I told one good friend my next blog post would be a reflection on a line from a Christian worship song and another that I would write about lent. Fortunately I can just about do both, kind of.
There has, in recent years, been much theological kerfuffle over the song “In Christ Alone”. Is its theology OK? Should we sing it? And so on. This has revolved around the line “The wrath of God was satisfied”. Depending on how charitable I am feeling depends on my views about it, but that is not the line I am interested in here, that debate has, thankfully, died down. It wasn’t until a Christmas service where I was thinking particularly deeply about the words that I began to wonder if I took issue with another line (I then mulled on it a long time, hence the delay). The song triumphantly proclaims
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his[God’s] hand.”
Great, we all know that God, and therefore his acts of salvation are stronger than the devil who was defeated by Christ. Where is the issue? Well, the bit that got me thinking was that, as an Arminian I believe one can lose their salvation. We choose to accept salvation and we can choose to reject salvation. And that choice is no good if we’re locked into it once we make it, that makes a mockery of free will, so I believe we can choose to be saved and then walk away from that, with no issue. And vice versa is true. So that made me slightly sceptical. Something can pluck me from God’s hand. Or, more accurately, I can walk out of it.
This taken on its own can lead to a sticky position. It can, if manipulated, lead to assertions that we cannot be sure of our salvation, what if that little niggle we have counts as us rejecting our salvation.
My Arminian viewpoint is one of the many reasons I feel at home in the Methodist Church, and one of their central tenets is that
“all may know they are saved”
Clearly then we can say that salvation is a matter of free will, and also that we can be assured of our salvation, because as long as we know we have accepted salvation then we know we are saved. There is no trying to double-guess God involved.
So where does that leave me with the song? It leaves me in Lent. It leaves me considering the powers of hell, temptation, the road to the cross, Jesus defeating evil and sin, and casting out demons and all those lenten themes.
I come back to the point I made earlier, that Christ is the victor over “the powers of hell” and it is Christ who assures my salvation (this is where it ties in with lent, we know Christ to be superior to the devil by his interaction the the wilderness and, if we take the gospels at face-value the exorcisms subsequently and ultimately in the resurrection which we look forward to). There is no way that the devil can undo my salvation, as long as I am trusting in the means of that salvation. The weakest link in this scenario then, seems to be me, and here I think it gets slightly more grey (although I have a black and white conclusion). However it is that the devil interacts with humanity (and I will happily throw around ideas about how involved he is or isn’t) it would seem to be by exploiting things. So the positive human attribute of being curious and questioning our faith, can be manipulated to become a lack of faith.
And what about schemes of man. I would be most hesitant to say that any human who, knowingly or otherwise, leads me away from faith must be acting for, with or by the devil. I think, an atheist for example can be sure enough of their convictions and in control of their life to try and lead me away from faith of their own volition.
Do I think the devil can trick me into walking out of God’s salvific hand? Do I think humans can either? Here it gets trickier, because clearly I am not being stolen, I am making a decision, and my Arminianism is such that I fundamentally believe I am free to do so. But what then, has the devil beaten or out schemed God? I do not believe so. I believe I must bear full responsibility for that decision, and furthermore that God loves me enough to respect that decision. I believe my free-will is imparted to me as part of the imago dei, it is part of what it means to be made in God’s image and I believe God made us in his image as an act of love.
One final consideration must be made. That God will try utterly hard to see that we choose to stay with him. There is something, for me at least, quite compelling about being in relationship with God. I yield that this is entirely subjective, but the times when the questioning of my faith has made the edge of God’s hand look tempting then I have had a heightened sense of the safety and the firmness of his palm. Call me cowardly for sticking with what feel to be safe by all means, that is a fair criticism, but I believe it is part of God’s love for us that he also reminds why it is a good idea to stay.
So, I must conclude that “no power of hell, nor scheme of man, shall ever pluck me from his hand” … unless I choose it for myself and then God will let me walk out of his hand with a tear in his eye and a heavy heart, but shall do so out of love for me.