The spirit and key theme of the New Testament and the Gospels in particular is clearly a God who loves us with a profoundly constant love, and tender, fatherly care. This ‘unconditional love’ for us culminates in the very gift of Jesus himself as the means by which we are redeemed. However there are certain passages that would seem to contradict this ‘good news’, and make me, for one, very uncomfortable. We can of course just ignore what doesn’t appeal, and to some degree all of us do this – we stress those bits that agree with our worldview and quietly dismiss those that don’t. We can of course interpret these passages in such a way that they are coloured by our preferred slant, and again, we all do this, both individually and collectively (as churches). Ultimately there is no single interpretation or meaning, so it is appropriate to interpret and discern – always in a spirit of humble submission to the eternal Author Himself.
Matthew 7: 13-14 is a case in point, where Jesus speaks of the narrow gate and emphasises that few people enter therein to find life. Does this mean that hell is overcrowded and most of us are damned?
You have troubled me, O Lord,
With your talk of a ‘narrow gate’.
I had relied upon your compassion,
Yet fear perdition will be my fate.
What does this teaching mean Lord?
A hard pass that few will navigate?
Where is Abba? Where is mercy?
And love? That you would abrogate?
Is heaven to be outdone by hell?
Like some sad puritanical tract?
Your own children lost in droves?
Their adoption, you would retract?
O God of cherished consolation,
Whose Good News is sacred fact;
Hug me with your reassurance,
That justice owed, you will not exact.
Have we, in these modern times,
Bamboozled our selves into ease?
A spiritual spin-doctoring,
That results in religious sleaze?
Have we reinvented You as
The Saccharin Heart, to appease
An enlightened and secular world
That doesn’t do moral boundaries?
Does Your unconditional love for me
Entail an unconditional redemption?
Surely a narrow gate implies effort:
A lifetime’s worth of selfless action?
Have I conveniently misunderstood,
The demands of the Righteous One,
And now, fearing I have no fear,
Wonder about my very salvation?
If my best attempts at being good,
Could never merit immortality,
What does the challenge of such
A portal mean for true morality?
Father God, what can we give to You
Except our ‘yes’ – for it seems to me
That nothing else we have or are
Could supplement your awesome majesty.
“Child, you misunderstand my Word:
The narrow gate is not the purchase price
For life eternal – this is yours already:
If price there was, my Son’s sacrifice
Bore all the cost, gladly, completely.
For sin’s rebuke, my mercy will suffice.
With Easter morn, death is bankrupt
And can no longer hold you in its vice.
In the story of the vineyard workers,
The men hired late on in the day,
Were paid the same, and paid before,
Those who toiled long for their pay.
The wage, which is everlasting life,
Is mine to give in any way I may;
Sinners, repenting late in life’s course,
Take special place in heaven’s array.
Understand the narrow gate in this sense:
As the challenge of living here and now.
This leads to a life that yet foretastes
The joy and peace that only grace endow.
Most men, taking the broader, easy path,
Search for happiness and meaning anyhow,
Settling for what will never ever satisfy,
And find ‘contentment’ in a spiritual slough.
This present, precious moment matters:
The moment past is gone, and forever;
The moment next, unknown and unsecure;
This moment, here, now, your soul-treasure.
To enter life by the narrow gate demands,
Faith-firm, to embrace now without fetter,
Leaving your past in My mercy-keep, and
Your future in the arms of your Saviour.
To enter by the narrow gate is to
Understand that I am not an option.
Blessed with life and strength, human pride
Leads many to a self-sufficient fiction.
Even so, few will utterly reject love,
With salvation gifted through My Son.
He who treads the narrow way lives now
The life of the Kingdom still to come.”
Narrowness here implies self-denial:
Living as the ‘last’ in order to be ‘first’.
The narrow gate is a daily act of faith,
In an eternity where all will be reversed.
Wisdom consists in this: sacrifice now
For a little while, knowing that the worst
Will pass away, and for the faithful soul,
The clouds will part in glorious sunburst.
Who will heed this gospel of discipline?
Who will take Jesus’ call seriously?
This isn’t sentimental soppyness friend,
But a hard choice to live with integrity.
Few indeed may cross that narrow gate,
And thereby live in wholesome sanctity.
Just as well for most of us, that mercy
Will see us safely home to our eternity.