My wife and I were having dinner one evening in Strangford and there was an old boy who seemed to float around the dining room from table to table, chatting to this one and that one.
He turned out to be one of the staff, and when he finally drifted – or floated – in our direction, he told us his story.
He had worked most of his life in cinemas in and around Belfast many years ago, fitting the neon lighting that used to be fashionable. However, as technology developed there soon was no market for his skills. He took jobs when and where he could to make ends meet, and when his wife tragically died and his life fell apart, the owner of the restaurant, who knew him, said: ‘Why not come and work for us? You could be our handyman, and when the restaurant is busy sure you can work at the tables.’
And that was 19 years ago.
Then a little quiz developed between us, with questions such as:
Who was the oldest man who ever lived? – Methuselah.
Who was the smallest man in the Bible? – Bildad the Shuhite.
Did you know there is a fast-food joint mentioned in the Bible? – Judas’s Carryout.
Name one prophet who didn’t die. – Enoch.
The fattest woman in the Bible was a ‘woman of some area’ (Samaria).
And then he said this: ‘Who was the first man in the Bible to get to heaven?’ Well, I thought the answer was Jesus, but no, it was the thief on the cross, and a wonderfully uplifting conversation followed. “ ... and he didn’t even ask for forgiveness, did he?’ added the godly old man.
I have spoken and written often about that subject, and it seems that established religion just doesn’t want to admit that it is even in the Bible: no sinner’s prayer, no repentance, no grovelling and pleading, just a simple request: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
In Christian theology, grace is defined as ‘the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.’
That’s pretty simple, don’t you think? And Paul introduced most of his epistles with a reference to the Gospel of Grace.
However, when theologians get their hands on something simple, almost inevitably it ends up complicated. For example, John Calvin developed his concept of ‘irresistible grace’, arguing that since we are all spiritually dead, then we can neither accept nor reject, and the only way he could get around that conundrum was to come up with his doctrine of predestination: God goes: ‘Eeny meeny miney moe ... I’ll have you, and you, and, no, not you, or you.’
According to this thinking, newborn babes who die, or those who never make it out of the womb alive, might not be chosen. Why? Because it’s the lottery of religion, or the religion of the lottery.
Most Christians believe that Jesus came to save the whole world. Could it be that grace extends to that extreme and he succeeded?
And when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and said: ‘As one man’s trespass (Adam’s) led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness (that of Jesus) leads to acquittal and life for all men.’
Could it be that he was serious?