Getting to the end
The hardest sentence to write of this article has been this one. Where to begin? What bearing to set off in? The start is determined by the end. I need to know where I want to go, so that I can point myself in the right direction.
For me this isn?t just part of the struggle of writing articles, it is central to the way I live as a Christian. I believe in a God of purpose and of destiny. A God who has clear ends in mind, and who calls me to journey with him towards our final destination. The question of discipleship is one of discovering where I think I am being led, and then trying to take the next step in that direction. Believing, as firmly as I can manage, that God himself will help me to take it. It?s a way of being Christian that makes the basic ethical question one of asking whether a particular action (or inaction) is likely to work towards the fulfilment of the divine purpose, or against it.
The clues to this destination come supremely in the bible, especially in the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes they are called the ?Kingdom of God? or ?Heaven?. They offer a glimpse of an existence characterised by complete intimacy with God, love, and forgiveness. In heaven there will be no more oppression, injustice or prejudice. In Christ there is, we are reminded, neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. The Kingdom we are told is breaking in even here and now. And it does so when we act in ways that show we are trying to live in it already.
The scriptures give us much more than a glimpse of the destination. They offer the reflections and experiences of others who have sought to make the same journey. As my uncle taught me years ago, ?Learn from other people?s mistakes. You?ll never have time to make them all for yourself.? St Paul in particular gives us lists of the types of behaviour that may help or hinder us on the way.
In the immediate post Vatican II era Roman Catholics built up the image of the ?pilgrim church?. And it is one that has stuck with me ever since. It keeps me from imagining, in some post-modern or ?new age? sense that the only journey is my personal one. My journey is part of the journey of the church, which in turn is part of the journey of the whole creation towards God. Again Paul?s letters provide some wonderful insights into the many ways in which the church lost the path, even in those immediate post-Easter years. And I often find comfort in them when we mess things up today ? the comfort of knowing there never was a golden age.
Because the journey is not simply a personal one, the creation itself matters, and matters deeply. I find myself in direct opposition to those Christians who deduce from their belief in the imminent return of Jesus that we should use up the Earth?s resources, or even hasten the destruction that the scriptures suggest will herald the end time. Rather the whole creation is being shaped by God to achieve its ultimate fulfilment in him. It is not a rejection of the doctrine of the fall, but a belief that God works to restore the fallen, rather than just to pluck brands from the burning. But that does mean that I part company, and pretty firmly, with those of my colleagues who base their theology on what one recently referred to as the ?utter depravity? of our fallen state. And in terms of the subjects that are most controversial in the church at present the primary question I take to the scriptures, reason and tradition is to ask what effect the love two men or women have for each other has on their and our ultimate destiny. Is it something that condemns to hell, or that will need to be discarded on the road to heaven? Or is it part of them that will travel with them and us to God?s Kingdom?
I?ve just about completed my journey through this article. I?ve got to where I wanted to get, and said what I wanted to say. But like most good journeys I?ve found something new on the way. It has struck me how the way I live my faith resonates with how I deal with a new computer or piece of software. In both cases looking for a book of instructions comes last on the list, after I?ve worked out what it?s meant to do and tried to get it to do it. And possibly followed the examples of more experienced friends. So if you?re one of those who reads the manual thoroughly first, and memorises as many rules as you can then it’s highly likely the way we encapsulate our faith is different too. And in that diversity is God?s glory.