Monday, 9 January 2017

A Definite Maybe?

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5

Samuel Goldwyn, the movie producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was known for his malapropisms – amusing statements resulting from the use of incongruous or contradictory words. A story goes that when someone urged him to come to a decision about a project, Goldwyn replied: ‘True, I’ve been a long time making up my mind, but now I am giving you a definite answer. I won’t say yes and I won’t say no, but I am giving you a definite maybe.’

Whimsy aside, that’s perhaps the best that can be offered to us on a whole host of issues – a definite maybe.

In some cases, lack of certainty on our part can be bound up with personal insecurity or a self-worth that has been undermined in damaging ways. But these days, even assertive, self-confident people find it hard to be sure, or at least say they are. For that smacks of intolerance, doesn’t it? The entire drift of our culture makes it unacceptable to say ‘I am sure’, particularly when it comes to issues of faith.

Read again Paul’s words at the start of Romans 5.

Just what is it that flows from being justified? Not merely some vague, warm ‘spiritual’ experience, but peace with God, access to God. And how has this come about? Not through attainment to a higher level of consciousness or through anything we can bring to the table (as Paul has made clear in the previous chapters of Romans), but through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since God has declared us ‘right’ in the present, that verdict will stand on the last day. Even in the face of suffering, then, we have hope. Here, as elsewhere in the Bible, hope is not some vague wish-fulfilment. Hope involves looking forward to the future with confidence, because it’s a future that Christ himself has secured for us.

At the bottom line of it all, and the ultimate basis of Paul’s confidence, is God’s love – not merely shown to us, but ‘poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’, a sign of his ongoing commitment to us. It’s a love, Paul will say later, from which nothing can separate us (Romans 8:37-39).

If any of this was down to us, we’d have room for doubt. As it is, our confidence lies elsewhere. Peace, hope, love. Not maybe, but definitely.

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