confess."

What does this mean?

     Philippians 2:5-12 (NRSV)
5   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6   who, though he was in the form of God,
     did not regard equality with God
     as something to be exploited,
7   but emptied himself,
     taking the form of a slave,
     being born in human likeness.
     And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
     and became obedient to the point of death—
     even death on a cross.
9   Therefore God also highly exalted him
     and gave him the name
     that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
     every knee should bend,
     in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
     that Jesus Christ is Lord,
     to the glory of God the Father.

"Every knee should bend.  In heaven and on earth and under the earth."
"Every tongue should confess."

Every.

Now nearly everyone recognizes that this has universalist implications.  But for whatever reason, (usually because of a priori commitments to anything other than universal salvation) it is assumed that the surface meaning simply cannot be the real meaning.  There must be another way to read it....

It is perfectly fair to assert that the "plain meaning" is not necessarily the right one.  I fully agree.  In and of itself, that assertion is mostly uncontroversial.  But neither does the mere assertion prove that the implications of any particular "plain reading" are false.  The specifics cannot be dismissed by an appeal to generalities.  

So let us look at some of these "deeper meanings" so that they can be accepted or rejected on the basis of their own merits apart from a priori commitments.  What are some of the ways that these "deeper meanings" that allow for the universalist implications to be avoided?

A few possibilities:
  1. This is hyperbolic rhetoric.  It isn't intended to factually relay a literal-future-event in newspaper-like objective detail.  Rather, it's royal language meant to communicate the authority and power of Jesus.  To him and him alone does the knee bow.  Christ is the focus here, not the literal quantity of knees that bow or the spiritual states of those doing the confessing.  It is going to far to assert otherwise.  Call this the hyperbolic explanation.
  2. It's theologically connecting the worship of Jesus with the worship of the God of Israel.  Similar to #1, the imagery of knees bowing and tongues confessing is intended to shine the spotlight on the person of Christ in ways that are usually reserved for God alone.  Again, it's not a numeric count of the worshipers.  Call this the trinitarian explanation.
  3. "Every" really means "every kind".  No different than the "all" really means "all kinds" argument.  Each and every individual is not the focus.  Call this the non-individualistic explanation.
  4. The confession and bowing of the knee will include each and every person who ever lived -whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth - but it will not happen voluntarily in genuine love, gratitude, wonder, and worship.  What is called confession will actually be a "forced submission"... a compelled bowing of the knee done in hatred, terror, or both.   It's something similar to an earthly king who defeats his foes, glories in his power and victory & in the humiliation of his enemies, and then lops all of their heads off.  Call this the forced submission explanation.
  5. We don't know what it means exactly, but we have clear evidence elsewhere in the Bible and/or in the hermeneutical history of the church that it simply cannot mean that the confession and knee-bending is tied to salvation.  Therefore, we need not even really address the "plain reading".  Call this the presuppositional agnostic explanation.
Each of these has problems and (generally speaking) are considered viable mostly because of previous theological commitments to anything other than universal salvation.

But from what I've seen, #4 is the most frequently used.

Besides a royal and omnipotent "forced confession" not making much sense to me in the context of the verses prior, there are other reasons to reject this.

Gregory MacDonald (pseudonym of Dr. Robin Parry) addresses this "forced submission" explanation in The Evangelical Universalist (2nd edition):
Second, the terminology Paul uses is suggestive of salvation rather than forced submission.  All creatures confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Elsewhere in Paul's letters when he speaks of confessing Jesus as Lord it is always in a context of salvation.  No one can say that "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).  If someone confesses with their mouth and believes in the heart that Jesus is Lord, then they will be saved (Rom 10:9).  There are no examples in Paul of an involuntary confession of Christ's Lordship. (p 99-100)
Confession is always grounded in a context of salvation, not punishment or damnation.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What is it to "belong" to Christ? (1 Cor 15:22-24)


During the Q&A portion of the 3rd session of the Universal Salvation and Christian Theology class that I'm taking online at The School of Peace Theology (this was several Saturdays ago - 4/21), I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Parry a question about 1 Corinthians 15:23.  I'd like to spend a few minutes tossing around a few ideas that didn't have a chance to fully develop in the immediate context of the Q&A.

Here are the verses:
For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him.  Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power.  (1 Corinthians 15:22-24 NET)
That whole “then when Christ comes, those who belong to him” part.  That's the part that I was curious about.

