20 April 2020

Saved from what?

Four things you’re gonna notice about every religion in the world:

  • They try to explain who God is, and what he’s like: Caring nurturer, or wrathful disciplinarian? Disconnected first cause, or deterministic micromanager? The sum total of everything in the universe, or totally removed from everything? The object of all our faith and devotion, or not relevant? The only thing that’s real, or doesn’t even exist? Where does he fit between these extremes?—or is he paradoxically both?
  • They try to explain what happens after we die: Afterlife, new life, another life, or annihilation?
  • Morality: How ought humans live?—in light of who God is, or in light of what happens after we die.
  • How ought we compensate our clergy for all the valuable insights they’ve given us? Money? Free stuff? Sex?

Yeah, that fourth thing is a bit cynical, but the issue is there, y’know. Even in the benign religions.

But why do people pursue religions in the first place? Simple: It’s salvation. They wanna get saved.

Saved from what? Well, that varies.

Yeah, my fellow Christians are gonna tell you we need to be saved from sin and death. As will I, ’cause we do. That is what Christ Jesus offers. But it’s not necessarily what people are thinking of when they first look into Christianity. Or look into any other religion: Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, Mammonism. Or, because they don’t wanna be told what to believe, cobble together their own belief system so they can be “spiritual not religious.”

Most want to be saved from their circumstances. Their lives suck. They’re addicted to alcohol, food, sex, or narcotics; their relationships are out of control; their finances are insane. Some live in awful countries, with warlords who threaten their livelihoods and lives. And even when all those things are fine, there’s something in ’em which is just dissatisfied with life, and they can’t put their finger on it. So they figure God has the answer. Since this desire is so common, you’ll notice most Christian evangelists talk about being saved from this instead of sin and death. (Hey, a lousy life is no doubt the result of sin, right?) Turn to God and he’ll get your life right, and give you peace no matter what’s going on.

Many of ’em are looking to be saved from doubt. They wanna know why the universe works the way it does: Why do bad things happen to good people? They wanna know who or what God is. They wanna know what happens after death—not because they’re worried about death itself, for they figure whatever happens, happens. It just bugs ’em they don’t have simple answers to these questions. Or at least answers they’re comfortable with.

Many want to be saved from worry. Because they are worried about death: They don’t wanna cease to exist, or don’t wanna find themselves in a black cavernous chaotic nothingness, or are afraid of finding themselves in hell, and worry hell’s gonna look like the very worst horror movies. And again, many Christian evangelists zero in on these fears, and preach almost exclusively about getting saved from hellfire.

But back to sin and death.

Christianity focuses only on Jesus saving us from sin and death. Yeah, he could save us from circumstances, worries, and doubts too. And maybe he will. But what he’ll definitely do is save us from sin and death.

Oh you want proof texts? Yeah, let’s do proof texts. Sin first:

Matthew 1.21 KJV
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
1 Corinthians 15.3 KJV
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
1 Timothy 1.15 KJV
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Now death.

Luke 9.56 KJV
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
John 3.16 KJV
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 10.28 KJV
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
1 Corinthians 15.22 KJV
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

The two are of course related. Sin produces death. Ro 3.23 We sin; it gradually but definitely kills us. And others: Humans murder innocent people, like infants and fetuses, all the time. One human pollutes and another gets poisoned; one human cuts corners and another gets killed from shoddy craftsmanship. Jesus is a perfect example of a totally innocent victim: He never sinned, so his own sins didn’t kill him. But the Judeans’ and Romans’ sins absolutely did—and by extension humanity’s sins did too, ’cause Jesus would never have to come into the world to show us the Father Jn 1.18 if our sins didn’t distort our ideas of God so very much.

Jesus’s solution to the problem is not to merely give us a nice afterlife. It’s the kingdom of God—in which he’s the king. It’s to transform us through his Holy Spirit so we can be citizens of this kingdom. It’s to follow him by behaving as citizens of this kingdom; to do as he teaches. And if we’re pursuing God’s kingdom, our circumstances and worries and doubts tend to sort themselves out:

Matthew 6.33 KJV
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

“These things” being the worries of food and clothing—petty worries for the middle class, but serious needs for the impoverished people to whom Jesus preached. No, Jesus isn’t blowing off our serious needs, and telling us, “Forget about that; concentrate just on being religious.” He’s trying to restructure our priorities correctly. Most of our other worries are likewise the product of sin. So let’s root out the underlying cancer first. And Jesus is here to help.