j: romans road

Reading all the Fowler has gotten me to thinking on faith. I feel pretty solid at stage 4, individuative-reflective faith, but in thinking about it some of the structures seem a little fuzzy. I wanted to write about them a little and see if I can make a coherent model.

My faith has always been driven by questions; at different times I have had different questions and I needed an understanding that satisfactorily answered my questions, keeping in mind both my internal sense of justice and my external perception of reality.

The first question that I remember and the one that has been the strongest driving force for me centered around people going to hell. Most traditional Christians picture of the nature of salvation and the nature of mankind can be summarized by a series of passages in Paul’s letter to the Romans, sometimes called “The Romans Road”.

  1. As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one.

    -Romans 3:10

  2. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

    -Romans 3:23

  3. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

    -Romans 5:12

  4. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    -Romans 6:23

  5. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

    -Romans 5:8

  6. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth, the Lord Jesus,and shalt believe in thine heart God hath raised him from the dead thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness;and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

    -Romans 10:9-10

It is a statement on the nature of metaphysical reality. Mankind is inherently sinful and separated from God. The result of this separation is death (and damnation). The only way to avoid this fate is to accept salvation.

The obvious thing to dislike about this model is the large number of people who will never have the opportunity to make any decision at all about accepting salvation and will still be damned to hell. Troubling for me as well while I was struggling were those people who had heard of Christianity but were honestly struggling with it, but died before reaching a conclusion.

My father gave me the betting man’s argument one time. That if there is no heaven then you don’t loose anything by believing in something that doesn’t exist. If it does exist though there is a good payoff. That a smart person would “hedge their bets”.

The problem was that my belief was not something that I had conscious control over. I couldn’t choose to believe anything. I had a big moment of decision at a religious retreat when I prayed something along the lines of: “God, the way that I hear salvation works seems horribly unfair, but if you will just let me feel something to let me know that this is how things are then I will spend my life preaching it.”

I didn’t feel it. I won’t say that I haven’t felt God in my life, but specifically when I talk to someone from a different tradition I don’t feel in my heart a sense of their being wrong. Being able to connect with the faith experiences of different traditions is a large part of what separated me from Christianity.

I am all too aware of the argument that I simply wasn’t sufficiently open to God’s presence to feel the real truth. As a person with alot of trouble being emotionally vulnerable and consequently some pretty serious insecurity about the validity of my emotional responses, this argument really tortured me. I wanted some form of external validation to help me be sure that I was right, but I don’t think I can find it.

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