Specifically, what is "belonging"?  What does it mean to "belong" to Christ?

Dr. Parry's starting point (though not his settled ending point) was that those who “belong” to Christ are the church - those who have “accepted Jesus in faith”.  Belonging as such is an act of volition, a conscious choice that an individual makes herself.  She knows that she's making it, and if she doesn't know that she has made it then she hasn't made it.  Nobody can make this decision for her, and she cannot ultimately make it for anyone else.  There can be no exceptions with a strict exclusivism, not for children who perish too young to “accept Jesus”, the mentally disabled, or those who "never heard".  The inherent nature of "belonging" forbids it.  And that brings to attention the general idea that this exclusivist criteria must be met before the moment of physical death.  Within the context of universal salvation however (the topic of the class), the implication is that there are subsequent opportunities to "accept Jesus" after that moment in time "when Christ comes" - those who don't "belong" at this point may still yet "belong".  After all, a major theme of 1 Cor 15 is that Jesus has defeated death, so a soul's disposition towards God at an arbitrary moment in time is not given the final word over human history.  Nevertheless, belonging in the relevant sense is limited to those who have "accepted Jesus".  I'll call this the "exclusivist" definition of "belonging".

But what about those who, due to the time and place that they lived and died, never even heard of Jesus?  Those faithful Jews who, though "faithful", didn't "believe in Jesus"?  What of those whose hearts are inclined towards God and who love others yet don't possess the "proper vocabulary" or whose circumstances didn't permit a "proper" Christian faith (the majority of the human race)?  C.S. Lewis elucidates this well in Chapter 15 of The Last Battle in the character of Emeth:

But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.
By this criteria, we would say that Emeth belonged to Aslan prior to his awareness.  I'll call this the "inclusivist" definition of "belonging".

Or does belonging transcend any sort of moral assent or our “acceptance” of it all together?  Might we belong to Christ regardless of our awareness or even the "good intentions" of Emeth?   It isn't so much about whether a conscious faith in Jesus is “necessary” or not - "necessity" being characterized by the idea that God is looking for a minimum level of “faith” in order to grant "belonging".  It's that our belonging might entirely transcend any conscious awareness of it as such.  That we might all find ourselves caught up in "belonging to Christ" when that day comes, finding ourselves home in such a way that some of us might have known and anticipated while others of us might not.  Either way human knowledge and consent is simply not the point (though it's not to say that a belonging can be forever separated from the experience of it as such).  This idea of belonging ultimately rests on the premise that the original goodness of God, the goodness from which all things have come and to which all things are called, is irrevocable and fundamentally true regardless of our "acceptance" of it.  This is not to say that a "conscious faith", the type envisioned in the "exclusivist" category above, is excluded or minimized or is anything other than our telos.  It's just to say that while "faith" might be the means by which we perceive and participate in our belonging, "faith" is not what first originates that belonging.  It gets tricky I guess, but the idea is that belonging in the sense here is prior to "faith" - that belonging actually creates and sustains faith.  It recognizes that God works deep and mysteriously within the human person, well below the surface of awareness, conscious choice, and the time/place in which we were born.  In other words, we do and will "belong" and ultimately our experience will catch up to this fundamental fact.  Call this the "absolute" definition of "belonging".

Or we might look at it as Henri Nouwen does in The Return Of The Prodigal Son:
At issue here is the question: "To whom do I belong?  To God or to the world?"  Many of the daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God.  A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed.  A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me.  It takes me very little to raise me up or thrust me down.  Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves.  All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me. (p 42)
So in this case, my “belonging” is understood in terms of that which existentially defines me.  What religion a person belongs to, what she professes to believe, what sacraments one has partaken of, or what "sinner's prayers" one has prayed are largely irrelevant.  Belonging, in this case, is a matter of the soul's home and the reality in which a person participates.  It isn't all together opposed to the exclusivist/inclusivist characterizations above (though it has inclusivist overtones), but it is distinct in some ways.  It is primarily about our makeup, our state of being, our "ontology" and isn't concerned with exclusivism/inclusivism according to the way that the terms are generally used.  Call this the "ontological" definition of "belonging".

