As I’ve written about mystical union with Christ over the past two months or so, various points of resistance have appeared. This week I’d like to address one of the big ones. Some folks feel that this way of understanding relationship with God removes any real ground for assurance of salvation.
Let me be the first to say that if the accusation is in fact true, then it is absolutely damning. Nobody should be ready to sign off on a theology that destroys any ground for assurance. I would be the first one to dump it.
In this case, however, it’s just not true. People who meet God don’t generally question the reality of the experience. They do sometimes later doubt it — but the doubt generally grows up after they have drifted far from God, in the same way that a man who has been estranged for years from his wife begins to doubt whether he ever really loved her (or she him) at all. No, at the time that a person meets God, he is generally pretty clear on what is happening to him. You can see this certainty in Saul of Tarsus, the man born blind in John 9, Moses at the burning bush, and so on. You can see it dawning slowly in Nicodemus, or bursting all at once into the consciousness of the woman at the well, or Nathaniel, or John the Baptist. They know. There’s no ground for doubt.
So what’s going on here? Why do people feel like being at a meeting where God shows up would leave someone in a morass of uncertainty?
I’m kinda puzzled too. Some of these people, by their own testimony, had assurance long before they got their theology of assurance sorted out. I certainly did. They know this; they give testimony to it. And yet, they don’t seem to connect it to their theology. When they talk theology, they talk as if assurance is impossible unless you get your theology of assurance straight. This is just not true, and it was not true of many of them, for years.
As far as I can see, here’s the problem: these people don’t really want assurance. They won’t be satisfied with being certain, themselves, that they have been saved by Jesus, nor with you being certain, yourself, that Jesus has saved you. That is, they won’t be satisfied with the fact of assurance; they want to see an accredited process that leads to assurance. They want documentability, something they can check from the outside, any time they want. Something “objective” rather than just something they know.
That means that people have to get their propositions exactly right.
I toured the Osceola County Jail once, many years ago. A guard explained how they let the inmates out for exercise, and had to log the time, date and duration of the exercise period for each inmate. “If you can’t document it,” he said, “then it didn’t happen.” I wondered then whether it was the inmates or the guards who were really imprisoned.
I’m still wondering.