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Miserable Sinners, Powerless Worms and God’s Amazing Grace

6. I listen to the testimony of friends and former students who work among society’s outcasts, people whom the rest of us tend to see as entirely unlovable. But most of those troubled people are lovable indeed in the eyes of those who get close to them.

Likewise (and it is “likewise”), on the cruise ships on which I occasionally lecture, I visit sometimes with very rich people whom some of my friends and former students would be tempted to view as entirely unlovable. But after hiking and touring together and then visiting over dinner, the glittering façades sometimes come down and quite sweet, warm, human traits shine out instead.

The proposition that every human being is entirely unlovable seems just wildly contrary to basic experience, even at society’s extremes.

7. I don’t mean at all to diminish the evil of very bad people. Satan himself appears to be beyond redemption in the Book of Revelation, as do his human associates and agents.

But God’s consigning them to their just deserts does not mean they are entirely evil and totally unlovable. Indeed, the frightening implication here is that persons who do retain lovable traits are yet heading for hell, and their lovableness must not distract us from their peril.

We must evangelize everyone, not just obviously bad people who obviously need the Gospel. For those who refuse God’s provision for their rescue will be, regretfully, left to their own devices, and their own devices will not suffice. They don’t suffice now to live as they ought; they won’t suffice then, either.

8. So I sing Brother Watts’ hymns with feeling, because sometimes I do feel like a worm: a senseless, ungrateful, stupid creature who is worse than a worm for being a human being choosing to act like a worm.

It is amazing that Jesus would devote his life to me—just as it is amazing that my wife remains in our marriage and my sons haven’t long since left me behind. But I see such phrasing as the poetry it is, as focusing on an aspect of reality and vividly expressing it for this moment’s reflection and response.

It isn’t all that needs to be said. To say what needs to be said discursively is theology’s job, and I hope I’ve said enough here to help us avoid at least some of the mistakes that surround this question.

What else needs to be said, do you think?