Wednesday, November 19, 2008

OK- this one's gonna get me in trouble...

In my previous post, my sole reader (maybe I should just email you? :) ) mentioned I was parsing my words in regard to salvation coming only from Christ. Do I believe salvation comes only from Christ? Yes. As quoted "no one comes to the Father except through me." Do I believe only Christians will be saved? No. The concept is far deeper than a simple yes or no can summarize.

Perhaps that makes me not a Christian. Well, that applies to 57% of Evangelical Christians then. Of course, majorities have been wrong before- we elected W. twice.

However, I have to look at what God is, and what He says. Unfortunately, except when I am in the most ecstatic of prayers, the only reference I have for God's will is the Bible. I think the Word is infallible. Man's Language, particularly translated language, has no such claims. Perhaps God acted to secure meaning in translation so His word is unblemished in the new versions- so then which translation should I go with? King James, which was politically motivated? Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic Bible meant as poetry? NIV, NRSV, RSV, Schofield, Peterson's Message, New World Translation, Jefferson's? Even when Jesus speaks the line above, he SPOKE Aramaic, and we have the line in Greek, then translated into English. Is the translation wrong? Probably not, but I bet it is missing subtlety.

So what is Salvation? It would seem to mean Eternal Life. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Continued existence despite the state of the world. I am sure it is much deeper than that, but let's go with it. Who gets it? Anyone God chooses. Paul confirms for us in Romans that the promise God made to the Jews- His chosen people- will not be cast aside despite the coming of Christ. (Chapter 11.) Indeed, the Jews play a specific role bringing the grace given them by God to the Gentile. Paul has already told us that GOD defines His people (Rm 9:6-9) by the Covenant (promise here from the Greek) and quotes Moses from Exodus 33:19 when he states God says "I will have Mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and compassion upon whom I will have compassion." Sounds like it is up to God who gets saved. Of course, I argue with Paul a lot, so I had to see if someone else also showed Hebraic salvation despite belief in Christ.

Well, Christ does. In Luke 15 Jesus gives us the parable of the prodigal son when asked why He hangs with sinners. Remember however, Luke is written by a Gentile for the Gentiles. The deeper meaning of this parable is not only a sinner returning to the fold, but the Gentiles having opportunity to receive the grace God the Father has already bestowed on the child who stayed, the Jews. Notice, at the end of the parable, the good son is not kicked out of his inheritance. Further, look at the parable of The Vineyard Workers. Those who came late (the Gentiles) received the same pay as those who worked all day (the Jews), but the ones who worked all day did not lose THEIR jobs.

So, here plainly in the Bible (and I haven't even gotten into James who implies you can work your way to Salvation, or The Great White Throne Judgement in Revelation where all who were ever born are resurrected and judged according to their works) are an entire people who receive salvation by virtue of their ancestors and not because they choose Christ as their personal savior- God chooses them, not vice versa. The Children of Abraham are spread far and wide, and indeed we have no idea how many descendants of the Lost Tribes are scattered among the population of the world. So already we have Biblical precedent showing there will be people saved who have not made the literal acceptance of Jesus as their savior. Jesus/God has instead chosen them.

So, how can I reconcile these thoughts with "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life- no one comes through the Father but through Me"? First, there's the deeper question of how separate God and Jesus are. Since the seeds of our modern Christianity lie with Athanasius who beat out Arius in the Nicean debates, we believe in a God who is "una substancia, tres persona" ("a single substance with three faces") rather than Jesus being, as Arius argued, "tertium quid" ("something different"). Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, and God and Jesus are of the same substance. Indeed, Jesus says in the same book (John) "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). John also argues Jesus as "The Word" made flesh, and "In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God."

So, in simpler language the first quote can read "no one comes to Me but through Me."

So, does the "Me" in this divine case mean specifically the Jewish Carpenter, or the idea of Mashiah, the Christ, our Messiah? What IS the Messiah, what IS Jesus as God and man, and how does His sacrifice equal salvation? Humanity sins. Sinning, doing "bad," must have a fundamental effect on the state of the universe. Offending God creates a debt, an imbalance, which must be equalized. The debt must be paid, the balance restored, and the effect minimized. Somehow, and I make no claims to know how, God living as a man and dying one of the most heinous deaths we as humans have ever concocted pays this debt. God in the form of Jesus says, "I made these rules, yet I also made you inclined toward breaking them. However, I am not just holding you to the standard and throwing you to the proverbial wolves, I am taking PERSONAL responsibility and showing you how to meet my standards, and paying the price of not following the rules for you."

The price has been paid, or as my Buddhist friends say, the karmic debt is even. God has walked into the Universal Taco Bell and declared anyone can have a free taco. How do we redeem that? One way is certainly acknowledging the payment of the debt by accepting Jesus' salvation. Remember though, God WANTS ALL of us to have our free taco. It's already been purchased. It is still up to us to take the taco, but I think there must be more than one way to take delivery. Otherwise, there's a lot of leftover taco. God loves the world; God will stack His salvation in the world's favor.

