Humility and Contrition - an invitation
The quote was the climax of yesterday's sermon. Taken from Shirley C. Guthrie's great book, Christian Doctrine.
"So heaven is for sinners and hell is for 'good' people. To say this is to take seriously the consequences of Protestant insistence that salvation comes by God's freely given grace alone and not by our good works (not even by our faith considered as a good work). When we understand this, then talk about heaven and hell is no longer a pagan matter of adding up the score to decide who will be in and who will be out with God. It becomes the essence of the good news of Jesus Christ. This good news does have two sides, warning and promise. But it is warning to 'good' people and promise to sinners.
"This is the warning: Do you (with others like you) want to be autonomous, self-sufficient people who need neither God nor other people for anything except perhaps to recognize and reward your superior moral insight and integrity, your correct liberal or conservative political position, your true religion? Do you want to be able to judge, accept, or reject other people (and perhaps even God and the Word of God) according to whether they agree with your views of correct sexual, familial, and social behavior and relationships; and according to your understanding of what people must believe, say, and do if they want to be 'saved'? Do you want to live as if everyone who thinks and lives differently from you (maybe including God) needs to be forgiven, instructed, and corrected by you, whereas you have no need to be forgiven, instructed, and corrected by them? Do you want, in other words, to live as if God and other people may need your love and help but you do not need theirs? Very well, you may have what you want. You (with others like you) may live in the godless and inhuman loneliness of your moral superiority and religious self-sufficiency now and forever. You will go to hell (already live in hell) not because God 'sent' you there but because you have chosen to live there. (But you need to know that even if you 'make your bed in hell' God will still be there -- the God who is for and not against you. You will never be able to escape the relentless love of God in Jesus Christ that is for hell-bent people just like you. This relentless love longs for you to find your own true humanity in community with the God and fellow human beings you were willing to go to hell to get away from.)
"And this is the promise: Are you willing to admit that no matter how moral and religious you are, you are just as prone as the most immoral and irreligious to get lost in life, lose sight of who you are, become confused about how you (and other people) ought to live? Are you willing to admit that it is your fault - that you keep losing your own identity because in one way or another (in your immorality and lack of religious faith or precisely in your too confident morality and piety) you have cut yourself off from God and the fellow human beings who alone can enable you to find yourself? Are you willing to risk the pain of giving up your proud or anxious self-sufficiency to be reconciled with God and other people (all of them)? Do you want to be born again to be a truly free, truly human man or woman -- free to be yourself as you are free for the disturbing, demanding love of God and other human beings? Then you may enter the kingdom of God, no matter how sinful you may have been in your religious piety or lack of it, your immorality or morality. You may have eternal life not only in the future but already now. All you have to do is choose the God who in Jesus Christ has chosen just such lost sinners as you. That is, all you have to do is find yourself in surrender to the Christ who was totally with and for God, totally with and for other people, and therefore totally human."
Guthrie, Shirley C. Christian Doctrine . Louisville, KY.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.