Apologia: Parts of the following may sound rather like the work of a Christian. I make no such claim, but I have read some writers who were able to show that the theology has a deep and disturbing logic to it; I write in the spirit of pursuing that logic, without insisting on the truth or falsity of its premises.
The Chron these days seems to arranging an orderly spin-off of its Sunday morning political section ("Insight") to the Hoover Institute. Today they lead off with some guy, non-Hoover I admit, and his road to Damascus on which he finally perceives the evil of the Left in that they refuse to have unquestioning faith in the Iraq elections. Advance work has been in progress for some time under Debra Saunders, the Chron's own home-grown Buckley, who actually gets something right occasionally, just to keep us off guard.
Today Saunders really doesn't like the Sith movie. OK, I don't expect to like it either, should I ever see it. Regardless, I might as well glance at what she says, which might not be just another "Ooooh, anti-Bush propaganda" rant; and it isn't; not wholly.
I wonder if she'll hear from the Christian activists about this column. It seems the series went wrong at the end of Episode VI, where Darth Vader turns. He was a terrible, terrible man, and here he just turns around and repents. She seems to have something against the very notion of repentance and redemption. True, in the last minutes of this action-packed adventure movie, we don't get any theological complexity; more to the point, we don't see any Purgatory or any such process of suffering for Vader's sins; but I'm not sure where God granted us the right to see everything that goes on. (Can Saunders really tame the wild bull?) She could argue, though, that this was a long long time ago, before the Incarnation, so he can't really have been redeemed by the Redeemer. Unless you allow, like Mark Twain and C. S. Lewis, that the Redeemer may have decided to act in other times and places than this one -- without even telling us about it, how arrogant!
I've often wondered about those who think that people must go to Hell if they lived in a time and place where they couldn't hear of Jesus: how do they account for Moses and the prophets rising up to go the other way? And those Hebrew worthies supposedly were saved even though they (not to mention Saints Peter and Paul) seem to have had no sufficiently clear understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, without which no man can be saved. (Saint Athanasius made a little misprint there: he meant to say no theologian can be saved.)
A little background here. This morning I came to kitchen carrying the Sunday papers, to find that the sun was streaming into the room through the green leaves outside, it was warm and pleasant, and before going downstairs Ms Four Sigma had laid the table nicely and put suitable Sunday-morning music on. I entered, in fact, to hear Jeffrey Thomas (tenor and conductor) singing "Ach Herr, lehre uns bedenken, dass wir sterben muessen." "Oh Lord, teach us to remember that we must die." Such a sense of timing, she has. (The text is from Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit, one of my great favorites; see below.)
So, after making the tea and reading a bit into the paper, I've got into Saunders's column, and I'm thinking about her objection to instant redemption, and at that point the music has gone on to: "Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein." "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Now there's timing!
For those of you who came to Bible school late: When Jesus is being crucified between two criminals, one of them asks Jesus to remember him to his Father; the above is what Jesus says to him. Quick work, that redemption stuff. Dorothy L. Sayers added an interesting and very plausible twist to the story: in her version, the thief (a brigand, ruffian, and insurgent) doesn't really Believe; he just sees that this harmless oddity hasn't done anything to call down judicial murder on himself, and the other brigand is bitterly taunting the man, so this one takes pity and says something humane and humoring, even in his agony: it's an act of Charity, rather than belief, and is immediately rewarded. (The Man Born To Be King, 11th play, scene 2, sequence 4; see below.)
Judas, of course, was not redeemed. He regretted but couldn't repent and humble himself: threw the money back at the high priests, hanged himself, and wound up being munched by Satan for eternity. But could he, in some in-principle sense, have repented and confessed and been saved? Where are the limits of salvation? Well, he would have to be a different person. And if he were a different person, he wouldn't -- but hey, I thought we were all corrupt, and not just a little bit. So it's sort of a hard debate to settle. But I like, again, Sayers's take:
"...Is God merciful? Can He forgive? . . . What help is that? -- Jesus would forgive. If I crawled to the gallows' foot and asked his pardon, he would forgive me -- and my soul would writhe forever under the torment of that forgiveness." And he went and hanged himself. (The Man Born To Be King, 10th play, scene 2.) Much scarier, for my money, than a story of someone who is simply so bad terrible evil that really we don't have to worry about him.
The German is from the cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God's time is the best time of all) by J.S. Bach, BWV 106, performed by American Bach Soloists on Koch 3-7164-2 H1. Fantastic recording. If you can't find it, be sure to go to ABS's website and politely request that they reissue it. (Full disclosure: "that we reissue it.") The CD also has BWV 152 and 161. At least "Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn" (Walk on the road of faith) is a less gloomy subject. Not that Bach was capable of being really gloomy in his music; that, according our grievously missed friend Laurette Goldberg, is why the French have never quite been able to take him seriously. But I digress.
The Man Born To Be King by Dorothy L. Sayers, was a cycle of radio plays, presented on BBC in 1943 or so, in which Bible characters were made to talk and act like human beings. Highly controversial in its time, surprise. Still in print, ISBN 0-89870-307-7