Pastor's Blog

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.    
 For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”  (John 13.14-15)

There is no passage in Scripture that I despise more than the one above. 
I despise everything about it.
I despise what it says.
I despise the context in which it is placed.
I despise what it requires of me as a follower of Jesus Christ.

The context is the last supper.  These are the fourteenth and fifteenth verses of the chapter, but in the second verse John has already told us that Judas Iscariot was plotting to betray Jesus.  In the third verse of the chapter, John tells us that Jesus took this as from the Father in heaven – and then recounts that Jesus laid aside his garments and washed the feet of the disciples.

All the disciples.

Including Judas.

Immediately after the washing of the disciples’ feet Jesus announces that one of them is going to betray him, reveals to John that it is Judas, and then Judas leaves the room and disappears into the night, a wretched turncoat.

In my own life I don’t know that I have ever experienced anything uglier and more painful than betrayal by one who has been (or pretended to be) my long-time friend.  The level of deceit and outright lying that is involved is egregious enough;  it is made worse by the slander that goes on before the betrayal, raising doubts about you in the minds of other friends, and is compounded by the slander against you that goes on after the betrayal is consummated and your name and reputation are smeared unjustly to people you don’t even know and who will now approach you, if they care to approach you at all, with a distorted view of who you really are.

I cannot bring my heart to ever  trust them again – much less “wash their feet”, imagery that I take to mean “serve them”.  I don’t want to serve them.  I don’t even know that I want to hate them so much as to blot them entirely from my memory and never allow them to enter it again.  And when they do enter my mind for some reason, I want to relish loathing them.

And then Jesus says “do as I have done to you” – wash one another’s feet.

Including the feet, not merely of the one who has betrayed you – but the one who hasn’t yet betrayed you but you know is going to.

You are supposed to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He commands us to do so.  He has to command us to do so – because there are things about Him which are just downright unlovable.  And for me, this loving and serving a scoundrel that has betrayed you is one of those places.  How Jesus could do this is beyond what my heart can imagine.

But even as I write those words, my own heart knows how many times I have betrayed Him – and yet He is always there before me, washing my feet, and looking into my eyes and, without saying a word, piercing my soul and my conscience.

And I am so glad that He is there, garments laid aside, with a basin of water and a towel in his bleeding hands…

I think there’s a difference between trusting what God has clearly said and trusting our deductions from what God has said.

Evangelicals are often quick to say that God is going to condemn to hell every person that never expressed faith in Jesus Christ. 

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23) – right?
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23) – right?
We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8) – right?
Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish (John 3.16) – right?

So everyone is condemned from the start – right?
And you can’t be saved unless you believe in Jesus -- right?
So babies are born condemned, and if they die in infancy, they could neither hear nor understand nor believe the gospel – so they’re going to hell.  Right?

There are a few hardcore folks that believe that, but most Christians don’t.

But how do you get around the logic?  The deductions seem so solid.

But what about this logic…  If Christ’s death is sufficient to save the whole world (1 John 2.2), can God save anyone that He wants to save?  Can He apply the blood of Christ to babies and forgive their “original sin” if He chooses?  Can He save those born with such severe brain damage that they are never able to hear, understand, or respond to the gospel?  Can He give the gift of eternal life to anyone He pleases?

Are you ready for the next question?

Is God able to forgive and save those who are able to believe but who never heard the gospel – either because of where they lived or when they have lived?

I have no guarantee that does;  but I have no evidence that He is unable to do so either.  God can be merciful to whomsoever He wishes!  He is God and that's His call, not mine.

My job – our job – is not to pronounce the judgment.  It is to give the world the good news that they don’t have to grope in the darkness any longer.  They don’t have to guess about God.  The Father has shown Himself in the Son.  We can face the final judgment with the confidence of forgiveness, a verdict of "not guilty", by believing in Jesus.  

When I converted to evangelicalism I got the impression that the Christian faith could provide answers to every question man could pose.  If the Bible is God’s Word, then whatever God says will settle any question with certainty.  So you can (and should) be certain about everything.  Just read your Bible and see what God says.

I believe the Bible is God’s Word, but I don’t believe we can be certain about everything.

God’s Word must always be interpreted and there’s a distinction between what God said and what I interpret God to have said.  My feeling certain of the meaning of a passage doesn’t make my interpretation correct.  Galileo knows something about that, as do all the people who over the centuries were so certain they had figured out that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and who died still waiting for Him, all their painstaking calculations proven faulty by passing history.

Many evangelicals assume the Bible says something about everything, that God addresses every topic about which we have questions.  The Bible itself never claims to do so.  Why, then, would we conclude that it does?  Or that it must?  I’ve concluded that there are many things about which God is silent.  He tells us what He wants us to know.  He is not obligated to satisfy our every curiosity.

Some people, uncomfortable with God’s silence but feeling a need to be certain about a topic, attempt to fill the gaps with logical deductions.  For example:

  1. All men are born sinners and stand condemned.
  2. Salvation is by grace though faith alone.
  3. Babies that die have never exercised faith.
    CONCLUSION: God condemns babies that die and sends them to hell.

A fellow student argued this in my senior theology class and I’ve heard pastors preach it.  It is logical and the points seem verifiable, both by the Bible (points A & B) and life (point C).

If you want to believe God condemns babies that die to hell (along with severely retarded or brain-damaged children that never had the capacity to believe), knock yourself out.  But is there a chance that you're wrong?  Is that the only possible understanding of the issue?  Or might you be missing something?  Is it just as possible that God is free to apply the death of Christ to someone who was unable to believe?  Can God graciously choose to forgive the original sin of infants that die?  Or is He bound by your interpretations and your logic?

The Bible never expressly states that God condemns infants that die to hell. 
The Bible never expressly states that God saves them either. 
Is it wise to be dogmatic and certain where God is silent?

I’m comfortable saying that God doesn’t address a topic. 
I’m comfortable accepting that some hard questions aren’t answered.
I’m comfortable with faith being an “uncertain certainty”. 
I’m comfortable shrugging and saying “I don’t know” or “God doesn’t say”.
Faith doesn’t need to know it all.  I don’t need to know it all. 
There is only ONE who knows it all, and I’m certain of two things: 
              It’s not me. 
              And it’s not you either.

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