I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence. I can understand a wrathful God who’d just as soon dangle us all from a hook. And I can understand a tender, unprejudiced Jesus. But I could never quite feature the two of them living in the same house. You wind up walking on eggshells, never knowing which… is at home at the moment.
– Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible
I’ve been listening to The Poisonwood Bible in the car. I didn’t read it when it came out; I was biased against it because it was a book club favourite. But two tapes in, I’m finding it an enthralling novel. A Southern Baptist family move to the Congo to live as missionaries there in the 1950s; Nathan Price, the father, is a harsh and stubborn man, not willing to learn from the Africans – or his wife, from whom this quote comes.
Jesus is tender sometimes, but is just as often harsh, especially with hypocrites. But still her quote resonates with me. Faith asks us to live out a particular way of life, at odds with the world. And we have do that without certainty. We shouldn’t think of salvation as ‘life insurance’ – yet often we do, and if it doesn’t pay out, then we have just been given a life sentence.