I have come to admire the way different individuals function in their professional roles. Yet finally I represent the role my way, in my person, in terms of my gifts and my graces. These “gifts and graces,” as the Methodists put it, are not better or worse. They simply are different. Different gifts, different graces; one role, many approaches.
When I forget the obvious reality of different gifts and different graces, three images in the New Testament bring me back to the reality of God. Two are from the Book of Revelation. One is that there are twelve gates into the heavenly city (21:21). Twelve is a symbolic number reflecting the twelve tribes of Israel. But the spiritual point is made—each gate differs in relation to the outside yet each gate brings us into the wholeness of the community of God. Different gates suggest different gifts, yet there is only one reality, one God.
The other image of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, is a metaphor of the many-splendored reality of our humanity. There is “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God … And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light. … Its gates will never be shut by day— and there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:22-25). Because God is all-in-all, there are no special places and no special roles that are more privileged than oth- ers in bearing the presence of God. Every place and every role can be a conveyor of transformation and new life.
The third image that keeps me aware that my way is not the only way, my approach not the only approach, is found in John’s Gospel: “In [God’s] house there are many rooms” (John 14:2 Niv). I take that to mean “room” for everyone and “room” forme, “room” for others and “room” for ourselves. The house is God’s, yet the rooms are ours. None of us can live in the whole house, even if we try. Rather, we each are to live in the room that is ours. It is our room, our place, graced with our gifts and cluttered with our “junk.”
Martin Luther expressed this radical particularity in theological terms: No one can live for us, no one can die for us, no one can believe for us, no one can be baptized for us. These most personal acts are ours alone. They bear the evidence of our presence as expressions of our very being. Each of us represents— bears—the image and symbol of God in his or her own way. This does not mean we are left to our own devices. Nor does it mean that we cannot learn from each other. Pastoral counselingis never completely idiosyncratic, individualistic, and isolated. Rather, the genuineness of who we are as individuals always affects the authority with which we represent the presence of God.