“… should not Christians be concerned, primarily if not exclusively, with the reconstruction of belief or reconversion of the world, and not with the salvaging of a sinking civilization?” (Georges Florovsky, CHRISTIANITY AND CULTURE, p 12)
This is the Twelfth blog in this series exploring ideas about and images of salvation. The first blog is Images of Salvation and the previous blog is Images of Salvation (XI). In this series I am bringing together quotes from a wide variety of sources which I read over the past 25 years. Each of these quotes made me reflect on the notion of salvation at the time that I read them – they have shaped my understanding of what salvation is.
In the above quote by Fr. Florovsky we encounter the fact that salvation requires us to make choices about many things in life. What exactly is God trying to save about the world which He so loves? While He has endowed creation with His goodness, it is also clear that the earth is not paradise, it is not heaven. So we are called upon to be wise and discern what is redeemable on earth. On the one hand, can everything be transformed or are we endeavoring to transfigure and transform only certain things? And on the other hand, from what are we to turn away and flee in repentance? We are required to learn the wisdom of God in order to make good and holy choices.
In the writings of Saints Barsanuphius & John (6th Century) we find the following question:
“Q: How can one be saved in the present times?
A: In every time, if a man can cut off his own will in everything, and have a humble heart, and death always before his eyes—he can be saved, by God’s grace; and wherever he might be, fear does not take possession of him, for such a one ‘forgetteth the things that are behind, and stretcheth forth to those that are before’ (Phil 3:13). Act thus, and you will be saved by God without sorrow.” (Saints Barsanuphius & John, pp 66-67)
Always we Christians struggle with being in the world yet not of the world (John 17:11-16). The world as we read in John’s Gospel is loved by God and yet recognized as not paradise but is even in some ways opposed to God’s kingdom. Despite the times or the age we are in or the triumph of worldliness over godliness, God still manages to find that in the world which He loves and we are able to reign over our hearts and live faithful to God’s Kingdom. Aspects of our culture or world may be ungodly, but Christianity shows us that it is possible to get beyond the limits of self or of one’s self or one’s culture and to be united to God. Salvation is not limited by time or space. The light can shine in the darkness and the darkness is not able to overcome it (John 1:5).
Always before us are choice to be made as is to be expected of people given free will by God. God Himself says:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
It is free will which makes love possible. We are not automatons – robots programmed to behave. Rather we have been endowed with free will and before us are real choices. Real choices mean evil is tempting and often as appealing as the good. Otherwise if evil were always repulsive to us we would never be free to choose. We must decide between possibilities that are result in very different consequences. We must learn the lesson which Eve failed to navigate: even though some things are desirable to us and look good to us, they may be bad for us and for our relationships with God, neighbor and the environment.
“The effect of (Matthew) 7:13-14 in its entirety is to teach that there is a right way and a wrong way. There are those who are perishing and those who are being saved. There are people headed for death and headed for life. All this accords with what we have met before in the Sermon on the Mount. There are those who give and pray and fast rightly and those who do not (6:1-8). There are those with light within and those with darkness within (6:22-23). There are those who serve God and those who serve mammon (6:19-34). All these antitheses do not mean that everything is black or white. Rather, the severe alternatives awake us to the urgent lesson that one must choose clearly and unambiguously—and if necessary at great personal cost—when the issue is the kingdom. There are no options when it comes to God and Jesus’ demands in the Sermon on the Mount.” (Dale Allison, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p 165)
The choices before us are always whether or not to love God, whether or not to love our neighbor, and whether or not to love others as God has loved us.
“Do not, best beloved, consider lightly
the intellective value of the soul.
The human soul, immortal-of itself
a precious vessel-has obtained
the God’s inestimable love. Witness
the glory of the heavens and the earth,
and know that God took little pleasure
in them, preferring you. And note
your worth to Him, considering
how-not for the sake of angels,
but for you-He came to your assistance,
called you back when you were lost,
when you were wounded, ill, and how
He then restored you to your first, created
State-as righteous Eve and Adam savoring
the garden, unencumbered, unimpaired,
free of mark or stain.”
( Love’s Immensity by Scott Cairns, pg.29)