“I will show mercy on whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So, then, it depends not on him who runs nor on him who wills, but on God who shows mercy.”
“Who are you, a man, to argue back with God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did You make me thus?’”
Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” And, Peter followed him along the shore, but looking back he saw another disciple following, and he said to Jesus, “But, Lord, what of him?” and Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.”
“And the disciple whom Jesus loved reclined with his head on the Lord’s breast.”
God is Personal, and He relates to us personally. I believe that Jesus’ response to Peter, “What is that to you? You follow me,” is applicable to far more than questions about the length of life and manner of death of other people. We know God personally; we know God as He relates to us, as He reveals Himself to us; we know God in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of St. John bears witness to the fact that we stand alone before God. Throughout it, the author refers to himself, never by name, but as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is further accentuated when Jesus says, “What is that to you? You follow me.” This same Gospel also records these words, “I call My own by name, and they follow Me,” and the interaction between the Risen Lord and Mary of Magdala outside of the tomb, where He says, “Mary!” and instantly she recognizes Him and says, “Rabboni!”
I know God’s love for me; you know His love for you. I hear His call to me; You hear His call to you. For the most part, no one either knows or should know where others stand before God. We are not to condemn or judge others, but to pray for all and to hope for all, and to obey God in everything. The theology of each should concern where that person stands before God, should concern that person’s relationship to God (and, in God, to his or her fellow humans). It should not concern where your neighbor stands before God (which is not to say it will not make you concerned that your neighbor stands in a right relationship to God!).
It is wrong for us to try to have opinions or beliefs about the fates of others, and I have referenced Romans 9 at the beginning, because I think it is largely mis-used, and this mis-use will serve well, I think, to illustrate this. Reading Romans 9, my impression is that the main point is that God has mercy on us not because we can deserve or demand it, but because He wills to do so, and that we are in no position to make demands on God that He do anything, including explain Himself to us. The point of Romans 9 is that God is free to do whatever He wishes; that His mercy springs out of His Divine Freedom, and we can in no way compel or demand mercy; that, whatever God does, we have no right, no knowledge, no ability with which to criticize it or demand an explanation. Romans 9 is not a base from which anyone can say, “There are men whom God does not save,” still less a base from which one may make harsher statements. What of it? What is it to you? You are to follow Him. What God does with Joe or Hassan, what God does with Terry or Mariam, is between God and Joe, God and Hassan, God and Terry, God and Mariam. It is none of your business (by which I do not mean that it is none of your business to pray for them). Romans 9 is about you and God – it is not about your neighbor.
You know that God has mercy on you not because of anything in you or anything that you do. You know that you are not entitled to God’s mercy or to anything from God. None of this changes even if God has mercy on all your neighbors! God’s mercy is just as free and just as sovereign and just as un-coerced if He chooses to bestow it on all men as if He chooses to bestow it only on some men. Romans 9 does state, that God’s choice to bestow grace on others does not entitle you to grace: but whether He bestows grace on all, or only on some, is besides that point. “What if God, wishing to make His glory known… endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and what if He did this to show His glory and make His mercy known…”
I think harm is done when we try to find out the fates and lives of other people. God does not reveal that to us, and for good reason. Furthermore, I think whichever way our opinions about the fates of others go, such opinions will cloud over and confuse the more important truths about where we stand before God. It is dangerous for us to be too interested in where others stand before God, lest we miss the truths which He does reveal to us and which concern us infinitely: our relationship with Him. We should know the love God has for us. We should each see ourselves as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and it is through that identity – and through the knowledge of Jesus which that identity reveals – that we should relate to our neighbors and that we should understand God’s dealings with the rest of creation: after all, we can have first-hand knowledge only of God’s dealings with ourselves, and thus any second-hand knowledge we may have of His dealings will, necessarily, be confused and fragmentary, and possibly mis-leading, if isolated from, rather than led by, our first-hand knowledge of God.
Copyright 2019 Raina Nightingale