Salvation. Loaded into that word are gulfs of culture. The fires of hell are in that word, and the pearly gates. The Jesus prayer, and an angry old God just waiting to toss sinners headlong into burning agony. The cross and the garden of eden all mixed up around sweet fruit and the glitter of sunlight off serpent scales. Naked bodies and shame, fig leaves and Armani suits. Get your salvation, buy your afterlife insurance and rest easy my friends.
It all rings hollow, it all falls apart.
Was Lucy, Eve, sinless and free? When was the fall if the whole world was our Eden and if our ancestors mingled Neanderthal and Homo Erectus? Were the newly discovered ‘hobbits‘ sinless as well? Where was the line, where did one apelike being first feel shame and taint us all forever? And in this world, where Eve and Adam become whole tribes, do we really want to return to the sinless state of our animal relatives? Or, as my covetous dog just demonstrated is there no line at all. It all rings hollow, it all falls apart.
God is angry, honor offended, angry enough to doom us all to eternal punishment. God’s anger rolls in hateful waves, crashing against the sea of humanity, overwhelming fragile souls with fire. The only thing that will do, the only thing that can stem the tide: do not stay Abraham’s hand, no ram caught in a thicket, this time a son will die, murdered by his father’s hand. And that makes the anger somehow better? It all rings hollow, it all falls apart.
‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats? (Psalm 50)
Unless of course, we’ve got it wrong. Unless salvation is a salve, and not a key. Unless it is not about death and anger at all, but new life. Salvation is a loaded word, full of judgement. But truth as well, we are lost. Live long enough, love wide enough, and you’ll know that truth. There is sin, and brokenness, however they came into being. And we are all wondering around with our hands out, clutching for something solid in the dark. Salvation is the hand that clutches back. There is evil in this tired old world, and well-meaning mistakes. Salvation does not wipe them out, anymore than resurrection erased death, it just declawed it, tamed it. Salvation brings our feral souls in from the dark and the cold to the fireside, and a welcoming lap.
Salvation comes gently, slowly, breaking through our lives like dawn. This is no ‘once and done’ event, it is the slow unfurling of rose petals, the silent growth of the oak, the trickle of melt water in the mountains come spring. God works on us, calling us back again and again. This is salvation, the grace to start again, for the thousandth time. This is salvation, that God slipped into our skin and lived and cried and suffered and laughed and loved. This is salvation, that God died, rather than be that angry monster we imagine. This is salvation, that after death, God walked back into our lives and let us start again, and again, and again. This is salvation, that God didn’t get enough the first time around and is still slipping into our skin and slumming in our hearts.
Salvation doesn’t let us into heaven, it pulls back the curtains that have hidden heaven among us all this time.
“The Kingdom of God has come near!” – Luke 10:9, Matthew 10:7, Mark 1:15
Salvation can be the knife at the throat of the beloved, blood sacrifice, slave to some mad accounting. And eventually, that salvation falls apart under the weight of its own horror, it contradicts itself until it folds up like a piece of cosmic origami and collapses into a theological black hole that says we can never be good enough. But really, really, it is the gentle sun burning away the fog morning after morning. Warming our hearts and our faces, year after year.
Salvation welcomes us home while we are still far off, God runs to us, flings Herself upon our neck and weeps with joy. And when we lament that we are not good enough, our God laughs until They cries and asks us what good ever had to do with it in the first place.
Stop trying to be good, and just go home already. Your Mother misses you.