Columnists > Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

The narrow door

Aim for more than a cheapened form of grace

Issue: "All tied up," Sept. 24, 2011

It's college search time, time to make that momentous decision on the basis of reports and hunches and frisson, while meandering through grassy quads pinned by Beaux-Art dreams in marble and ivy.

My daughter accompanied a school mate and her mom, and told me the place was not for her-then added this postscript, that she saw the die cast on her friendship, as the other girl took to the school like she had found her true home. The polo thing that had been a fashion difference in high school turned out to be a world beckoning, dividing, rending them. And the scent of musty ancient religion, inconsequential in childhood play, now seemed a warm embrace into belonging for her already-fading friend.

"I didn't know N was a Catholic," I said. "Everybody in the Northeast thinks of himself as a Catholic," my daughter replied. When push comes to shove, when the boxes must be checked on the forms, there is a winnowing. Could be Catholic, could be Protestant, or Jewish, or Buddhist. They think they are found, they think they are safe.

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"Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'" (Jeremiah 7:2-4).

The dim lit city our protagonist comes upon in The Great Divorce has sprawling streets of imaginary houses. The advantage is they're cheap to build. So what's the downside the newcomer wants to know. Well, the rains are coming, of course, the Intelligent Man flatly intones; they don't keep out the rain. "What the devil is the use of building them, then?" the visitor exclaims. "'Safety again,' he muttered. 'At least the feeling of safety.'"

In his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer scrawls the history of the church and the demise of grace into cheap grace-those imaginary houses in a twilight town where it will be dark presently. Somewhere along the line, "As Christianity spread ... the world was Christianized, and grace became its common property. It was to be had at low cost. ... We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition. ... We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard."

His is a warning. To be European was to be Christian. To be a "Neasty" in Philadelphia is to be a Catholic. It is a Neasty state of mind. It is a trap.

"It will be dark presently," the native said in C.S. Lewis' dim town. "'You mean the evening is really going to turn into a night in the end?' He nodded. 'What's that got to do with it?' said I. 'Well ... no one wants to be out of doors when that happens.'"

"And someone said to Him, 'Lord, will those who are saved be few?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.'" (Luke 13:23-24).

What is the narrow door and who are the many? That, more than the college question, is the question of your life. The narrow door is Christ, but that has been distorted to mean cheap grace, the notion that we're safe because we are Europeans. We are Neasties. We are baptized. We know doctrine. We never miss a Sunday.

In that Day, many will protest: "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets" (Luke 13:26). "You taught in our streets." We thought salvation was by proximity. "We were right next to You, Lord. We brushed past You-I have the pictures, I have the T-shirt. I heard Your voice through my car window, I put a fiver in Your guitar case. I went to a Christian college, for crying out loud!"

Hey college girls, strive for the narrow door. Let us not hear Him say, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:23).

Email Andrée Seu

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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