13 June 2004

What is salvation?

At the moment, this is the top hit from Google for the phrase that's the title of this post. Go ahead and read it; it's not too long. I'll wait right here.

Have you read it? Good. Here's what I say about that: Bullshit.

Uh, Mike, did I just hear you call a nice story about a grandma and her grandkids and cocoa and cookies "bullshit"? Yep. Mike, have you been watching too much of the Penn and Teller show of that name on Showtime? Yep.

Anyway, the thing I'm picking on in that nice story isn't the exclusivism (which I've discussed previously), and I've certainly got no problem with encouraging kids to confess Christian faith as long as you're not coercing them into it. (Though one should keep in mind that it's too, too easy to coerce a child. Hence statutory rape laws.) My problem is with this, which is really the bit that attempts to answer the titular question:

"Grandma, do you mean God sent His Son so I won't ever get lost again, like I did last week in the mall?" asked Shane.

"No, Shane, that's not the kind of lost Jesus is talking about," said Grandma. "When these verses tell us we're lost, it means we won't be able to spend forever with God after we die here on earth."

Bullshit. Sometimes I think Jesus spent all that time in his three-year ministry talking about the Kingdom of God just to have his followers as blissfully clue-free as the scribes and Pharisees he contended with himself. The Kingdom of God, aka the Kingdom of Heaven, is not some place we go to when we die if we've confessed to faith in Jesus. Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is within [or among] you." (Luke 17:21) !! Not later. Not after death. Here, now. Belinda Carlisle said, "Ooh, Heaven is a place on earth." This former Go-Go was paying attention! Are most Christians paying attention to the full weight of Jesus' teaching? Sometimes I don't think so.

I think that to claim that salvation is about what happens to you after you die is to seriously miss the point of Jesus' ministry. Jesus preached a Kingdom of Heaven that was constantly trying to break into our living, everyday reality. Salvation is to be handed the keys to Heaven right now. The moment you're born again, the moment you open the door of your heart, you're a citizen of Heaven, and you have access to that Heaven at any time. You may not always remember that--in fact, being human, it's a cinch that we won't--but that door is open. You don't have to wait until you die to go in.

By the same token, hell is a place on earth. Just ask somebody in the depths of clinical depression. Just ask that guy in the hood with the electrodes attached to him at Abu Ghraib. But that's also bullshit. Because I know firsthand that for someone suffering clinical depression, but with a lifeline of Faith, Hope, and Love, hell can't completely take over. By the same token, if that poor guy in the Iraqi prison was saved (by which I don't mean "if he was a Christian"--see a previous post), then although he was doubtlessly terrified out of his ever-loving mind, I don't believe he was in hell. But the high-powered CEO, on top of the world, might be living every moment of every day in hell if he's never opened his heart to the one who stands at the door and knocks, and says "be compassionate, as your Father in Heaven is compassionate".

Anyway, that's my answer to "What is salvation?" It's got nothing to do with dying--although for one who is born again, the day you die can be just another day in paradise (to quote that other '80's pop theologian, Phil Collins). It's about living a life in which the Kingdom of God is within you, and the love and compassion of God is the law of this interior country.

Having said that, I think I'm not going to go back and write all that exegesis I promised in the post on exclusivism/pluralism. I think I've said what I wanted to say about salvation. If anybody reads this and wants me to back it up with more Bible interpretation, let me know.

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