God and Greatness: Absolution

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about absolution — about sin in general, and the afterlife as well.

In my time, I’ve been a lot of different places on the topic of life after death. There was a long time when I felt like there was no NEED for a life after death — on a personal, individual base, the extent of your consciousness IS eternity, after all. I built up a big argument for it, trying to work my way around to “Live life to the fullest,” I guess, but it just doesn’t match with anything I believe, long-term.

I sort of outgrew that phase, without really replacing it with anything. I just settled back into default, I guess.

Then I started this blog, about a year ago, and sometime around a week after I wrote “The Magic Architect,” I really started understanding what I really believe these days.

(And I was already arguing the supporting points back at the very beginning, but it’s only recently that the pieces fit together into a big picture, y’know?)

So. What is salvation? What is grace? What about “neither height nor depth” separating us from God, and whatnot? What about Love keeping no record of wrongs?

I asked these questions before. You’ve seen me mull them.

Why would Jesus give up his divine life, so that we could walk a knife edge that we’ll almost certainly going to fall off? That’s a huge sacrifice for a pretty risky investment. We’re told he died to save us from everlasting death, not just to give us a fighting chance….

Me, I see people screwing up. People screw up all the time. Life is just a big string of terrible mistakes. Daniel asked me recently if I thought people ever really stop sinning, if anyone ever really overcomes temptation, and I said I’m pretty sure that happens when people die, and not really before.

And I don’t mean that as a pessimistic statement, and I don’t mean it as a snarky way to score a conversational point. I think Life is a kind of hell — or, to use someone else’s terminology (and I’m mostly thinking of Lewis here), a kind of purgatory. It’s not where we’re supposed to be, and it’s not something we’re good at, and it’s got more negatives than positives about it.

I think that (as I’ve said before) thanks to the gift of absolution, humans having to suffer through Life is a kindness. It’s an opportunity that we desperately need, to learn the important lessons without facing the eternal consequences for the little mistakes along the way.

I cherish Life, for this reason. I’m proud of all those people I see living it, really participating in the experience. Which is not say those going out of their way to make mistakes, in the hope of learning from them (or, to use someone else’s words again, those people who are “going on sinning so that Grace may increase”). No, I think anybody rushing blindly into folly after folly after folly without trying to learn from it is setting himself up for some long-term suffering.

But there are some people who try to really experience Life, who try get everything they can out of it. And let me tell you (as if you didn’t already know), living life boldly will result in mistakes, and missteps, and grand catastrophes from time to time. Living life boldly will result in sins, and addictions, and suffering (and, to make sure it’s real suffering, it won’t just be your own, but your mistakes will cause suffering to those that you care about). Living life boldly means that, from time to time, you will be viciously, horribly guilty.

And that’s where absolution comes in. We are not called to a spirit of timidity, but to a spirit of boldness. We could try to hide behind a Law, we could try not to commit sins, and we could commit a whole life to not being bad, but that would be — listen carefully — that would be a life wasted. That would be nothing learned. That would be all the pain of temptation rejected, and in the end you are where you started — you know what is wrong, and what is right. Hiding behind rules does not mature you, does not better prepare you for tomorrow, or for infinity.

To do that, you must come out from behind the Law and experience Good and Evil. You must enter into the actual knowledge of both, and choose Good. But doing so will leave you marked with all the filthy stains of your journey, all the wickedness you surrendered to along the way. By the time you’re in a position to choose Good, you’re too filthy a thing to do so.

And, of course, our God provided an answer. He paid a heavy price, but it was a price he was willing to invest in his children. Absolution. He invested Christ, not in the goodie goodies who avoid mixed swimming and run away from temptations (the older sons, as it were). No, he invested the blood of Christ in all those who have tasted everything the world has to offer, the Good and Bad, and who, having seen the fullness of what the devil has to give, are willing and able to reject it in favor of the kingdom. Those are the ones who will truly know the value of what they have obtained, and it was for them that the blood was shed.

All things are permitted to me, but not all things are good for me. Life…life is an opportunity to learn both halves of that statement. Get started.