Can we declare our own salvation?

This has been a recurring question throughout my reading of Go Tell It on the Mountain, Down At the Cross, and more generally in reality. While the Bible articulates that God will be the final judge of all humanity and all individuals, most people have unanswered questions and predictions about their own fate and others’ fate. A capacity for judgment exists in all humans, and Christians believe that the Bible provides moral guidelines to inform one’s judgment. Commandments are the first guidelines that come to mind, but also included in the Bible are stories about consequences humans face for not following God’s word. Humans have expanded upon the judgment terms offered in the Bible and instituted their norms, behavioral expectations, laws, and moral codes, many of whichChristianity and countless other religions heavily influence. These guidelines for human behavior result in consequences for those who do not meet them, such as discrimination, prejudice, and oppression, to name a few.

In Go Tell it Own the Mountain, which is a semi-biographical account of James Baldwin’s life and struggle with his identity and religion, John wrestles with questions regarding his fate because he did not fit within the confinements of the norms for his faith and society. Because Christian views on non-heterosexuality have always been divided and prejudicial, like his characters John, Baldwin struggled to meet his family and society’s expectations as a Black, gay man. His identity as a gay man did not align with common Christian religious teachings about morality and salvation. As a result, Baldwin not only faced judgment and questions about his access to salvation from broader society, but he also had many internalized fears about his fate throughout his life. In Down At the Cross, Baldwin writes of the contention between the Christian message of love and notions of judgment “And the passion with which we loved the Lord was a measure of how deeply we feared and distrusted and, in the end, hated almost all strangers, always, and avoided and despised ourselves (310).” Baldwin resented the religious confinements common Christian teachings impose. He considered these teachings to promote hate, and self-resentment, all problems that deeply affected him.

I was very moved to learn that Baldwin had Amazing Grace played at his funeral. It represents an acceptance of himself and his declaration of his own salvation and determination of his fate. While the Bible teaches that God is the final judge, it is clear that humans can make their own determinations about their fate despite ultimately not knowing the result. Baldwin pushed against narratives of prejudice, discrimination, and overall societal oppression that often stem from going against societal norms. His refusal to allow others’ judgments to determine his final judgment of himself is most inspiring.