Friday, August 14, 2009

So That's One Sheep...

A theological story. I should note that this was conceived during a conversation with Mike Schmitz under the influence of a Chesterton conference and is not, is not, is not an attack on Calvinism. It is a story which attempts to use Calvinist doctrines, both older and newer, as a mode of exploration for other theological ideas. There has been one innovation, or renovation, made to the Calvinist doctrines, and this has been made so that I might avoid the story being an actual attack on Calvinism rather than an attack on something much more vile.

That said, though in some ways this story may attack, and some ways defend, Calvinism, it should be taken that it is largely neutral on the subject, or intended to be, while I am largely against the subject, but more in its content than in its intentions or reminders. If as the Catholics claim, Calvinism really is a sort of heresy, it has as much to teach us as any other heresy, and more than a good many of them. Here's the story. Comments are welcome.

So That's One Sheep...

There were once two Calvinists. Each knew his doctrine quite well—what it was at least, and between them they could get to it from the Scriptures. It happens that they attended the same church—Jerusalem Church, in a small nonexistent town in the northwest. In this town most persons found themselves Calvinists, Catholics, or Calvinists who really were Catholics (excepting their hope in the perseverance of the saints.)

Now we must note that the proper start of our tale is the day of judgment, on which the two were brought in to give accounts of themselves. They did not know why, but it seemed God's good pleasure that they be brought in together. The first stepped forward. He was sad, wasted; a piece of modern art composed entirely of skin and bones. He looked at once hopeless and repentant, and barely made eye contact with the Judge as he spoke. “Sir. It is with great regret that I inform you that I am almost certainly damned. I know what Your teaching is—that those who are not among the elect shall have no experiences of conversion, that they shall not be affected whatsoever by taking communion, or by their baptism.

“I know for a fact, then, that I am not among the elect, not among the predestinate. I have always felt rushes of emotion whenever old friends and family came to visit me, and always felt inflamed with passion when I saw the ugliest bee resting on the prettiest flowers. But I have never felt anything or had any experience in receiving the bread and juice, and sensed nothing at my baptism. And indeed, even when I came to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord of my Life, I...I felt nothing.

“If Your hands are not truly bound by these laws You laid down, I should ask you to have mercy on me, though I should certainly not deserve it and have no right to expect it.”

The Judge nodded somberly and then turned to face the other man, who had aged well. He looked peaceful, at least mostly, and well-dressed, the opposite in physical health of the other. The Judge motioned for the other Calvinist to speak. “Sir,” he said, “It is with joy that I can stand before you in the hope of rising again. Like the other man I know Your teachings. I can recall with what rush of joy I came to believe in Jesus Christ, and with what passion I found myself dunked in the river, three times in a row. I can recall how when I first took the bread and juice I felt not damned, but elect, and felt then and there assured that I would be a persevering saint, because I had realized I was a sinner.

“So I ask You, O Lord, to please have mercy on this sinner as well, though I also have no right to expect it and, certainly, do not deserve it.”

The Judge again nodded somberly, the same curious nod as before. He looked back and forth between the two and then made a motion with his fingers—what terrible fingers!--And in walked Gabriel.

Gabriel was many-winged, and quite incomprehensible to the two men. He was, as they knew, a messenger, to a poor woman who had been the container for the Lord, and now he was to be the most terrible messenger of all.

Gabriel looked at the two men, his many eyes making contact with each of them at once, disorienting them over and over as he spoke. He turned first to the well-aged man. “I have some bad news. The first is that you will not be entering Heaven—well, not right now, anyway. You see, you in your assured Elect-ness neglected to do much of anything at all for the church, except sing on the worship team from time to time, and serve communion once a month. This might seem like a lot, but how much time did you really spend seeking the Truth, and seeking to live it out on days besides Sundays, and in particular to bring the Truth to the poor and unfortunate among you? Pardon the potential pun, but who in hell do you think you are to avoid such tasks? Your Pastor did not use such lofty language, but he continually told you to search the Scriptures for the truth or falsity of his words, preached painfully from the Book of James about the persecuting rich, and was always exhorting the congregation to practice what was being preached. You did this to some degree, but you almost always neglected, neglected, neglected throughout the week to serve God in what you did. Or need I remind you of the countless female secretaries and coworkers whose backsides were carefully examined, or the countless homeless people outside of your office building who were not only ignored financially, but also ignored when they simply wanted to say 'good morning'? As you did unto the least of these!

