Wineskins Archive

December 8, 2013

A Rock and A Hard Place (June 2012)

Filed under: — @ 1:38 pm and

By Scott Simpson

I was 9 when I was baptized. I’d struggled all Christmas break over the issue, slightly afraid we might have a wreck before I got home to get it done. I almost went forward at my grandparents’ church in Arkansas, but for some reason, I waited until we were back home in Nebraska.

Fortunately, we didn’t have a wreck, lightning didn’t strike me, and I didn’t choke on a turkey leg. I made it home alive in time to put my 9-year-old sinful self to death.

My dad laid me under in the East Hill Church of Christ baptistery.

I remember one of the older teens right after my baptism, tussled my damp hair and said, “Hey man… the wet-head’s dead!” I thought he was so theologically clever. I was the center of attention that morning. Even that evening as I went down to the church basement after evening services for the “make-up” communion (my first), I was very special. Everyone was watching.

Because I was so young, I remember realizing that some people might be questioning my readiness. Was he old enough? Did he do it for the right reason? Should he be re-baptized? I wondered these things myself… but the choice was to worry about dying before baptism, or to worry about having gotten baptized for the wrong reason or at the wrong time. If this was being “between a rock and a hard place” then Jesus was the rock and hell was the hard place. Thing was, it was beyond me to know if I’d done the right thing by getting baptized or if I’d jumped the gun out of peer pressure… literally in my mind a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” problem (though, if I thought that at the time, in those words, I’d have felt like I’d blown my baptism with mental cussing).

These questions nagged at me over the next few years. Actually, I knew very few people my age in our church who didn’t either get re-baptized (at least once) or struggle with whether or not their baptism was “valid.” Of course, we pretty much knew that those people who got re-baptized every time a youth rally came along were toast. Like the villagers hearing the boy who cried wolf one too many times, people began to roll their eyes at these habitual baptismal junkies.

Most of us developed what we perceived to be a healthy “emotional detachment” that allowed us to smile at the weekly invitational “Just As I Am” verses, while mentally chanting, “I’m fine, I’m fine… Dad put me under, Joey was only eight when he did it…I was older that THAT… if I give in and run forward… I’ll KNOW it didn’t take the first time….” Interesting, isn’t it, how many Christians I knew who had this struggle, and how the New Testament never addressed it.

Maybe that’s because it wasn’t, and never should have become an issue.

I’ve come to a place now, in my later years, in which I understand that it matters less THAT you have faith than WHOM you place your faith in. You can have faith in almost anything. I had learned to place my faith in carrying out the correct steps in the correct way at the correct time. This required a deep faith in my preacher and my Sunday school teachers (who had taught me all of these correct things) because they were the ones who’d figured this out (or so I thought). Later, I realized that they’d had faith in their Sunday school teachers and preachers before them, and a few brotherhood editors and evangelists. That’s how we’d got the 5-step plan I’d hung everything on.

Now, there’s no denying that baptism’s in the Bible. It’s all over the New Testament. But there are several things that are all over the New Testament, like love, or prayer, or preaching, or singing, or healing, etc… does it follow that FAITH should be placed in the correct doing of any of these things? I’m often unloving, but it doesn’t make me have nightmares about hell. I’ve gotten distracted during the Lord’s Supper before, but I never got scared I’d suddenly lost my salvation.

If some potential omission grabs your brain and makes you wake up with the sweats imagining fire and brimstone, chances are you’ve placed you FAITH in the BELIEF that you haven’t omitted it.

False gods are like that—fueled by fear rather than love.

Faith isn’t something you should place in a process, a system, an act, an understanding or a theology, because, if you do, then you’ll be defending your process, system, act, understanding or theology at every turn (which is really the unfortunate business much of religion seems to be about). My faith has to be in Jesus… NOT in my understanding of Jesus (that could be wrong) not in my process for following Jesus (I could be mistaken) not even on my correct following of one of the things He demonstrated in His own ministry—like baptism (I could have done that at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or with the wrong motive). My faith has to be in the Love-Nature God as demonstrated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. I have faith in the God whose nature is THAT (not faith in my clever parsing of some kind of cross-transaction). The cross says there’s NOTHING God wouldn’t do to bring me close to Him. The cross says God would rather die Himself than watch me die. It says all the rotten, mistaken, foolish, selfish, ugly stuff I continue to muck around with is stuff God is willing to bend fully into, and lift me out of. It also says that if I want to know my own true nature—that’s it. Absolute, undiluted love.

Now, admittedly, I could be wrong about all of that too—wrong about God’s absolute and unconditional love, and wrong that my own true nature is that same kind of love. But I have no interest in living in a universe governed by anything other than Love, so I’ll take my chances. Why? Because I can HEAR that. I can BELIEVE that. It makes me want to TURN away from my practiced disillusionment with humanity’s apparent nature, and CONFESS the incredible loving-goodness of the Creator and His creation.

And doggonit… that makes me want to go jump for joy in the river!

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