There is a song I recall from my childhood – sung by John Hartford – in which the operative phrase is, “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there…” It runs the permutations on life’s possibilities. One thing leads to another. It is this connectedness that always seems to trump the power of choice that adds one of the greater mysteries to life. I know that I “chose” to marry my wife – but I did not choose to meet her. That was something more like chance. And, of course, upon reflection, so much that is of great moment in our life has this unchosen quality to it.
It is for this reason that when we speak of salvation, we must always remember to think of the “mystery” of salvation. It certainly may and often does involve choices that people make, but so much of our life is something other than choice. It is not simply that events around me happen unpredictably (as far as I can see) but the inner state that happens to be my heart at the time I encounter any particular event has its own randomness.
An atheist writing in response to one of my recent postings made the comment that had I been born in India I would have been a Hindu rather than a Christian. There is, of course, no way to respond to this. The odds are far and away on his side. However, salvation, at least from an Orthodox Christian perspective, has never been so crude as to assume that the mere accident of birth decreases someone’s chances of salvation. The Gospel Story according to the Orthodox is quite cosmic, and includes the proclamation of the gospel to the departed. Equally, we believe that the grace of God is at work “everywhere” and that though that work may largely be hidden, it is nevertheless dealing with human hearts in lives in ways others may not see this side of judgment day.
And thus it is that we are always confronting the mystery of salvation. It is very difficult or impossible to judge anything at present. It does not mean that we cannot say that murder is a sin (it is) but we cannot know what a good God may do despite such a heinous act. We only know that His love for a murderer is no less than His love for a victim. We know that His will is the salvation of us all (“for He is not willing that any should perish”).
On the personal level of my life – I can know as a believer – that all things are working towards my salvation – that is – all events in my life. The question, of course, is whether I am working towards my salvation. With what meager effort I may make, do I pray, do I fast, do I seek God? Do I revel in the hardness of my own heart or do I bemoan the fact, begging for mercy?
The goodness of God is the assurance that the mystery of salvation is the great mystery that surrounds us all. Even though Scripture speaks of a mystery of evil, we can know that a greater mystery is at work, a greater hand directs events and my life, regardless of its chances, perhaps in spite of its choices, is still the object of a Will to Save. Without that, who would stand a chance?