As I look around the world of many of my fellow Christians, I realise that, for them, their lives are one long probationary period! They have their eyes on the prize, to one day ‘belong’, to one day ‘make it’, into the Kingdom of God. A distant kingdom, that can only be entered once dead, once you have been ‘judged’, once you have served your probationary period, followed the rules, have been deemed worthy, and can become a permanent member of the Kingdom of God.
The above notion of there being a God’s Probation has many flaws, flaws that, sadly, shine a very bright light into doctrinal and dogmatic issues that are holding back many entering the Church, forcing many to leave, and setting the Church up as being seen as a place of exclusion, rather than loving and welcoming inclusion.
Firstly, the kingdom is not something that was ever meant to be distant, that was ever meant to be a prize only achieved once dead. The kingdom is something that can and should be NOW! As is said in the Lord’s Prayer, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven! We are meant to be instituting the Kingdom of God here on earth, and there are umpteen passages in the NT where Jesus implores his disciples to do just that. There is no probationary period, no time to ‘find your feet’, no time to be assessed or deemed worthy, we have all been deemed worthy, we are all called, now, to hit the ground running and erect the walls of the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
Secondly, the notion of being ‘judged’, of doing the right thing now for that pie in the sky when you die by and by, is couched in fall/salvation theology. God is a god who is more a judge, than a parent. If a parent, it is a parent who advocates ‘tough love’. We, the daughters and sons of the limitless divine, are seen as inherently flawed sinners, unable to know what is best for us, and constantly in need of forgiveness for the default disposition of humanity; wickedness! We are out of our depth, we have found ourselves in a probationary period where we are struggling to live up to the position, we must obey, as best as we can, all the rules, all the perceived prohibitions to life, and hope we obey enough of them to get through to permanency!
And finally, to complete the trinity, the very notion that we are living in permanent need of forgiveness flies in the face of a doctrine I dislike, the notion of penal substitutionary atonement. This states that Jesus died, and was meant to die, to serve as a sacrifice for us all, to be the sacrificial lamb for humanity, and thus take all our sin on his shoulders, so we are all forgiven. This notion is completely and utterly immersed in almost all aspects of liturgical and dogmatic Christian life, so much so that to take it away, an action I would personally advocate, would mean an incredible reappraisal of almost all aspects of Christianity, it is so endemic. Someone holds a sign up at a sporting event that says John 3:16, which states that ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ The ‘gave his only son’ is a statement of this substitutionary atonement, it is only through the death of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, that we can be deemed worthy of eternal life, of permanency. Yet, as much as this is, for me, the antithesis of what The Way of Jesus should be about, if one does accept this notion, as the majority of Christendom claims to do, then the battle, as the Rector at my own Church often says, has already been won! If Jesus died for our sins, embrace the sinless life, and live a life of blessing, of joyous cleansing. Don’t consider yourself on probation, you have made it, you are permanent already, indeed, you are a partner in the firm! Work to make it great, for you are invested in the outcome!
Life is not a dress rehearsal, not God’s Probation. You do not need to feel unworthy, to feel like an outsider, to hope that one day, through obeying rules that advocate anything other than instituting the loving Kingdom of God on earth, you will one day get to be a permanent member of the Kingdom in heaven.
The time is now, you are worthy, you have made it, you are a partner, and you have responsibilities. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as in heaven. The kingdom that Jesus describes is one in which love will rule, compassion will guide, and barriers will be broken down to love thy neighbour, whoever they are.
Probation is over! Get to work!
Adrian Gibb is the coordinator of PAX (Progressive Anglican Christians), works as an Archivist for the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane and is in the final stages of a PhD at the University of Queensland. He is the author of Sacred Paths
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