Cat Hold or Monkey Hold?
In almost every religion of the world, including Christianity, there has been a long discussion of “eternal security.” The concern has risen for millennia about the question as to whether a devotee’s eternal security is conditional or unconditional. The phrasing often goes like this: am I secure because the omnipotent God is holding me, or am I secure because I am keeping hold of God?
In Hinduism the issue is captured by the metaphors the “cat-hold” or the “monkey hold”. When the mother cat carries her young, she holds her kitten by the nape of its neck, in her teeth. The kitten is secure because its safety is the entire responsibility of the parent. On the other hand, baby monkeys cling to the under belly of their mothers by the strength of their puny hands and arms. As the mother monkey swings from branch to branch, the baby hangs on for dear life.
I am not sure I like the either-or-ness of these images. In the Wesleyan tradition we have at times been inclined to defend the monkey hold as the crucial matter in the security of the believer. When anyone quotes the assuring passage, “Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling…” found in Jude 24; some of us are quick on the draw, and respond with our preferred passage from verse 21 of the same book “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” And so the battle of the Bible bullets has gone on for centuries.
A Lovers’ Embrace
May I suggest a different range of metaphors? I imagine two lovers in an embrace. The question arises, “Who is holding whom?” When two persons dance together, who is holding whom? When two people shake hands, who is holding whom? Are these persons hanging on for dear life, or embracing each other for dear love?
Hanging on seems to be such a faithless activity. It seems more like wrestlers who are hanging on to each other for fear that if they let go; the other person will do them wrong. Hanging on seems to remind me of people who are clutching and clinging too tightly, as though one were afraid of losing the other. I thought perfect love casts out all fear?
“Mere safety” has never been the goal of becoming a Christian. We are not to consider ourselves among those who have been saved from drowning, but now feel they must hang-on by a far too slender thread, terrified lest they fall back in and be swept away to their eternal doom. When lovers hang on that way to each other, the word “control” comes to mind. Salvation was never intended to engender a compulsive possessiveness that causes us to live in eternal anxiety or insecurity.
The Goal of Christian Life
If the goal of the Christian life is not simply to land safely on the other shore, what is the goal? I have always found it fascinating that all the way through the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament there are no clear words about saints going to heaven when they die. The heavens are where God dwells, where the stars hang out, and where the birds fly. But nowhere are we told it is the place where the righteous dead go. There are some sporadic intimations that death is not the end, but there are no clear words in the Law or the Prophets about our landing safe in heaven after we pass away.
It is even more strange when you consider that almost every other religion has made that a major focus of its faith. But when God reveals Himself and His ways to Israel, he does not wish them to be good so they can get to heaven or avoid hell when they die. Instead he wants them to be good because it is good to be good.
God wants to create a people who live in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. But he wants them to be good for the right reasons, not for ulterior motives. Now there is no doubt that the saints of the Old Testament age went to be with God. Jesus removes this doubt when he declares to the cynical Sadducees, that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living. (Mark12:26-27) And of course, his own resurrection was for the Christian Church the irrefutable proof that there is a resurrection and that heaven is intended to be our final home.
But safety was never the goal. Intimacy with God, fellowship with our Father, the companionship of the Holy Spirit, loving God with all we are and loving one another, was always the goal, and the goal for every day and every moments of those days.
The goal was never that we would live out our days in eternal insecurity wondering if we would arrive safely. Neither were we to live with the presumption of a security based on mere legalities, which asserts that God and we have signed a binding contract so neither we nor He can ever get out of it. The words of the song “Bind us together, Lord” were not intended to remind us of handcuffs. The closing words give the right intonation; “Bind us together with love.”
“I keep falling in love with Him over and over, and over and over again” is the right way to interpret the words of the older song, “this bondage to love sets me perfectly free.” It is love alone that liberates us from all anxiety and all presumptions. Thanks be to God!
Think it through…
Each side of the “eternal debate” about security have chosen their favorite Bible Bullets to shoot at those of divergent opinion.
Here are some of the favored texts on the one side:
- John 4:14
- John 5:24
- John 10:28-29
- Romans 8:28-39
- I Cor. 11:31-32
- II Cor. 1:21-22
- Ephesians 1:13-14
- Ephesians 4:30
- Here are the favorite texts of the other side
- Galatians 4:8-11
- II Timothy 2:10-13
- Hebrews 3:6-19
- Hebrews 6:1-12
- Hebrews 10:26-39
- II Peter 2:20-22
- Do you find yourself obsessed with the security issue? If you do, what do you think are the roots of this preoccupation?
- If you are frequently afraid of losing your salvation, what does that say about your understanding of God?
- If you find yourself insisting that you are “safe” because you have been “saved”, what does that say to you about your reasons for being a Christian?
For the Small Group Leader…
Is it possible for us to move the small groups we lead to a focus on loving God so absolutely, that the issue over safety becomes fairly incidental? Let your group hear the words of Job from the KJV “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15) or Paul’s words “ I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.” (Romans 9:2-3) How do these two passages help us view our concerns for security and our desire to love God and neighbor?
Published in Light and Life , May-June, 2001.