I’ve been reading William Golding’s To the Ends of the Earth trilogy. It follows a voyage from Britain to Australia in the early nineteenth century, with all the attendant drama of people confined together in a small space. Near the end of the second novel, Close Quarters, a part of the old warship’s keel breaks off when the sailors try to drag it clean of seaweed and coral. While their ship keeps sailing, the integrity of the whole vessel is compromised.
If like me you didn’t know what a keel was and had to Google it, it’s the bottom of the ship’s structure and in old ships it was the first part they built. If ships were skeletons I think the keel would probably be the spine. The ship’s integrity is constructed around it, and the keel plays an essential role in keeping the ship afloat and moving forward (if it’s a sail boat).
Lately it feels like my quiet time has spent a lot of time paused on what we’d consider the “basics” of faith: grace. You’ll have noticed this in my writing. Remember a few weeks back when I quoted Louie Giglio when he said of grace that when you get it, it gets you? What he didn’t say was that it’s possible to “get” grace and then forget that you got it in the first place!
Somewhere in the busyness of belief I’ve lost that pure gratitude and reliance on grace. I still have a relationship with God. I still read the Scriptures, I still pray, I still worship. I still write devos and send out inspirational pictures. I still have Bible Study and attend church. My “faith ship” hasn’t sunk because the keel – grace, always grace – has gotten entangled with seaweedy works and barnacles of religious baggage. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing, either. With my keel in such a state, rough waters are just that little bit harder to endure. Strain crackles. My progress is slower and harsher because my little faith ship is dancing atop the waves rather than slicing through them.
Why does this happen? I can only speak for myself, but maybe it’s because our faith lives are anchored in the wrong bays, and that’s where our keels get all covered with nonsense. When we harbour in anything other than God – I’m preaching this to myself – we expose our keels to things that want to interfere with keels that are strong and steady with the knowledge of God, his love and his grace.
As Christians we have this tendency to deride the “basics” of faith. We certainly tend to deride preachers who spend too much time on stuff like “grace”, don’t we? But if we looked at a ship and fully understood the function of its keel, would we deride the keel for being “basic”? No, because it isn’t basic – it’s essential.
What I’m rediscovering in leaps and bounds is how essential grace is, and how necessary it is to keep rediscovering grace. We don’t get to draw a line underneath grace and say, “Done!” before moving on to the next thing. Grace is the next thing, and the thing after that. It’s the structure of our faith lives; it’s the buoyancy and the driving force. It’s the one thing worth remembering.
This week’s Scripture is just such a reminder. I know Hebrews isn’t the easiest reading in the Bible, but make some time to read the whole book through. If you read it you’ll see that Hebrews was addressed to a congregation in the midst of rediscovering grace, of getting a keelhaul back to the basics – back to the essentials, back to Jesus, and toward “perfection” (Hebrews 6:1). I think that perfection is being secure in grace. It’s “getting grace”, again and again.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV