I met today with a friend whose beloved died in a terrible accident. She’s a life long Christian of substantial faith and well indoctrinated with a particular way of understanding how God works in the world. She explained that she knows God has a plan for each of us, and it must have been in God’s plan for her beloved to die on that day, but why did God have to plan for it to be such a terrible death? The idea that God has a plan for each of us who claim the name of Jesus has a natural corollary: God’s plan for those who do not or will not claim the name of Jesus is that they are destined for hell. It’s a way of thinking that makes it natural for one to assume that God’s plan has been executed in Haiti, or in any other massive disaster.
That is not how my tradition understands the way of God’s planning, but I have heard it articulated without the slightest doubt by life long Episcopalians. Who knows where they picked it up, but they have it more firmly cemented in their minds than anything they ever learned in Confirmation, adult bible study or from the pulpit. I wondered with my friend if she would consider the possibility of chance conspiring in a sequence of unpredictable events that had little to do with any plan of God’s. That novel idea offered a glimmer of hope for her but also teetered on the edge of blasphemy. It seemed almost a temptation to doubt the omniscience of God, and that would be apostasy, the very sin from which there is no hope of redemption.
Where would anyone get that idea? Out of the bible of course. Consider the Letter to the Hebrews in the 6th chapter. The writer plainly states that “…it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift,…if they then commit apostasy.” It is impossible! Not even God can do it! Apostates are doomed and that’s all there is to it! I enjoy studying the Letter to the Hebrews and believe there is much wisdom to be mined out of it, but I am perfectly willing to argue with its writer and demand to know how on God’s green earth he can reconcile that view with the God’s faithfulness demonstrated over and over again in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness or with the weight of the teachings of Christ as recorded in the gospels.
On the other hand, if one has been brought up to never question the bible in any way – to never, like Job, confront God with one’s own hard questions, then it is a truly frightening prospect to enter into any territory that might possibly come too near to apostasy. One’s eternal life is at stake. Given the propensity of certain people to yell out charges of apostasy at the drop of a hat (or the appearance of a homosexual), a fence of fear is easily constructed around Holy Scripture that prevents the full intimacy of communion with God that I think God desires. Oddly enough, it is that very scripture that is filled with stories of God’s people who dared to live into that intimacy, and whom we remember as heros of the faith.
Perhaps there is a conclusion to this brief essay, and maybe you could write it. I’m going to bed.