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ProdigalIt is a common enough trait of atheists to talk about the ‘God of the gaps’.  As my God fills only the gap left by my need to address my sin and repent, I didn’t give any time to the concept, but I do wonder how far some of the things which divide Christians are the result of our trying to fill in the ‘gaps’?

The idea of the Trinity is to be found in Scripture and the traditions of the early church, but not stated thus, and not elaborated in the form Trinitarians have long accepted, as a series of posts here has helped to describe.

Binitarians will deny the validity of those ancient insights, but most of us do not; however, it is hard to argue that the ideas expressed by Gregory Nazianzus are there, in that form in Scripture. Men have needed, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to dwell on many of the things we have in Scripture in order the better to understand it.  That leaves, as it left the Arians, those who cannot take the majority view to maintain their position or reconsider it; men being what they are there are few examples of the latter.

If such dogmatic concepts are difficult to grasp, they do lead us into territory where one might say that it seems like you need a PhD in theology to be saved – which surely cannot be at all right, as what one needs is the faith of a child and a heart touched by grace. I don’t suppose the thief on the Cross to whom Christ offered a place in paradise that day, had the foggiest grasp of the Trinity. Indeed, he hadn’t been baptised, or made a good confession – and so, by the standards that came to obtain in the church, there’s no way he could have been saved – except of course He was.

Such passages cause pastoral concern. Matthew 20:1-16 is, by our standards, blatantly unjust. No one imagines that it is fair to pay a fellow who has worked an hour or two the same as one who has put in a full day; yet we are told that the kingdom of Heaven is like the householder who did just that. The parable of the unjust steward in Luke has caused many pastors sleepless nights. As for the parable of the Prodigal Son, well, if ever there were a pastoral nightmare, there it is.

Most of us, if we are honest, tend to react like the older brother – that is crossly and with uncomprehending irritation at the unfairness of it all. The little tyke insists on his share of the money, gets it, wastes it on wine, women and song (though perhaps he thought it wasn’t wasting it whilst the win and women were in plentiful supply), gets into a mess, goes back intending to wash the dishes, so to say, and dad welcome shim with open arms, kills the fatted calf and generally acts like something special has happened. You can see why the Older brother gets miffed.

You can also see why priests needed to emphasise that despite being offered eternal salvation in return for repentance, folk needed to mind their ps and qs and not assume they were saved.  I really can’t help thinking that was where Purgatory came in – don’t think it’s over in this life.  It is interesting that the Orthodox didn’t develop the idea, but their theology seems less jurisprudence based than that of Rome.  The Biblical verses in favour are vanishingly small and by no means pellucid. The RCC may be right, but it is the only Church which has taken this view – which is, again, interesting.