Thursday, February 09, 2006
Saved from What?
Marty asks the logical question: saved from what? What is this "salvation" all about? From what are we saved and to what point and purpose, if any?
I grew up in the Bible belt in the midst of the "I found It" bumper sticker craze of the 1970s. "It" meant a personal relationship with Jesus, and "it" was clearly crucial to one's personal salvation. "It" was what saved one from a life of alienation from God and an eternity of hellish alienation. More to the point, "it" was what saved you from the wrath of God. Indeed, there's a book out called Saved From What by a conservative evangelical that argues precisely that humankind needs to be saved from God.
The image of a wrathful God is ancient, and certainly has Biblical roots. The word "wrath" shows up hundreds of times in scripture, and is certainly the subject of much artwork as Cain Fleeing the Wrath of God illustrates. Among my favorites is Exodus 32, where Moses talks God back from the brink of a wrathful destruction of the golden-calf worshipping people. Perhaps the most famous English-language example of wrath-of-God theology is in Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That one will send shivers down your spine.
It should come as no surprise that I don't see it this way, but it's important to acknowledge how common such theology is, even when it comes in a "kinder and gentler" version of a wrathful God who calls his (and this God is always masculine) followers to hate the sin but not the sinner. I actually prefer the old one, whose hate was right out there!
Well, no. But anyway, as is often the case, I find John Hall's work helpful here. In Why Christian?, he asks, "Do you know (most people don't, I find) that the word at the center of this whole discussion, 'salvation,' comes directly from the Latin word for 'health' -- salus? It means to be whole, to be integrated. You may think, for instance, of the way that Jesus in the Gospels, in healing someone of some debilitating illness, tells them, 'Be whole.' ... All that kind of thing lies behind the word that we too often turn into something so 'spiritual,' religious, and 'otherwordly' that it betrays the most fundamental meaning of the word itself, which is a very earthy thing: the healing of persons, the reintegrating of divided selves, the reuniting of people with those from whom they are estranged, the equipping us for the kind of life our Creator intended us to have. 'I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.'"
Saved from what? From ourselves, I think.