Today in Sunday School, we talked about the Pre-Existence and fore-ordination.
At one point, a guy in the class raised his hand and asked, “Okay, so let’s say you’re fore-ordained to do something. But you fall away from the church, stop believing in God, and totally miss your chance to do it. Then you come back 10 years later. What happens to you?”
There were a variety of answers, from “God would find another way to get the job done” to “you miss out on blessings during that time, but you can still come back to full fellowship,” and so on.
I raised my hand and said, “You know, I think the amazing thing about God is that He’s so big and His grace is so wonderful that He uses our good choices to bless us AND our bad choices to bless us, if we let Him.”
A pretty basic comment, I thought — until I got this response: “Well, we have to qualify that by remembering that, in this instance, we’ve set ourselves back 10 years.”
And I’ll be honest, that frustrated me. The teacher is a good friend, one I’ve opened up to about my beliefs, and I know he meant to be helpful and kind with his reply. But if we’d been out of church and in a private setting, I would have responded with this question:
Why do we have to qualify it?
Why is it so terrible to think that God might be able to take something ugly and messy and turn it into something truly wonderful and beautiful — even more wonderful and beautiful than if we’d never fallen?
Why do we have to place limits on God’s grace?
I’m reading The Fountainhead right now, and the following passage struck me. It is the story of the “ideal” man, architect Howard Roark, against the world. Roark is strong, self-controlled, and lives entirely for himself–on his own terms. In this scene, he confronts an old acquaintance, Peter Keating, once considered a great architect by the “world,” but Keating is depicted as merely the shadow of a man, a man who lives entirely for the approval of others, and loses himself along the way. Keating has come to Roark, begging for assistance. It’s a pathetic and moving confrontation.
Anyway, on to the excerpt.
When Keating had gone, Roark leaned against the door, closing his eyes. He was sick with pity.
He had never felt this before–not when Henry Cameron collapsed in the office at his feet, not when he saw Steven Mallory sobbing on a bed before him. Those moments had been clean. But this was pity–this complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed. There was shame in this feeling–his own shame that he should have to pronounce such judgment upon a man, that he should know an emotion which contained no shred of respect.
This is pity, he thought, and then he lifted his head in wonder. He thought that there must be something terribly wrong with a world in which this monstrous feeling is called a virtue.
I got to thinking. What does it mean for a man to be without worth or hope, not to be redeemed? Is there such a thing? And if pity is truly the act of pronouncing such judgment upon a man, can anyone make that judgment but God? Isn’t pity the most debasing of all human emotions, because, as Roark himself reflects, it is an emotion without even a modicum of respect?
It seems that when we pity someone, we abuse them and us. We abuse them, because we pronounce them worthless. Without that pronouncement, we might regard them with empathy, with apathy, even with antipathy–but at least we leave their basic dignity in tact. But the moment we view them with pity is the moment we decide they have lost the second greatest gift, next to life itself: the power to direct that life, which is the gift that makes us uniquely human. In our mind, they have become a shell of a human being, without power to act, but only to be acted upon, a slave, devoid of liberty or agency.
And we abuse ourselves, because we artificially exalt ourselves as gods. It is only for God to pity, for only He can judge. And the truth, of course, is that we are all worthless, unprofitable servants, falling short of the infinite potential installed in each of us by virtue of our humanity. To be human is to be divine. And because we are not divine, no, not one of us, we deserve nothing but God’s pity, relying solely on His grace to make us what we should be. But how can God love us and pity us at the same time? What is it that He loves?
It’s a great paradox. We are agents endowed with liberty and yet in bondage every day. We are divine and yet fallen, hopelessly lost and incomplete. Perhaps it is our divinity, our individuality, that God so cherishes in us, the spark of potential, of possibility untapped. He alone can tap it–and yet it is in our hands to choose to let Him. Perhaps it is that act of willful submission, the rarest and truest form of individual expression, that makes us creatures not wretched and vile, but worthy of our own humanity.