My late wife, in her final years, was fond of pointing out that the parabolic shepherd is the one who does the seeking; the sheep merely wander and get lost. In Jenn’s case, it was certainly true that Divine Perseverance won out; only when Jenn gave up her own merciless search for Jesus and peace was she able to finally see that He had already invaded and conquered the dark and empty places into which her soul had descended. She was still trying to find God outside herself and leave the truth of who she was behind; and all the while, the shepherd was already there in the brambles and mire, ready to hold and love her… if she’d just quit kicking at the goads, as it were.
In Chapter 6 of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem, Bradley Jersak examines the biblical passages that talk about “Divine Perseverance,” God’s intent and desire to save all.
Jersak’s quotation from Colossians 1–“God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him reconcile himself to all things”–literally gave me pause as I read. One could certainly argue that a king may bring all things into subjection, in part, by tossing rebels into the dungeon and throwing away the key. But are those kept in a dungeon reconciled with the King? I think not. They are, rather, still in rebellion.
And we know how we feel about the rebellious. We tend to embrace the notion that there are simply some who are beyond the pale, who are unreachable. And yet…
The question becomes not so much about the rebellious and their state; after all, does our opinion about that matter? Instead, the key question is our understanding of the King, and what He says about Himself. Is the Monarch to whom we pledge allegiance powerless to reach the unreachable? Is He only able to be reconciled to some, rather than all?
Moreover, is such a vision even consistent with mere human experience, much less the Divine?
I’m sure we all have known people largely thought to be unredeemable who nonetheless came to Christ. Jenn was certainly written off as one of those. And wouldn’t you have thought the same of Saul of Tarsus as he was on the road to Damascus?
So if the power of God may be writ large in this life, how much more so might it be in the next, particularly to the extent that the next life shall transcend the limits of time, sequentiality, and causality?
Many claim that there are infinite paths to God; Christianity claims exclusivity on the basis of Jesus’ statement that he is “the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I fully accept Christ’s claim in this regard; I do not, however, understand his claim in “fundamentalist” terms. I agree with Jersak’s assessment that a “faith response is not treated [by God] as a way to become saved but rather as a response of hopeful gratitude to Christ’s saving work”–which was completed on our behalf long before we stopped being rebellious, long before we even became aware that we were lost or in need of a shepherd to save us. Long before we stopped kicking at the goads.
I have no doubt whatsoever that all who come to the Father will do so through Jesus, and Jesus alone–not through Christianity, or any other religion, or Christians, or confession, or even repentance… except to the extent that Christ and His Spirit works in and through those things. And God is the One who gets to choose how He works.
For love is as strong as death,
its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
nor can rivers drown it. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7a, NLT)
Hat tip to Jersak for the connection to Solomon’s words. Love first. Ask questions later.