Plato had likened humanity to people chained in a cave, thinking that reality was little more than the shadows they had always observed. Perhaps we too live in a world of shadows.
While watching an infant being baptized at an Episcopal church, the preacher pronounced:
· Now I baptize you with the living waters which seal you for eternal salvation by the Holy Spirit.
During the coffee fellowship after the service, I asked a greeter whether she believed that water baptism saves infants as the preacher had proclaimed. She answered that she did not, but that this wasn’t important to her. I then asked, “How then are we saved,” as I looked towards her 10-year-old daughter.
She answered that she didn’t know and wasn’t really that concerned, insisting that it was enough to be a good person. Clearly, she thought herself to be a “good” person. But isn’t this self-righteousness, I thought – the conviction that she is entitled and divinely deserving of certain benefits, perhaps more so than other people. And perhaps this also reflected a hardness on her part – an unwillingness to humbly acknowledge her own moral failures and spiritual need.
I wanted to ask her if she was concerned about this question of salvation for her daughter’s sake. However, she excused herself and walked away.
I find it puzzling that even church people are unconcerned about their eternal destiny. Don’t they need to answer this all-important question? Doesn’t she need the assurance of knowing that she will be with the Lord for all eternity?
After this, my wife and I sat down at a table for a snack. A gentleman in his mid-seventies joined us. After I had asked him about his life and work, he reciprocated by asking this of me. I jumped at the opportunity to tell him about how I had come to a faith in Jesus as a Zionist and a Jew.
I then explained that I had been tormented by the question of salvation. He responded that I probably wouldn’t find anyone in his church who was struggling with this question.
I was incredulous. “But isn’t the question of God, salvation, and an eternity with Him the one question that people need to confront?” I asked. He repeated that his co-congregationists aren’t too concerned with these issues.
How could they not be concerned! They are concerned about their childrens’ clothing and immunizations. Why not their eternal destiny? Many are even facing death without any certainty of where they and their families will be for eternity.
I asked the gentleman across from me how he answered these questions. Unflustered, the gentleman explained that he felt content with the answers given by his Episcopal church. However, he couldn’t answer what they were or even why they should be accepted as true, in light of the many other opinions that people hold.
I was shocked to observe that he remained undisturbed by his failure to provide any coherent answers. He remained the gentleman, but he was sleeping at the wheel as his life careened out of control.
I explained to him that as I grew in the certainty that the Bible is the Word of God and in my understanding of it, I also grew in the assurance that I was beloved for all eternity. However, the gentleman explained that he was confused by the Bible. I had explained to him that I was a teacher of the Bible and would be glad to answer any of his questions, but he had none. Nor did he seem to be concerned about his biblical confusion. Nevertheless, he seemed to enjoy the exchange even though it had exposed his nakedness.
My wife reflected that there were no Bibles in the pews, just the hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer. The gentleman acknowledged that they had disappeared some years ago along with any concern about what God thought about them.
The people at this church claim to believe that there is a God, but He is little more than a three letter word – something that contributes to their identity and affiliations but not to their hopes, dreams, thoughts, or plans. However, they are convinced that they are “good” people.
Plato had explained that those who lived in the cave would naturally be uncomfortable in the light and want to run from it. However, he was confident that once they got used to the light, they would prefer the light.
However, this had not been my experience. I too had been a sleepwalker. I had turned my mind off to the things that I didn’t want to see – disturbing and confusing things. The sun might have been shining, but I preferred the darkness of self-deception. I wanted to feel good about myself. Thinking correctly about myself was simply irrelevant to my pressing needs.
I had to be born from above like the Prophet Ezekiel had described:
· And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
It is not enough to go to church. Nor is it enough to hear the liturgy. We remain dead even as we walk, talk, laugh, celebrate, and even shed tears.