Each of these has it's own set of questions and complexities, but a universalist can be fine with any of these definitions in a way that is thoroughly Christian.  They aren't necessarily opposed to one another and may even represent a sort of progression - with a consciously understood and ontologically mature "faith" being the end toward which God mysteriously calls and forms us.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reflecting on ‘The Love That Matters’ by Charles Featherstone (8) Mystical Moments



This is the 8th in a series of posts reflecting on The Love That Matters by Charles Featherstone.  1st post here.

**********

Some Christians (or adherents to any religion, really) may think that mystical experiences (to the degree that we believe in them at all) are necessarily confined to their faith.  A mystical experience within another faith must necessarily be coming from the devil.  To believe otherwise would be to discredit the exclusivity and rightness of their own faith. 

Admittedly, I struggle with a “disenchanted” faith.  But, I’m not one of those people. 

Charles had three (what I would call) mystical experiences.  All while practicing Islam. 

The 1st:
Sometime during my second prostration – when I bent down to touch my head to the ground, to “grovel before God,” as a future employer would put it – something like a massive spark of electricity hit me right smack in the middle of my head.  Everything was suddenly bright, and blue, and I was breathless.  And exhausted. 
And the words appeared, fully formed in my head: You do not need to be so angry.
They weren’t my words.  I hadn’t thought them.  They came from outside of me.  I had to stop praying and catch my breath.  I rolled over on my back.  What had just happened?  Had God just spoken to me?
 There was no question in my mind.  And no doubt whatsoever.  God had spoken to me.  God had reached inside, put his thought in my head, this thought that wasn’t mine and that I needed so much to hear, to feel, to become a part of me.  It was a tiny moment – it happened in an instant – and yet it was utterly overwhelming.  It engulfed me from the inside, left me gasping and in shock.  It was as if I’d ceased to be an individual human being, ceased to be anything other than an appendage of the infinite. (p 97-98, bold mine)
The 2nd:
Unbidden, and unasked for, God was in my head and body.  Again.  For a moment so brief I’m not sure it could be measured.  And yet so overwhelming it seemed as if the world had, in the moment, stopped.  Words formed: Everything is going exactly as it should be.  Even though they were inside my head, they were not my words.  Not my thoughts. (p 135, bold mine)
And the 3rd:
And then, as had happened twice before in my life, there were words in my head.  Words I knew were not mine.  My love is all that matters.
 But this time there was no electric shock.  Nothing turned blue.  No breathlessness, no halted prayers.  Just these words, gently inhabiting me, words given to me – spoken but not spoken – in the midst of death, terror, and destruction.  In the midst of the worst thing that I and everyone else standing there beneath the fire and smoke had ever experienced.  My love is all that matters. (p 178, bold mine)

You do not need to be so angry.

Everything is going exactly as it should be.

My love is all that matters.

There is nothing particularly special about the words themselves.  They are not complicated or inaccessibly poetic.  They do not reveal some profound wisdom hidden from the foundation of the world, words that had never before been uttered.  Anyone could have spoken these same words.  But for Charles they were charged with life.  They were words for him in that moment, and for him alone.

My thoughts drift to the gifted white stone of Revelation 2, a stone inscribed with a name known only to the one who receives it.  Just a stone with a name?  I imagine it being a name that cuts deep in its healing and profundity, accounting for all things in my existence.  I can’t even imagine what this name would be.  God can speak this name.  That I believe. 

So it’s about the words, sure.  But it’s also more.  It’s the immanence of the divine, the temporary withdrawing of the veil of separation.  A different kind of knowing that is pure gift.

There’s a big part of me that reads these accounts and responds just like his (at the time) girlfriend, Jennifer.
She looked at me with a mixture of awe and disbelief.  “I’m jealous,” she said. (p 98)
But there’s also a part of me that isn’t so sure about that at all.  Do I really want my life interrupted?

continued

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Reflecting on ‘The Love That Matters’ by Charles Featherstone (7) A Muslim’s Take on "Faith vs. Works"

This is the 7th in a series of posts reflecting on The Love That Matters by Charles Featherstone.  1st post here.

**********
Islam is a religion of deeds and actions, and there is no great argument among Muslims about the distinction between faith and practice, at least not among the Sunnis I worshiped with.  I had always found the Protestant arguments about faith and works to be both smug and pointless, especially since the formulation most Protestants used – saved by faith in grace apart from works – always seemed to make the faith that saves the believer’s faith.  If I’m saved by my faith in God, then I’m saved by something I do, and not by God’s action.  Isn’t that faith a work in and of itself?  It certainly seemed that way to me.  (p 103)
There is no need to be overly sophisticated in his observations.  No need to obscure things through fancy theological words & concepts.  Despite Christian assertions that “faith” and “works” are opposed to one another, Charles sees Christian “faith” functioning as a type of “work”.

