I listened to the following from Molly Sabourin in one of her podcasts quite a while back. Somebody uploaded it to youtube with visuals. It’s timeless and beautiful.
Molly’s words require no elaboration from me. They are haunting and beautiful and stand easily on their own. Still, I have sought for words to express how I reacted when I first heard this in her podcast. There was a profound sense of affirmation and proper orientation. My heart sighed, “Yes!” as tension I had carried for so long melted away. I’ve had many interactions with Christians and experiences with Christianity, both positive and negative, throughout my life. All of those were “legitimate” in the sense that they all infomed the first thirty years of my process of conversion. I don’t discount one in favor of another. The events and decisions that led to my Baptism at age six or seven were not somehow false or invalid because my identity did not begin to truly become intertwined with Jesus of Nazareth until my early thirties when I generally consider the process of my journey to have reached the point where the language of conversion is the only language that fits.
However, as many Americans who wind their way into or within Christianity often do, I reached that point in my journey in a tradition which attempts to reduce the broad, rich, and varied use of the concept of “salvation” within Christianity to a single event at one specific point in time. They want to use the metaphor of a wedding rather than the biblical metaphor of a marriage. They want to make salvation about an intellectual decision that you make fervently and sincerely enough for it to stick in that instant. And as far as I’ve been able to discern, “salvation” is reduced to an answer to the question, “What happens when I die?”
That was never a particular concern of mine. To the extent that I considered it at all, I was perfectly satisfied with my childhood and adult belief in the transmigration of souls blended with a later developing belief that some might remain pure spirit as a form of kami. I wasn’t worried about the caricature of “hell” you encounter in American culture in general and more seriously in evangelicalism because I didn’t believe in it. (I still don’t believe in either the funny cultural parody or the more serious evangelical caricature of hell which the culture rightly parodies. But that’s a discussion for another day. I do believe in the power of death (hades) which Christ has defeated. And I do believe in the reality of the experience described by the metaphor of gehenna that flows from the eschaton of the narrative of the Christian story. Pick which you mean by the English word drawn from the name and realm of the goddess Hel.)
As N.T. Wright and others have pointed out in detail, the Holy Scriptures also say fairly little about what happens in the interim period between the time our bodies sleep and the resurrection of the dead. There are just a few words here and there. Instead of the deep and multi-faceted concepts of salvation found in our Holy Scriptures, much of evangelicalism has reduced salvation to a single facet that does not ever seem to be the primary focus of the New Testament. And in so doing they have crafted a framework in which my own personal story simply won’t fit.
Molly captures in her words so much of the way the story and person of Jesus of Nazareth had reshaped and reformed my own personal story and identity in something more like the full richness of the scriptural usage of the concepts of salvation. In one sense, all humanity was saved when Jesus united the human and divine natures fully, in their entirety, and lived the life of a faithful human being; was crucified by the powers as our ransom; and broke the power of death over humanity in his Resurrection. Because of Jesus, it is no longer the nature of man to die. In Christ we find our salvation.
In another sense, I am working out my salvation today in this life with fear and trembling. I see as though through a mirror, darkly. But as best as I am able I am pressing forward, running the race, and trying to learn to obey the commands of Jesus as I try to follow him. In this sense, I can hardly say I was saved at some earlier point in my life. I’m still alive. While it seems incredible to me at this moment that I would ever do anything but follow Christ, it was once just as incredible to me that I would. If over the course of my life I turned to a different spiritual path and followed other gods, in what sense would I be “saved” in the particular Christian sense? I continue to be in the process of being saved. As with marriage, this is a process and a life. We follow a personal God of perfect relationship. How could it be anything else?
And finally, in another broad scriptural sense, I will one day stand before God with my true self fully revealed in his light to myself and all others. There is no account of that final judgment in the Holy Scriptures that does not describe it as a judgment over the totality of our lives — over who we are with no lies and no deception. God is love and light, but so pure that no shadow of darkness can persist in his unveiled presence. The question will not ultimately be about what God thinks of me. The ultimate answer to that question was the Cross. God loves me. The question will be, “Do I love God?” I pray that I grow in the grace and love of God so that through Jesus my answer is, “Yes!” For this reason I pray, “Lord have mercy.” But a lasting life in a resurrected body continuous, yet discontinuous, with my present body and in some sense like our Lord’s in his Resurrection working within a restored and healed creation that has been made new and is overflowing with the unveiled glory of the Lord marks the fullness of the Christian story of salvation.
That is our hope. Nothing less.