Monday, 24 August 2009

Where else could I go?

Sweetie decided late on Thursday night that we needed to get out of London for the weekend. I'm not entirely sure why, since he'd only just come back from Somerset and I'd been out to visit him there, but who am I to complain?

I had a truly wonderful time in a small East Sussex town that was an major harbour until the sea got some different ideas about the shape of the coastline. Lots of meandering over cobbled roads, a spot of window shopping, quite a bit of walking, and some very fine food have left me feeling much more relaxed than before we went. Sweetie certainly knows how to keep me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.

I did go to church on Sunday, leaving Sweetie to have a lie-in, and that was good, too. It was good to go to a church not having tried to look at a website beforehand, it was good to go and rest in what is becoming familiar liturgy, and it was wonderful not to be thinking about whether I could eventually settle there. My impressions were of a fairly average church, perhaps with a better-developed choral programme than some of the local ones I've been to in London (though August is never a good time to judge this, and I didn't get back in time for Evensong: walking on shingle is hard work and though there wasn't much where we had to use that rather than a path it was enough to slow us down). There were some people who were friendly and some who weren't. There were good bits of the sermon and bits that seemed a bit disjunct.

I feel rather envious of Peter, who seems to know that following Jesus is the only way for him, that only Jesus has these words of eternal life. Things have never seemed that straightforward to me. I can't put aside all that is good and beautiful in non-Christian faiths, and I am full of "what if" questions... what would have happened if I'd had a family where my spiritual questions were taken seriously? what would have happened if I'd been born into Judaism instead of attempting conversion (and deciding, in the end, that it was just too hard)? Would I be a lesser person somehow for being a cradle Christian instead of meandering my way to this faith through wilderness, not knowing even now whether I'll get there? Would I be a lesser person if I'd been taught Hebrew from a young age and keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat had been part of my cultural identity as well as mitzvot so that practice of Orthodox Judaism would have been, in some senses, easier than it was for me as a potential ger?

And I have to say, I'm not the judge of these things, but God is. And if God is loving and merciful, can it really be that a faithful decision, a perpetual striving to do the best I can with the information and resources I have, can ever be condemned? I owe God my entire existence and every joy or sorrow I've ever felt. If I do end up believing some version of Christianity it will only be because God has allowed it.

One of my strong objections to Christian dogma has been the idea that Christianity is the only way to God, the idea that heretics and unbelievers and so on are condemned. What is the point of salvation if it is not universal? What is the point of mercy if it is limited? What is the point of lovingkindness if it is conditional? I cannot abide this idea that We Have The Answers And Other Faiths Don't. I cannot swallow the idea that anyone who is not God is in a position to judge any other human being as fit for salvation or not, whether that is based on their beliefs or their works. I cannot begin to explain how strongly I feel about this.

The only way I can see to think about this is a sort of language loop-hole, a sort of re-naming of most of the world. Kathryn wrote But, ultimately, it is the voice of Jesus who calls us - by whatever name we know him. (Emphasis mine). If Jesus is God, and if all that is good and right and loving in this world comes from God, then what we have here is an issue of nomenclature: what you call Jesus I call God and someone else might call Allah and someone else again might call "goodness" (without necessarily believing in a higher power at all), and maybe these things happened and maybe they didn't but we are all chasing after the same God whether we realise it or not.

Maybe Peter doesn't say, "to whom else could we go?" because only Jesus has the words of eternal life, but because wherever we turn to the words of eternal life we turn to Jesus in some sense. This isn't a "where else could we go?" when you are standing on an ice floe and all around you is the treacherous, deadly sea: this is a "where else could we go?" when you are surrounded on all sides by water and you are in the water and everywhere else you go, you are still going to be in the ocean. Elsewhere does not exist. You can call it what you like but it's still the ocean.

I had some sense of this, visiting a small congregation in a church building which once served a much larger town, being unwilling and unable to commit to the community there in any sense except the very vague one of singing with them for that short time, joining them for worship and then moving on. Wherever I go I am going to be in the ocean, incomprehensibly large, ultimately inescapable, of God's love.

Was there ever a happier way to drown?


it's margaret said...

Salvation is universal.... no doubt about it. --but, then, I'm probably a heretic!

Song in my Heart said...


If I'm a heretic too do I get to hang out with cool people like you?

Ernest said...


You have some really thought provoking things to say, and make statements about things, which I have not even considered.

Whatever you say, you are a Christian, not by definition, but just by being you.

I think the point about ways to Salvation is quite pertinent. While Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth and the light' he never said that those who had never had access to the light were condemned.

I can recall the Catholic doctrine of Limbo, where they believed that any unbaptised baby would never see the face of God. I could never believe or accept it and now your thoughts bring it into perspective.

I don't have the answers you are seeking, but as I have said before, the journey along with you is exciting.


Song in my Heart said...

Thanks, Ernest.

I don't think I'd be able to accept or believe the doctrine of limbo in that way, either. It seems to miss the point, somehow.

DanG said...

The idea that a god would condemn over half of the world because they were not followers of Jesus is repugnant to me. I am a Christian because that is the culture into which was born and I've been too lazy or content to investigate other forms of worship of God. I'm sure that She is satisfied with me, because She loves me unconditionally.

Song in my Heart said...


Thanks for giving me an additional data point. :)

I might have saved a lot of time and effort if I'd been able, as a teenager, to talk to Christians who are liberal and also take their theology seriously.