Another way to put it might be to say that it's all just wordplay.  That is, the debate identifies (or perhaps it's more accurate to say "creates"?) a fundamental problem that can best articulated in the form of a dichotomy between "faith" and "works", and then purports to resolve the problem.  From Charles' standpoint as a Muslim, this is just nonsense.  It doesn't really do either.  Later Lutheran Charles might approach these questions in a different way.  Perhaps radically different.

But that doesn't distract from the fact that his questions here are very basic and very important?

Hidden here, perhaps, is the fundamental question of "what is faith"?  Is it a kind of "earning"?  A kind of "mental work"?  Is it "trust"?  Is the object of faith only trustworthy if I believe that they are trustworthy?  Believe what, exactly?  And if that's the case, are they really even trustworthy?  After all, am I finally worthy of trust or "faithful" to my daughter if she believes me to be so?  Am I finally bound by her conscious thoughts and level of certainty about my trustworthiness?  Whose "faith" are we talking about anyways?  

There is a degree of overfamiliarity with these concepts, particularly within Protestantism.  You know what?  Speaking of faith in these ways makes it all seem like a "work".  A sort of game.  Or a math equation.  Things seem too formulaic.  Or like an economic transaction where "faith" is a sort of currency.  Faith becomes a means to an end, not a means of participating in an end.  Some abstract sort of thing (primarily a set of beliefs or sacramental partcipation) that a person has to have to get on God's good side.

So good observations Charles.  The semantic content of "faith" within the Christian narrative has the potential to really get things off track depending on the context that it's placed within and the problem that it purports to solve.

continued

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Free-will, Freedom, Universalism, and the Allure of Love (John A.T. Robinson)


It is probable that the mental picture usually conjured up of the relation between divine omnipotence and human freedom is that of two irresistible forces each pulling in opposite directions. If, per impos­sibile, one were to gain a painful inch here or there, it could only be at the expense of the other’s loss: submission to the power of God must involve the abandonment of the freedom of man. But have we any rea­son to think that this is at all an accurate picture of what happens when will meets will in the personal relationship of love? Surely, it is grossly misleading.

We all know times, when a man or woman really shows his or her love for us, whether it be in some costly manifestation of forgiveness or self-sacrifice or in some small act of kindness or consideration, that we feel constrained to respond—we cannot help ourselves, everything within us tells us that we must. Our defenses are down, the power of love captures the very citadel of our will, and we answer with the spon­taneous surrender of our whole being. Yet, at the same time, we know perfectly well that at such moments we can, if we choose, remain un­moved; there is no physical compulsion to commit ourselves. Everyone may point to instances in which he has been constrained to thankful re­sponse by the overmastering power of love. And yet, under this strange compulsion, has anyone ever felt his freedom infringed or his personal­ity violated? Is it not precisely at these moments that he becomes con­scious, perhaps only for a fleeting space of time, of being himself in a way he never knew before, of attaining a fullness and integration of life which is inextricably bound up with the decision drawn from him by the other’s love? Moreover, this is true however strong be the con­straint laid upon him; or, rather, it is truer the stronger it is. Under the constraint of the love of God in Christ this sense of self-fulfillment is at its maximum. The testimony of generations is that here, as nowhere else, service is perfect freedom. When faced by an overpowering act of love, we realize how absurd it is to say that the freedom and integrity of our moral personality are safeguarded only if we set our teeth and determine not to allow ourselves to be won to its service. If, then, we do not lose, but rather find, our freedom in yielding to the constraining power of love, is there anything to be gained for the cause of liberty by demanding that when it is under the control of self-will it shall in the end be stronger than when it is under the control of love? May we not imagine a love so strong that ultimately no one will be able to restrain himself from free and grateful surrender? If the miracle of the forcing of pride’s intransigence—which is no forcing but a gentle leading—can be achieved in one case (St. Paul would say, in my case), who are we to say that God cannot repeat it in all? One by one, may not each come to the point at which he finds himself constrained to confess in the words of Charles Wesley:
I yield, I yield,
I can hold out no more;
I sink by dying love compelled
To own thee conqueror!


In The End, God…, by John A.T. Robinson, p 105-106
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