Maybe I’m mellowing as I approach my three score years and 10, for when I think back to some of my early columns I am more than just a tad embarrassed.
There was one occasion when I got so mad at what a preacher had said that I named him in my newspaper column. What a furore that created! I went to see the man, not so much to apologise as to take the opportunity to explain to him the reason for my ire.
He had started with the traditional ‘children’s message’, which was great. He told of a child who was out hill walking with her father when she slipped and almost fell into a ravine, her father only just managing to grab her by the hand. She began to cry, ‘I can’t hold on Daddy, I can’t!’ To which he replied, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’ve got you and I won’t let go!’ And of course he gently drew the child back on to terra firma.
The moral to the story is self evident: we might turn away from God, we might not be able to maintain our walk with him, slip back to our former ungodly way of life, but he will never loosen his grip.
This came to mind the other day when I read an extract from Paul’s letter to the Romans: ‘I am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow. Not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above, or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.’
You’ll agree that’s an all-encompassing list, nothing and no one can separate us from his love, and the inescapable conclusion is that it includes ourselves. And yet, in his main message, the aforementioned preacher man went on to say that if we don’t observe a list of conditions, God will fall out with us and will lose our salvation.
The really interesting and sad thing is that when I called to see him at his home, and when he cooled down and stopped throwing things around in his study in a frenzy (nothing heavy, just pencils, pens and a couple of booklets) he admitted that whilst he feels he is a child of God right now, he might not be tomorrow.’ That’s nothing short of heresy, I mean, what sort of mother would desert her child for soiling a nappy, or decorating the kitchen with his breakfast? And yet this man considers it his responsibility to encourage his listeners to entrust their eternal wellbeing to his god.
I can’t speak for you, but if I thought for a minute that our God was like his god I would pack my things and head off to a Buddhist monastery tomorrow!
No, to entrust your eternal wellbeing to a God who promises that not even you can separate you from his love is eminently sensible, reassuring and makes for a justifiable feeling of absolute security.
I am also convinced that the mixed messages delivered by Rev What’s-His-Face that fateful morning was exactly what Paul the apostle had in mind when he used the word ‘anathema’ to describe anyone who preaches a gospel that is not his gospel of grace, mercy and peace.
But maybe I’d do things differently these days.