Sunday, November 13, 2005
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. but he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
-The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
We often look to Christ for safety. Pascal's Wager argues that the expected payoff from believing in God is greater than the expected payoff for not believing. Many people have what is sometimes referred to as "fire insurance," with the idea that at the very least, they won't end up going to hell. There's a long tradition of this in the world, with people being baptized as infants, confirmed as adolescents, and then not doing anything involving Christianity until they're old and afraid of dying (variations on this include getting baptized on one's deathbed). I wouldn't presume to judge those who choose to believe based on this reasoning. What I will, say, though, is that I think faith in Christ is something more radical and dangerous than we are usually taught. Christ said that He came not to bring peace to the earth, but a sword (Matt. 10:34). In the West, we are raised to see Christianity as something part of our culture. If we go to church, then we call ourselves Christians and call our children Christians as well. Again, I'm not saying this isn't true. I just think it's kind of a minimalist approach (and, to be sure, if the minimum weren't all that was required, it wouldn't be the minimum).
One of the misconceptions which has come from the Reformation, however, is the idea that anything above the minimum is an attempt to earn salvation. That's not it at all. St. James the Less wrote that deeds are very necessary for believers (James 2:20). I don't intend to get into a discussion of the role works play in salvation; I'm just stating that they don't earn it. Because many Protestants have such a horror of works-based salvation, they discount the importance of ministry, especially what the Roman Catholic Church calls "corporal works of mercy," such as visiting the sick and feeding the hungry. The modern American Evangelical movement has been criticized for not doing enough to ease everyday suffering, instead concentrating on preaching the Gospel.
We're called to do both. St. Francis of Assisi famously said that we should "preach the Gospel ceaselessly; if necessary, use words." We may even be called to die for our faith. This martyrdom may not be something as well thought-of as being beheaded for refusing to recant our beliefs. It may be something as undignified as drowning while saving others (as Arland D. Williams, jr. did; I don't know whether or not he was a believer) or being lost to history's memory. Our faith is safe; the One in whom we trust is the most dangerous and powerful thing in the universe. We are well-protected.