Lying asleep one morning, you are woken from slumber by the click of the mail slot. A plain white envelope addressed to you in elegant handwriting greets you on the doormat. Inside is enclosed a cursory letter, same handwriting, and a debit card in your name; bank undefined.
No pin number or security details are detailed; you cannot, it seems, access the mysterious bank account to which this peculiar card is the key. Perplexed, you turn to the letter for clues or some identification of the sender:
The bank account to which this card gives you access has been created for your benefit by myself. You cannot access this bank account, you cannot pay your own funds into it. You cannot withdraw funds from the account until a day of my choosing.
I will deposit a regular sum of credit to your account; this credit will gain value, with interest, as time passes. You cannot at present know the sum of the contents of the account; but be of good faith: when it comes to the time when you may withdraw from the account, the time I choose, you will have access to a fortune far exceeding what you now own.
All you need to do to receive this fortune is keep safe the debit card enclosed until the time comes. If you think I am a liar, a fraud, you may throw the card away, and forget about the affair altogether. That is your free choice. But, be warned; if you choose this course, you will lose any and all access to the account’s contents. Any damage or wear to the card is of no consequence to me; my only requirement is that you keep possession of it until the time I so choose.
And so the letter ends.
This is the great ultimatum which the Christian faith presents us with, the kerygma on which all else hinges; to persevere in trusting the character of a God who in the scriptures promises the inexplicable fortune of eternal life, or to discard the offer as fraudulent, a pseudo promise contained in a book of lies. This is the choice that Christ thrusts upon us – through an exertion of faith, to trust in the nature of the one who credits the account, that one day we might gain access to the funds within; or to throw away his claims as coming from a fictitious character with no historical importance or reality.
Just as we do not know the value or nature of the fortune deposited in that metaphorical account, so we cannot know in sureness the nature of the eternal life Christ alleges to offer. However, one thing is clear in all of the elusive claims we are to believe or reject; that this ill-defined, mysterious existence will leave us better off than the state we exist in at present. A world where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We cannot access that state of existence until Christ, the Door of the sheepfold, opens the gate and lets us in. So we hope, against everything, in that which is unseen.
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. C.S. Lewis
Maintaining the account, receiving this Life, does not require that a regular deposit be made, nor does it require our efforts to earn any of it. It only requires our simple act of faith. No matter how damaged, how battered that access card gets on the way, no matter what causes us to stumble and deviate from the path of faith, we still gain access to the offer of Life. If we let it go, we risk losing it all.
This is the ultimatum of the Christian faith: that the Life is a freely given gift, and requires only that one trusts the character of the One from whom it is given, nothing else. If we throw away the card, if we throw away faith, we throw away the key.
If I reach the end of my days having trusted and find the offer to be false, I have lost nothing. Conversely, if I reach the end of my days having not trusted and find the offer to be true, I lose everything. So I bet my life on the former of two alternatives.
The letter is waiting on your doormat. All access to this Life requires is that you read the conditions and keep the card safe.
To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity. Søren Kierkegaard