Pete's Blog

A Bit of Theology

Yesterday I closed out a singers' jam at Dusty Strings with "Amazing Grace," mostly because nobody knows how to sing "Down in the Valley to Pray" anymore since "O! Brother, Where Art Thou" came out. Afterwards, someone took issue with the use of the word "wretch" in the lyrics. She said I could have sung "...saved a 'soul' like me" instead. "I don't like all that sin talk," she said (I'm paraphrasing). "I believe I'm a wonderful, perfect being filled with God's energy. I'm not a wretch." Typically, I couldn't think what to say. I mumbled something about the hymn's author John Newton, a slave trader who renounced his former calling and spent the rest of his life in atonement. These piecemeal remarks achieved nothing in the face of the cast-iron self-regard this new (?) and growing (at least on the West Coast) theology tends to breed in its adherents. So now, 24 hours too late, I've finally come up with what I'd like to have said. It begins with this. When I view God's creation and all His works, it does not make me want to worship myself. Yes, I am one of God's creatures but this does not automatically make me perfect. We work toward perfection. It isn't our birthright anymore than a field mouse deserves to be invisible to an owl. If God wanted to create a perfect world I have no doubt he could have done so. But he didn't, and there has to be a reason for that even if we cannot apprehend it. Otherwise why cling to the redemption offered by Jesus Christ? He's a saviour, not a motivational speaker. He is here to uplift the meek and lowly, and if, as I believe, the last shall be first when He comes into His kingdom then I want to be among the meek and lowly. Sure, the everybody's-already-perfect crowd have a point about finding the Grace within, but there's a note of moral superiority there that makes me queasy. Because on the other side of EAP theology is the disturbing notion that, since there is no evil in the world, bad things happen only to those people who have not yet attained the enlightenment being proclaimed. When Stalin killed 10 million people in the forced collectivization of the Ukraine was it THEIR fault? When my friend Warner Bacon died of brain cancer in his early 50s was it HIS fault? Look. Honey. The world is a place of extraordinary beauty and extraordinary cruelty. We humans, on the evidence, are the only species that conceives of Creation and a Creator. That's what it means to be "made in His image." We have that beauty and that cruelty within us. My struggle to promote the one and defeat the other begins inside me, when I get down on my knees and pray for forgiveness. This is not guilt-mongering or morbidity. It's an active engagement with those forces in the world I would love to ignore as blithely as you do.

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