During the confession portion of the service at my church here in NYC the congregants are encouraged to kneel. I am grateful for this gentle reminder to my body—as is often the case, because my spirit and my body are not separate entities, the physical act of kneeling calls my mind into an attitude of humility and thankfulness.
Today, as the confession came to an end and I began to stand, it occurred to me that never in my life—not once—have I had the opportunity to doubt that God will hear my confession and choose to forgive me. I have never shouted prayers into a void, never expected anything except grace as a response to my confessions. I have known, from the time I was little, not only of my depravity, but also of the grace that always has been, and always will be there.
It struck me then, quite fully, how beautiful it is to be able to say that. All of the times I have thought about whether it would be better to have known a world without Christ, so that I would know the difference between the two, were washed away for a moment in the joy of that realization. How I have been held, how I have been treated with gentleness. For all that I have had periods of doubting over the years, I have known deep within myself each time I went to confess not only that my prayers were heard, but also that they were received and atoned for.
This is not a small grace. This is a huge one. Each of us has a path, and God’s hand is in each of them. But I think it’s important to recognize, from time to time, both the small graces and the large ones in one’s own life. Quite honestly, all of the fears and worries and unsureness of my present is swallowed up by this large grace, given to me—given to us all. The most beautiful thing about the grace that is true of my life is that it is true of all lives. The deepest, most troubling fear in my own life, and I think in everyone’s life, is the fear of being utterly alone. But regardless of whether man leaves or takes me, I am assured that God is constant.
I heard from a friend, recently, that she was deeply troubled by conversations we’d had, long ago in college, about predestination—the idea that God predetermines our paths before we are born. Honestly, the conversations had not been red-letter ones for me. But it seems this issue has always been of utmost importance to her, and she had come to believe that my opinion on the issue is that we as humans are locked into one path or another, with no free will to choose.
Now, it’s been quite some time since I last studied any texts on this doctrine, and I think my understanding of the issue was never more than a bit gray. But the fact that this topic has been bugging her has been bugging me, as well, and as I’ve thought about the ideas present in the doctrine of predestination, I think it actually begs us to admit a great degree of humility.
As humans we are naturally inclined to know exactly what we think about something, to wrap it up and wipe our hands and move onto the next topic. But many of the arguments for something like predestination end up saying, essentially, This is what the Bible appears to suggest. These are the conclusions I have drawn, and I can draw none further. Now I am willing to live my life in the question mark, making what choices and decisions I can, based on what I have been given. I think it’s possible to say that I believe the doctrine of predestination is true, and also say that I don’t claim to know all the answers. I think it’s possible to make bold claims about what I believe the Bible says, and also to keep an open heart, humbly acknowledging that some things have not been revealed.
So today, all of these thoughts—thoughts of grace, and doctrine, and questions—have led me to ponder how much hope there is in the knowledge that we have been given as much as we need. There are many, many things—theological and otherwise—for which we haven’t been given the full picture. But we have been given enough. I have been given enough, whether it is the fact that I will live my life with unanswered questions about doctrine, or whether it is the knowledge of the grace that bathes me through each moment, or whether it is the work and home I currently have.
I am willing to live in the question mark, because I know that it is enough. It throws me off balance and brings me up short, but it also presses all around me when I find myself on my knees, my body quietly working to bring stillness to my spirit. There are truths that are solid, that I can dig my feet into, and there are truths that live in the question mark. I am grateful for both.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Eugene H. Peterson
The Devil in the White City
Peter A. Pitzele