Remember- the idea of being saved only through Christ all but originates with Augustine, then flows through Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin- Augustine comes along some 400 years after Jesus left us. Politics and mankind's prejudice already got into the mix. Many very well regarded Christian scholars argued against exclusive salvation including Origen, John Wesley, and even CS Lewis. So why don't we ask Jesus how to attain the Kingdom?

The basis of all the Law, all the prophets, the entire Kingdom, according to Jesus in Matthew is:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (22:37-39)

Jesus never even utters the word "Salvation" in the course of the Bible. He speaks only of entering the Kingdom, and He says it is at hand. See above for how He says you must come to Him through Him. There's not much to prove Jesus would agree with Calvin.

In Matthew 7 Jesus says "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Is Jesus putting the idea of serving God's will ahead of calling on the name Jesus? Just food for thought...

It seems God will cast the nets and choose which fish to keep and which to throw back. I will not claim to know how He plans to do this, but neither can I limit which of His children He will save, and the evidence He leaves in the Bible, unencumbered by man's theological doctrine, doesn't seem to either. I know the word "Jesus" means salvation, though. We keep coming back to God IS salvation.

Then comes the "reason" argument, and I don't think God would have given us reason if He didn't want us to use it. Why would God make a system which automatically excludes anyone who had the misfortune of being born before Jesus? There must be a condition to offer them salvation. How about those who die as infants? Those who perhaps hear the name Jesus only as distant trivia of a foreign religion? Those who even in our modern world never hear the name? This is a God who "so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son" to save us- is that the action of an entity who would be so exclusionary? I don't think God breaks his own rules of Salvation, but I think His rules are far deeper and more intricate than we can understand, including the simple acceptance of Jesus, but expanding to more.

So Jesus is God, and God again grants salvation as He sees fit. Should we begrudge the idea that God may extend His salvation to those who in our eyes don't deserve it? Does that make us the vineyard workers who were there all day?

Finally, I can't limit God. God is much more than I can understand. Much more than human language can express in any one religion, book, or philosophy. If this is so, I must reserve judgment on how God will do things, and finally accept that Salvation comes from God, however He wants to hand it out. And it makes no logical, theological, or Christian sense that He would be so elitist as to exclude children from His grace based only on the idea they didn't follow/understand/hear the ideas of one particular group.

I expect no one to agree with me, and nor do I in anyway want to disparage anyone else's faith. I want only to state what I believe based on my conversations with God, and deep study of other similarly baffled humans. I am the first to admit I am likely wrong, or at least limited in my understanding. God is hard to listen too sometimes, and I have certainly misinterpreted Him before... but I was asked. Isn't it far more important however that we follow the example Jesus gave us in life? We care for our weak, we strive for peace, we are merciful, and are pure of heart. Once we all get there, then we can take the time to begin to work out exactly how God's salvation applies to we His children.



Anonymous said...

As usual, your article is very insightful, well thought out and generous of spirit. Believe it or not, you made total sense to me and we are closer in our beliefs than not.

You are a very talented, gifted writer. You should submit some of your writings to theological magazines or papers. I feel selfish enjoying your work all by myself, so I share with a few friends from time to time. I have always asked your permission first though. May I share this as well?

Next I would like to hear your thoughts on who, if anyone, you do NOT think would or should make it to Heaven.

I'd also like to have a discussion with you on the abortion issue sometime. Do you personally think abortion is killing a baby? If so, is that murder? If so, should the mother be prosecuted? Just some questions that float around in my mind from time to time. I'd like to hear your ideas if you care to pen them.

Keep up the interesting topics Dan. I thoroughly enjoy them.


Dan said...

Hmmm- who shouldn't? I think everyone should. Well, no, actually I am no where near enlightened enough to truly wish everyone should make the cut, whatever it is, but I know I am supposed to forgive and not judge ANYONE. And when I figure out how to do that, I will write that down (and possibly get nailed to a tree for it). Who won't? Those who chose not to, for lack of a better term. I again am not claiming to know what "salvation" means- I doubt though it is a simple as passing through a pearly gate and living in a nice gated community with streets paved in gold. Faith has to use allegorical and descriptive language to relate ideas we have no other context to understand. However, in the myriad of spiritual and humanist studies I have done, only one thing stops the will of the Divine: Human free will. To use the figurative description, I have no doubt there will be folks standing outside the gates looking at God/Christ waving them in... and will turn the other way. The forgiven are free to reject forgiveness.

Dan said...

There's another small caveat I want to throw in here (in for a penny, in for a pound). I accept God as a personage because that is the only way I can understand Him. I worship in a Judeo-Christian manner and use the Bible to relate to God because it's what I understand. God is however far bigger than any one religion. I believe there is validity to other faith systems. Any Creator would be inherent in Creation, and any method of assessing that creation would offer evidence of that Creator. The majority of religions agree on many things- I accept these to be Truths (and I mean capital T truths) as such since they have been universally observed. We read a lot into our experience based on our culture... this is evident even in the way denominational interpretations of Christ differ, all the way back to the Gospels. We westerners see God and see the old wise Father on the throne. In the east they see Krishna, or the Is... I think these are the same thing suffering observer interpretation. I bet ants argue about their perceptions of humans as well...