Swimming to France (and other futile endeavors)


My Fellow Sojourners, 


Someone once quipped:  'It’s not our sins that keep us from God, it’s our righteousness.’


The CS Lewis’ book, ‘The Great Divorce’ is a classic.  It’s about a bus ride.  A bus ride in which the residents of hell take a day trip to heaven and all the humorous and tragic ironies that occur along the way. 


For example, virtually every passenger believes that they are not only righteous, but more righteous than every other passenger.


I've been in ministry for close to 40 years now and I can tell you that the biggest barrier between Jesus and Joe-6 pack is not pornography, or addiction, or infidelity, or money or your garden-variety expressions of male machismo.  


No, the most stubborn and unyielding hearts are embedded within hose who are absolutely certain that they are upstanding, moral, principled, good dudes...or at least, 'good enough' dudes.   


They prefer Jesus as life-coach whose job it is to get them good enough, rather than Jesus as savior who saves those who realize they will never be good enough.   


When I suggest that Jesus doesn’t help us save ourselves, but that, on the cross, Jesus actually did the saving, my good or good enough friends protest:  


‘No.  No way. That's a recipe for hypocrisy!  I don’t wanna be like those hypocrites who ‘claim heaven.... but live like hell!'  


While I understand their concern, my first impulse is to ask:  ‘Why?  'Why so afraid of being associated with hypocrites?  Why the hypocrite-a-phobia?'


What my friends often don’t recognize is that seeing Jesus as a coach rather than as a savior, is ripe with an even more sinister danger than hypocrisy.  


For example, some of you are better swimmers than others, in the same way that, say, some of you are more virtuous than others.   Some of you, can swim many miles at a time.  Others can swim only a few feet, if that.  However, when France (a life time of perfect holiness in word, thought and deed) is the goal, our swimming ability is rather superfluous. 


For argument’s sake, let's say that it's actually possible to swim to France. Compare the sentiments of the elite few who made it with the sentiments of the throng who sit on the deck wrapped in blankets, having been rescued from death by drowning. 


The difference would be stark:  Pride in an extraordinary accomplishment by the elite vs profound gratitude by the rescued.  


When writing about salvation to the church in Ephesus, St Paul says this:  'It (salvation) is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.


So that no one (not even elite swimmers) can boast.  Credit goes to the rescuer, not to the swimmer. 


There is no boasting....only gratitude in the kingdom of God. 


Perhaps that is why, as CS Lewis suggests, hell is more attractive to righteous people than is  heaven.   


Pax Christi,


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