Friday, October 14, 2011

What does salvation mean?

Salvation, in Christianity as well as the world’s other major religions, has more to do with liberation that enables me to experience the fullness of life in the present than it has to do with what if anything happens after death. I continue to follow the Jesus path not because I have a vague, ill-defined hope for new life but because I encounter truth, experience liberation, and receive new life as I walk the path. Jesus brought healing in the present to the people he encountered, not a promise of healing post-death.

The Apostle Paul wrongly contended that Christians are the most pitiable of all people if there is no life after death because he himself had experienced a life giving transformation, his encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road. When I consider the world, when I look deeply into the lives of others, when I plumb my own spirit, I see traces, indications, of a presence, a light, a power, that I can only label God. The encounter has been and continues to be transformative for me, changing self-love into love for others, emptiness into fullness, and chaos into meaning.

Admittedly, I am a Christian because it is the religion of both my birth and the culture in which I live (to the extent that this increasingly secular culture has a religious flavor or roots). However, I would surely be an agnostic if it were not for this elusive power that has me in its inescapable grip, a power that infuses me with life and love in ways that I find difficult to describe. God gives me no choice.

Equating Christianity with a gate to heaven through which one passes by receiving the sacrament of Holy Baptism, offering a “sinner’s prayer,” following the four spiritual laws, or any other act (even holding the right beliefs is an act) has two fatal, theological consequences. First, that type of theology puts the self and not God at the center. Everything is about me and my future. God becomes the means by which I achieve the end of my personal satisfaction. Second, that type of theology substitutes a mechanistic, judgment for God's life-giving love.

Removing the emphasis of a promised future reward as the incentive for walking Jesus’ path means that individuals who would intentionally and freely walk that path must choose to do so because they experience life more fully (truth) by doing so than by not doing so. This walk leads away from self and often brings more hardship and suffering than the person might otherwise experience. Yet the person does not make the choice as a masochist. Walking Jesus’ path entails the experience of something more real than one can experience in any other way.


Michael Tymn said...

Rev. Clifford,

Sorry, but I have to disagree with you again. Linving solely in the present, in the now, in the moment, however you want to express it, leads to materialism and hedonism and is the cause of all the chaos, turmoil, and strife in the world today.

We need to "live in eternity," which means living in the past, present, and future all at the same time. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to live in eternity without a strong conviction that consciousness survives death.

Once that conviction is instilled, one then understands what it means to "live in eternity" and then comes to fully appreciate and better enjoy life. I realize, however, that the person who lacks such a conviction may not fully grasp what I am saying.

As William James said, "The luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in; and his days pass by with zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular-science evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.”

George Clifford said...

I reject your wholesale condemnation of many religions that teach there is no life after death, e.g., some forms of Judaism, Buddhism, and some forms of Christianity (e.g., some versions of Unitarianism). The thrust of liberation theology in the Christian tradition was that salvation, to be meaningful, must occur in the present. Humans are finite and therefore have "no need to live in eternity."