Passwords are the bane of my life. Why just to get into my computer I have to type in a password. If I want to do on-line or phone banking, passwords are necessary. Even the websites of Ministry Today and the College of Baptist Ministers require passwords. Security is a hard task-master.
Although passwords are a modern invention, the idea of a secret token for admission to an event has a long history. Indeed, it is present in the Book of Revelation, where the angel of the church writes: “To everyone who conquers… I will give a white stone and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the person who receives it” (Rev 2.17). There has been a lot of speculation about the identity of this white stone, but scholars tend to think that it was a ‘token of recognition’ used to gain admission to a public festival. In the context of the Book of Revelation in putting their trust in the Lord Jesus Christians receive a ‘token of admission’ to the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’.
In an autobiographical essay entitled The White Pebble, to be found in a 2013 collection of Selected Essays (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York) Thomas Merton, the American Dominican priest and spiritual writer, reflected on this token of admission. The style of language he uses is very different from that which an evangelical Christian might employ – and yet I find it wonderfully thought-provoking. So let me quote from this essay He wrote:
Our supernatural destiny is hidden in a little white counter, a little white pebble in the hand of God. If we want it, we must reach out and take it from His hand.
If we do not accept it, we shall never know our true name. We shall never find out who we were meant to be. And we shall fall into a hopeless and everlasting void that is peopled by all the missing persons who have never found out they really had a name and a character and an identity reserved for them in heaven, that they were destined for life instead of death, if only they had known how to reach for their pebble and make the effort to begin to live.
Each one gets his pebble from the hand of Christ. The hands of Christ are pierced by nails. He bought us our supernatural life with His own human life. The white counters that he gives to those who ‘overcome’ are tokens of a share in His divine life. All true life flows into the souls of men from the wounds of Christ on the Cross.
Thomas Merton recognises that this metaphor could lead to a very individualistic approach to the Christian faith – as if entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is a gift given to individuals for themselves alone. Or to use the metaphor of a password, entrance is dependent upon our knowing the right secret password. But of course, the good news Christians have to share is that Christ died for all. God wants everyone to receive the little white stone, he wants everyone to know the password! So Merton went on to say:
No man enters heaven all by himself. We either bring others in with us or we are brought in by others…. The grace that is given to me must pour out into your heart through works of love, through prayer, through sacrifice. The more fully one enters into the Christian life, the more he feels the necessity of communicating that life to others, if not by word, then by prayer and by the deep sweet anguish of desire, the craving for souls that burns in the depths of the heart of the priest.
To end with the metaphor of the password, the password of life is to be shared with everybody!