“Yes, your sins are many, and like this other man's they should under a less merciful God disqualify you from entry into the Promised Land. But if anything disqualifies you it is the overarching sin, that you, ultimately, did not seek to love and serve the Lord.”

The Elect man gulped. “There is good news, however. Your queer group of people called Calvinists was quite wrong about Purgatory. It does exist. You see there is a special subclass of persons in the class of the Elect which God chooses, by His own good pleasure, to send to a special sub-heaven, above-hell sort of place where they will have to rely on the prayers and mercy of others—all predestined for their benefit, of course. And when their time there is complete they may join the other Elect in heaven. But their placement in this purgatory is, really, just for the further appreciation of those already in heaven of the fact that it was God's good pleasure to predestine them to be elect, and to serve God, not just to be Elect.”

Upon this note a trap-door opened underneath the Elect man, and he disappeared rather rapidly into it. Then Gabriel turned to face the damned man. “As for you...You are saved, though you are quite an idiot.”

The face of skin and bones brightened.

“You served the Lord your God with all the heart, soul and mind and strength you could possibly muster, though you believed He had condemned you to an eternity in hell. But you served anyway—you served the poor, you served the rich, you served businessmen who were trying to push past you to get a breakfast burrito at some city stand. You were there visiting Him in prison, handing him breakfast on the sidewalk, not by your own works but because from the beginning you were elect. You served them all as if they were The Lord, and served them well—you took the Pastor's mandate to love literally (the best sort of literalist). And so you have done well, good and faithful servant. Would you like to know how many souls you seem to have helped along the way, in all? There were around three-hundred that you led more directly, and around thirty-thousand that you made straight paths into.

“As I said you were, however, an idiot. You somehow took this notion of conversion experience to mean conversion feeling. I fully admit that we up in heaven have been trying to get the message to Christians for years that they ought to stop talking about conversion experiences and start talking about conversion history, to avoid this nasty and awful overtone of emotion, but you still could've done your part, and realized that perhaps even though you felt nothing on taking communion, nothing on baptism, and nothing on realization that Jesus Christ was Lord, it was still a realization. That loving and serving the Lord day in and day out as you did, though you had no hope of Resurrection yourself, must have still meant that you were in some sense saved, in some sense converted—which as we of course know could not happen unless you were called. Therefore, unfortunately, you did propagate the untruth of the 'conversion experience' wherever you went even as you propagated the Truth of Christ, and propagate the untrue notion that you yourself were unsaved, though you were. But it seems it is God's good pleasure to strike this particular blemish out of you without the pain of being put into that special class of Elect to which the Elect man now belongs. Congratulations, and well done, good and faithful servant!”

“Thank you, s--” At this point a similar trap-door to that below the elect man sprung open, but it seemed that in this case the floor-boards had a spring, not a drop, below them, and the springing-board propelled the mess of skin and bones upward.

Gabriel turned to the Judge, exasperated. “I swear—well, I don't swear, but I do wonder, Father. Will they ever get it, really?”

2 comments:

A. Scott / Xeirxes said...

As a whole, I like the story. It has the whole rich-man/poor-man feeling, where the rich expects a lot for himself and the poor does not, but the poor is blessed. It reminds me of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God"

There are a lot of other things I wanted to comment on, but I don't think I will do so here.

D.J. Lower / KKairos said...

You could feel free to tell me what I got wrong. I probably did get a good few things wrong, and there was one small attack that made its way into the story, though it was revised to be, well, not as bad.

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