Did you hear about the man who went to the doctor with a terrible headache? Before he got down to examining him, he first asked him a few questions.
Grace is uncivilized and rebellious. We make rules for it and it breaks them. Grace is a constant embarrassment to the prim and proper religiosity of the squeaky clean. It is what Brennan Manning called "the furious longing of God."
This is in an excerpt from a speech delivered to the graduating class of Discordia Seminary. After some preliminary remarks, the speaker, a renowned devil named Lietongue, went on to say the following.
Brothers, the rich and diverse education you have received has more than adequately prepared you for the ministry of temptation to which you have been called. Besides your core classes on Twisting Scripture and Introducing Heresy, you have also studied Immorality Rationalization, the Inculcation of Church Division, and much more. All of these will, of course, aid you in your service to our Father below.
Some of you, however, may be floundering in this vast sea of knowledge. You’re wondering, “How will I ever keep it all straight?” To assist you, therefore, allow me to take this opportunity to summarize for you the three main objectives of your office. I assure you that if you keep this triad of goals ever before your eyes, you will successfully shepherd your flock into the arms of our Master.
- With regard to evil, your objective is not merely to tempt humans to do bad things. Yes, of course, there is profit in theft and adultery and such, but only if you follow through to the next step. A murderer, for instance, is no good to you if he later regrets his action and returns to the Enemy. What have you then accomplished? In fact, that murderer may well be even harder for us to reach if he confessed to the Foe and tasted the poison of his forgiveness. Your first goal, therefore, is not simply to lure people into evil, but once they have committed some wrong, to convince them that they are so bad, so corrupted, so shamed, that the Enemy wants nothing to do with them anymore. Enlarge upon their guilt. Emphasize divine justice. Erase the word “Father” from their hearts and in its place write, “Judge.”
- With regard to good, your objective is not merely to prevent humans from doing what is right. In fact, it can be to your advantage when they are engaged in so-called righteous deeds. There will be occasions when you applaud their efforts to be faithful spouses, loving parents, hard workers, and the like. Co-opt these good works. Use them to your advantage. Tell the humans that the more they do for their God, the more their God will love them. In so doing, ever so subtly, you will begin to convince them that there is a direct correlation between his acceptance of them and their performance of good. Pride will naturally grow from this assumption, as will their understanding of their status before him. Before long, every good deed will, in their mind, move them closer to their Lord. At the same time, they will begin to disdain those whom they see as morally inferior to themselves. As you know, we were able to do much in this respect with the Pharisees. Make it your goal to breed more of these zealots for the church. People will do good things; make sure those good things become the source of their hope for divine approval.
- Finally, and most importantly, there is that sinister proclamation of our Enemy that you must silence at all costs. You know what I’m talking about. Every class at Discordia Seminary is crafted so as to aid you in muting, corrupting, and twisting this message. Our Foe claims that because of the death and resurrection of he-who-will-not-be-named, he has already made everything right between him and humanity. In his disgusting words, he has “reconciled the world to himself.” He claims to love them unconditionally, forgive them freely, welcome them wholeheartedly, all because of this so-called son. Thankfully, this proclamation is not only foolish to us; it is diametrically opposed to human experience as well. It is unreasonable to them that an innocent man should die in the stead of guilty men, that they should be loved even while they hated the lover. Your daily task is to undermine what our Enemy calls “grace.” Redefine it as “spiritual power.” Reinterpret it as “earned acceptance.” Make it contingent upon human cooperation. Warn that its promulgation will produce lawlessness. I don’t care how you attack it, just that you attack it. If there is one overarching purpose of your calling, one primary reason for the existence of your office, it is the eradication of the message that our Enemy is defined by grace.
Brothers, I applaud the work you have done to reach this milestone. The world is waiting for you. Go forth and labor zealously. Our Father will be watching.
Yesterday I stopped at McDonald’s on my lunch break to grab a cup of coffee and write about the victorious Christian life. I had just cashed several checks from folks who’d ordered my book of sermons and meditations. As if divining that my wallet was full of cash, twice the number of local homeless people stuck out their filthy hands to me as I walked from my truck to the McDonald’s. But, by God, I was eager to write, so I just quickened my step and played deaf.
No sooner did I get my cup of coffee, find a table, and begin to type my ideas into my iPhone than out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pair of long tan legs, crowned with hot pink shorts, saunter into the establishment. I was three sentences into my article when my train of thought totally derailed in a crash of testosteronic proportions.
While my eyeballs were still locked on the legs, I reached for my cup of coffee but, not looking where my hand was going, I hit the side of the cup, tipped it over, and spilled half the hot java all over the table, and even on my lap. Now this was a public place, of course, so I was forced to settle for an under-my-breath, profanity-riddled implosion of anger at my lack of grace.
I grabbed some napkins and began sopping up the mess. Some of the coffee had splashed on my iPhone, so I worked on it first. As I dried it, I pushed the button to open the lock screen and saw there the date, April 25. I didn’t need to see that, not at this moment. I don’t care for this month. You see, every time the fourth month rolls around, I get to hear, for thirty days, all day long, in various contexts, the name of my ex-wife, April. Already frustrated from the coffee mishap, seeing her name did nothing to improve my mood. Indeed, I found my mind retreating to another, much bigger mess, marked by black days of heartache and fury.
With only a few minutes left in my half-hour lunch break, I strong-armed myself back into the article on the victorious Christian life. Then, wouldn’t you know it, my phone rang. I saw the number. “Dear God, not him,” I mumbled. It was my least favorite customer, the type who always finds a dark lining in silver cloud. He alone has the knack of making me wish I had a different job, a better job, one in which I could be bossing people around instead pretending to be patient with the likes of this scrooge. So I ignored the call. I had work to do.
Then I saw that I had three minutes left on my lunch break. Three whopping minutes. So I threw my coffee-soaked wad of napkins into the trash, shoved my caffeinated phone back into my pocket, and marched past she-of-the-tan-legs into the hot San Antonio sunshine. I walked over the asphalt, climbed into my Freightliner, and sat there ruminating.
I’d meant to use my lunch break to write a critique of the so-called “victorious Christian life,” the warped view of dynamic Christian living in which the believer daily overcomes one sin after the other, until his bio consists of one long string of spiritual conquests.
As I sat in my truck, I realized, for the millionth time, that my own bio consists of one long, string of spiritual defeats. The hungry I ignore. The women after whom I lust. The anger I indulge. The past I cannot seem to get past. The people I despise. I sin more in thirty minutes than those of the “victorious Christian life” supposedly sin in thirty years.
But I also realized, for the millionth time, that that’s okay. They can have their life of faux spiritual victories. For as much as I sometimes hate myself for the stupid things I do, the destructive words I speak, the immoral thoughts I entertain, there is one who does not hate me. In fact, he loves me through it all. He has already conquered the sins against which I daily struggle. He has already washed away the filth of anger and lust and ingratitude in which I find myself wallowing. Jesus—he is my victor, no matter how many defeats I suffer. On that bloody cross, in his own seeming defeat, he made me a victor by welcoming me into his kingdom of grace and mercy.
And that, dear reader, is the only victorious Christian life I will ever live.