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Compelle intrare, "compel them to come in."
It seems that I've been on a bit of a C.S Lewis kick here lately but then again I can't envision a scenario where that would be a bad thing necessarily. The quote above comes from Lewis' account of his conversion to theism in 1929. It is found in the second to last chapter of his autobiography Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life, which is appropriately titled "Checkmate." Along with being a conversion account that only a literary great like C.S Lewis could pen, there are also some powerful truths found in his imagery. In a sense it is not unlike the way he explains the Christian faith through the medium of Narnia. Of course, this is no fantasy novel or anything remotely related to it. Rather, what I mean is that Lewis has a flare for using deeply meaningful metaphors even in his non-fiction writing.
In the quote about Shakespeare and Hamlet, Shakespeare is to be seen as God and Hamlet represents Lewis. This much should be obvious. With that point in mind it is clear that Lewis means that if he were ever to encounter God it must be something that God would do. It could not be of his own manufacturing or effort. Hamlet could no more extricate himself from the pages of the play to meet Shakespeare than Lewis could force a meeting with God. This is an interesting idea and one that could be somewhat disturbing to people whether or not they are believers. I mean think about it for just a moment. That means that we are powerless to come to God on our own terms. However, Jesus told us as much in John 6:44;
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
This is almost a scary thought because it means, as I said, we are powerless to effect our own salvation. This means we couldn't go to God even if we wanted to...right? Let me say, I do not think this means that if someone earnestly wants salvation God will not give it to them, and here is why. I don't think we can even desire salvation apart from the unction (there's an old school word) of the Holy Spirit, that drawing call of God. If we look at the passage this verse comes from we find that there was a group of Jews who were "grumbling" about Jesus claiming to be from Heaven. They were saying, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? This is not the image of someone coming to Jesus, admitting He is the Christ and begging for salvation. Nowhere in the Bible do we find someone humbly coming to Jesus as savior only to be rejected.
Additionally, we have to look at this verse, and this idea for that matter, in light of another passage, Luke 14:16-24. This is the parable of the dinner where the master invited many people and no one showed up. Why did they not show up? Jesus tells us they all made excuses not to come...they didn't want to come. Then in verse 23 He says this;
And the master said to the slave, "Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled."
This parable is ripe with meaning and one of the truths that Jesus is getting at is that there will be others besides the Jews who will become children of God, e.g. the Gentiles (that's us by the way). There is something else that I draw from this parable and it relates to the subject at hand. The master told the servant to go all over the place and compel all kinds of people to come to his supper. The image here is not of a master who had a select list of people that he gave to the servant. Instead it was a broad invitation to as many people as he could get to. Furthermore, in verse 24, Jesus says;
For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.
This shows us a very, very important truth. Even if we are called upon by God to "come" we have the choice as to whether or not we will go. When they were called from their fishing nets and tax booths the disciples could have chosen not to follow Christ. When he was confronted with the option to sell all he had and follow Jesus the rich young man decided to turn away. You and I all have the option to either accept or reject the call of God, but He alone decides whether or not to call us.
Again, this can be a rather unsavory thought. However, I do not believe that there has ever been a person who honestly wanted to follow God who was rejected by Him. The one who should be afraid is the one who has never wanted to go to God. It is like people who say they are afraid that they may have committed the unforgivable sin. My response is, "If you are concerned that you have committed it, I can assure you that you haven't." The ones who have probably either never know it, or worse yet, don't care.
Let me give a few more promises from God that will help salve the soul that is concerned over this issue. First, Matthew 18:14 tells us that, it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. God does not delight in seeing any of His beloved people perish in Hell. He wants as many people as possible to crowd Heaven for all of eternity because it will be as big as it needs to be, there will be room! Secondly, Jesus beckons every person who reads the Gospels with these words in Matthew 11:28;
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
He doesn't say "some" who are weary or "a few of you who are heavy-laden." He says "all." The sad reality is that all who are called will not respond affirmatively. Make no mistake about it, all who are called will respond but that response may be like the guests in the parable. Many will make excuses or simply say "no." As cold and hard a fact as it is, it is not our concern who God chooses to call. Our concern, first and foremost, is how we respond to that call. Furthermore, we must be ready to be used by God to call others to Himself. This is the essence of the Great Commission, God using His children to call other people into the fold.
In the end it may be a hard truth to accept that God calls those whom He chooses. It may be difficult to understand that if we are to come to God in the first place, He must initiate the relationship. However, this is the core of the Gospel. We are powerless to effect our own salvation and it is because of that fact that God sent His Son to die for us. It is a gift that we are given and our only role in the matter is to either accept or reject it. If there were any other way, it would be based on our works and then there would be cause, if even only a minute one, for us to boast in ourselves.
I freely admit that I do not, and never will, fully understand the mind of God. I certainly don't have all the answers to this question but the few things I do know give me comfort enough to press on.
1) To come to God He must call us first.
2) God's will is that none should perish.
3) God's call is broad, not narrow.
4) God has made the ultimate effort to reach out to us by His Son living on this earth, dying for our sins and rising from the grave for our justification.
5) When God does call we are left with the option to follow or not.
And finally, the words that the great theologian Karl Barth is said to have summed up his knowledge of God with,
6) "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."