I’m reading Herman Melville’s great classic Moby Dick, or The Whale, (Don’t ask me WHY I’m reading it I haven’t the slightest idea) and I got through the first chapter before I had to stop. I had to stop, put the book down and walk away for a few minutes while I let what was being said seep into my soul. Not because Melville has written a great piece that can stand as an allegory for Christian living, but rather he has written a piece that has hidden within the very wordy and lengthy sentences, a masterpiece not unlike CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Melville shows us, probably without even meaning to, the great horror that is American Christianity:
Living in the Law when we profess Grace.
The most telling moment is when our narrator proudly claims that he has no problems serving a sea captain, after all what does that mean against the light of the New Testament? It’s not as if the Angels would look down on him for taking orders? And I applaud him and these remarks. This is what it means to know God, this is what it means to be sure who and whose we are.
But then he asks “Who ain’t a slave?” uh – A slave to righteousness perhaps but I manage to do a pretty good job fighting off even those shackles on any given day.
Seriously though, this equates God the Father to a sea captain. Now a sea captain is automatically removed from the rest of the crew by the nature of his rank and station as well as the basic necessity of maintaining order onboard. To enter the captain’s good graces a sailor must follow every order and every protocol to the letter; failure to do so results in punishment of short rations, extra duty, or even being flogged. And even if a good sailor does follow every order and every protocol, the captain has the option of punishing the sailor because it suits him to do so.
The Captain, is an old Testament God. Not that there’s anything wrong with that image, nor anything wrong with an OT God, but the simple fact remains, we cannot have an intimate relationship with such a one. In the same way that the Captain is never friends with the common sailors aboard ship, and in the same way that a slave can never truly be part of a household, so we cannot have relationship with God apart from Christ.
So why hold ourselves to standards of the law while professing grace? I’m convicted that I do this regularly and I find myself asking, “Sage, why not just live in Grace?”