I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.–1 John 5:13
In 2004, author Marilynne Robinson published[amazonify]0374153892::text:ploughshare::: Gilead,[/amazonify] which took the form of a journal written by an aging father for the benefit of his young son, whom he new would never understand these things during the father’s life. The account begins with a poignant exchange:
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it.
My children were born while I was young. Barring some unexpected illness, I expect my four grandkids to be in their forties by the time I’m considering checking out, so I can’t really relate to this man who married quite late in life, had a son, and then learned that he was dying. I can, however, believe that there are things that a parent might get into a panic wanting to ensure that their child knows before some fateful step. It’s like Polonius in Hamlet. As he prepares Laertes to leave home, Polonius rolls off a litany of advice, largely very sound advice for such an otherwise clownish character. Polonius concludes with an admonition: “To thine own self be true.”
Neither the Apostle John nor John Ames, the narrator of Gilead, urges their reader to trust in self. Each, instead, points the reader to confidence in salvation. Why? We live differently when we needn’t worry. I live my best when I am most assured of my salvation. I live fearlessly and boldly, thankfully and triumphantly. In those moments, I am not tempted to try to impress God or earn his favor. I don’t try to rely on my own strength or cleverness.
What if each of us–every day–woke up absolutely assured and confident of the eternal life already guaranteed for us? I’m not talking about the sort of Sunday School assurance, where you answer the question correctly when asked. I’m talking about the assurance that does not admit of any vestige of doubt. Would we live differently? I know I would. That’s what John wants for us. That’s what God wants for us.