Saturday, March 05, 2016

Salvation Doesn't Matter Much

Try this novel suggestion. Communicate the moral teachings of Jesus. Salvation doesn't matter much to people who don't believe in original sin.

So wrote a friend recently, and I must confess, the concept resonates. For one, I just don't think the majority of people I know worry much about original sin and its consequence. 

This does not mean I think they're heathens, or that they've got some deeply misdirected theological interests. It just means we now consider sin and its consequences along other epistemological lines than previously, and for good reason. I think theologians like Tillich help us here.

It's also not that I don't believe in salvation. I do. It's just that I think salvation is black, dark, cloudy, hidden, dancing, elusive, patient, dancing, long.

Why do I believe salvation is black? Well, for one, that's what James Cone says, and I trust James Cone. 

He has that famous line, "The misunderstanding here is the failure to see that blackness or salvation (the two are synonymous) is the work of God, not a human work." (A Black Theology of Liberation)

Cone was saying in liberation theology perspective that literally blackness is salvation, that blackness in its freedom is beautiful and where God's at--and I agree with him.

But if you read Scripture, you'll see how salvation is blackness also, like, the absence of light kind of blackness. For one, it's a helmet (Ephesians 6:17).  It's kind of dark in helmets.

Salvation is not yet revealed (1 Peter 1:5). The unrevealed is typically dark.

 Salvation is patience (2 Peter 3:15). Ain't nothing more difficult to see than the far end of patience.

It is an occluded thing, not available, certainly not confident, eminently hopeful, doubled-down in promise.

In the meantime, the moral teachings of Jesus are quite clear. The only thing cloudy about them is their difficulty. 

Kierkegaard: When you are reading God’s Word, it is not the obscure passages that bind you but what you understand, and with that you are to comply at once. If you understand only one single passage in all of Holy Scripture, well, then you must do that first of all, but you do not first have to sit down and ponder the obscure passages.

The fundamental purpose of God’s Word is to give us true self-knowledge; it is a real mirror, and when we look at ourselves properly in it we see ourselves as God wants us to see ourselves. 

But we don't know how God wants us to see ourselves, because God is black. That's how we see ourselves, by not seeing us.

Salvation might be blackness, but that blackness is clarity. It is truth. 

It is impossible to lighten up into this truth that transforms until we see ourselves as we really are.

I think this means we discover salvation by not focusing on it. We are saved when we come to the realization that salvation doesn't matter much. 

And really, if you want to know who you are, study the moral teachings of Jesus. If you want to know how Christ affected our salvation, study his life.

In this sense, my friend seems to align with the moral influence theory of the atonement by Abelard, that the Atonement is not directed towards God with the purpose of maintaining God's justice, but towards humanity with the purpose of persuading them to right action.

If you want to know salvation, look at how Jesus lived. There's more eternity there than a thousand heavens.

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