The dialogue continues between Hard Going and Simply Rational. Hard Going represents a Christian point of view while Simply Rational represents a sceptical and humanist interpretation.

Bee in shadowland
(Photo: Scott Murray)

How democratic is Christianity?
SR: We’re not discussing verse 5 of your verses ‘The Five Natures’ today because I had a question I wanted answered.
HG: Quite right, I remember. It was about democracy wasn’t it?
SR: Yes, how democratic is Christianity? And if only some people can have faith, how fair is that? As you know, the ideal of democracy is that everyone is equal before the law, everyone over 18 has the right to vote in the UK.
HG: That’s the thing, human democracy is flawed, divine democracy is not.
SR: How do you mean one is flawed and one not?

Flaws in democracy
HG: Well, we could go on at length talking about the flaws in human democracy, couldn’t we? You mentioned one yourself. People under 18 can’t vote but that’s not true of the divine order? People under 18 are equally welcome into the Kingdom.
SR: Oh, come on! We know there are flaws in human democracy but, for me, there is no democracy at all in what you blithely call the divine order. According to you, only Christians are saved, people who are born again, or have faith in Jesus Christ, or whatever. The rest are sent off packing to hell.
HG: Now we have come to the crunch. And I’m glad …
SR: Glad! Why on earth are you glad.

White with pollen ...
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Divine democracy
HG: Because it’s obvious that as a humanist and as a Christian our views of divine democracy are diametrically opposed. And that gives me the chance to explain clearly what I mean by divine democracy and how it differs from human democracy.
SR: Okay, what do you mean, I’m dying to know?
HG: For a start, the offer of salvation is for all the human race, it doesn’t matter about race, nation, colour of skin, culture, age, mental condition or even whether you’re in prison. The only condition, as it says in John 3:16 is to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Surely that beats human democracy hands-down. Human democracy sets all kinds of limits. And even operating within its own agenda as a supposed agency for the social welfare of society, it isn’t very successful. Although the poorest in society are allowed to vote, election after election they are as poor as ever. By contrast it is ‘the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame who are invited to the wedding feast of the Kingdom, as described in Luke 14.

Many invited but few chosen
SR: Yes, but the same parable appears in Matthew 22 and it says ‘For many are invited, but few are chosen’. That’s precisely the difficulty I have with all this. It appears as if God is choosing certain people to go to the feast and not others. Surely that is far from democratic.
HG: The saying you quote comes at the end of the parable. If you read the earlier part you’ll see that those who were invited refused for various reasons. The people debarred themselves from the wedding by refusing the King’s invitation and even killing his messengers. The ones who were invited first just didn’t want to know – ‘one went to his field, another to his business’. And remember , there’s a great particularity to the message of the Gospel. It addresses the individual . It’s an affair of the heart. ‘Knock and the door will be opened to you’ as it says in Luke 11.9. That implies there is someone behind the door waiting to open it.

What about the millions who never heard the message?
SR: It all sounds very democratic, but what about the millions, maybe billions, of people who have never heard the true Gospel; maybe because they lived before Jesus’ time or they belong to a different culture or religion.
HG: Paul deals with that question in Romans. All people who ever lived came under the law so that the ‘whole world’ is ‘held accountable to God’. Only God is able to judge those people, for only he knows the hearts of people. But with Jesus a new spiritual reality is revealed. It’s a righteousness based on faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection inaugurated a Kingdom which is not of this world, although it affects the world.

On top of an onion flower
(Photo: Scott Murray)

What the Kingdom is like
SR: What do you mean? If it’s not of this world, how can it affect the world?
HG: Because the Kingdom is a kingdom of power, but the power can only be released by a change in the individual’s heart. What Jesus called being ‘born again’. You see, the Kingdom is entirely democratic. Anyone can be a member if they knock on the door sincerely, expecting an answer and believing there is someone on the other side. Oh, and the other thing, they have to repent of their sins.
SR: Why?
HG: Because unforgiven sins keep the holy from entering the heart and changing it. That’s why the cross is important and the blood shed on the cross. Otherwise no-one would know of the mercy and unconditional love of God.

A huge step
SR: I’ll have to think about all this. As a person who thinks the world is purely material. I find it incredibly difficult to believe in any of what you said. It’s so counter-intuitive. It would need a revolution in my world-view, from being a materialist, more or less, to believing in a spiritual dimension. And not only that but in miracles as well. As I’m sure you’ll understand, that would be a huge step for me!

A huge surprise
HG: I completely understand. I was like you once but then I knocked on the door and kept knocking and to my huge surprise someone answered.
SR: Why were you surprised? I thought you had to knock with faith in your heart.
HG: If you knock with desire, you’re halfway there, but only God can put faith in your heart. That’s what’s called grace. God reaches down to us, into our sordidness and suffering. It’s really quite amazing.
SR: Amazing grace as the hymn puts it. Hm, democratic? I’m not sure. Why has it got to be such a narrow door?
HG: That’s a discussion for another day.
SR: Amen.