Both in Gabriel and John’s case, their ideas of masculinity cause them to have a flawed relationship with God. Gabriel believes masculinity is his path towards a purer relationship with God, as his main motivation in all of his relationships is to create a holy male lineage. But John seems to have a pure relationship with God except for when he questions his sexuality. His view of other men’s physical power as sexually appealing causes him to question his salvation at the end of the book. Elisha’s ignorance of why John really asks him if he believed in his salvation puts that salvation even further into question, and the reader must wonder whether or not Baldwin believes anyone can truly be saved by God.
Masculine sexuality and holiness are portrayed as contradictory at a number of points by Baldwin. Gabriel’s masculinity’s failure to bring him closer to God is obvious, as he continually tries to “give” women his holy male heir, yet fails when these children end up being violent, dead, or non-existent. Further, his failure is marked by John’s salvation at the end of the book because he reaches union with God as an adopted son whereas Gabriel’s actual children do not even come close to having such an experience. But John questions his salvation at the end of the book due to his own view of his homosexuality as being in conflict with God’s will. When he imagines the strength of the boys in the bathroom in the very beginning of the novel, he believes he has sinned and thus is destined to go to hell after he dies. He then denies his sexuality, such as when he has the scuffle with Elisha in the church. There are queer undertones throughout the whole scene, yet this is viewed as a “straight” encounter by Elisha, who seems to be oblivious to John’s attraction to him. This obliviousness continues to the end of the novel where John is seemingly saved, and thus causes the reader to question whether or not Baldwin believes John was actually saved, or whether humans can be “saved” at all.
Ultimately, at the end of the novel I believe Baldwin thinks salvation itself is a farce, and not something that people should aim their lives toward because it is a futile affair. John’s consistent inquiry of Elisha to pray for him at the end of the book because he has romantic feelings for this man only serves to insight fear in John’s heart even though he just had an experience on the altar that can only be described as fully divine. Gabriel’s jealousy also serves no purpose other than to give him fear and grief, fear over his own ability to be saved and grief over a lineage that he views as failed in the eyes of God. The concept of salvation serves not much more than to drive this father and son mad over how they will reach heaven. Gabriel feels he must make up for his past sins by bringing a divine child into this world, which will likely never happen. John feels that in order to reach heaven he must denounce his sexuality, but this sexuality is what makes him human. One man feels he must exert his masculinity to a greater extent to achieve union with God and the other feels that he must repress his attraction to masculine figures to do the same. Baldwin then must see the concept of salvation as nothing more than a ridiculous and overbearing ideal to strive towards that, in the real world where people should not be expected to act more than human, people are driven to the brink of insanity by the constant fear of failing to please God.