“The entire history of humanity, and therefore of salvation, is a long descent of God into Hell, into the desert, into the barrenness of the human heart. This descent into the abyss befits the magnitude of the love of God.” (Boris Bobrinskoy, THE COMPASSION OF THE FATHER, p 57)
This is the tenth 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 (IX).
Salvation is God rescuing humanity from death and sin. Salvation is God liberating men and women from slavery to death in Hades or Hell. Each time God has reached down to earth to help humans, it is God descending to whatever point, however low, humans have fallen. St. Augustine (d. 430AD) writes:
“We firmly believe, brethren, that the Lord has died for our sins, the just for the unjust, the master for the slaves, the shepherd for the sheep and, still more astonishingly, the Creator for the creatures.
He has preserved what he was from eternity; what he was in time he has sacrificed.
God hidden in the guise of the visible man, giving life with his strength and dying in his weakness ‘was put to death for our sins and raised for our justification.’ [Rom 4:25]” (DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 339)
God enters into His creation in Jesus Christ, the God incarnate. God subjects Himself to space and time and then even to death itself. All in order to save His human creatures from death and destruction and corruption. Two hundred years before St. Augustine wrote, St. Melito of Sardis (d. ca 180AD) in one of his own writings has Christ proclaim:
“I have freed those condemned and given life to the dead.
I awoke those who were buried,
vanquished death and triumphed over the enemy.
I descended into hell, where I bound the mighty one
and raised men up to heaven.”
(in The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, pg. 75)
The basic understanding of God in Christianity is that God descends to earth, even to hell to save us. He descends into our hearts to transfigure us, and into our graves to resurrect us.
“Christianity proclaims that the immortal God died on the cross and then was raised from the dead, restoring thereby the gift of everlasting life to all men. So, with the event of Golgotha, ‘death destroyed by death’ becomes a focal point of Christian kerygma, so much so that Jaroslav Pelikan calls the New Testament ‘the gospel of death.’ In contrast to the faith of Judaism, which concentrated on the life of this world, the early church brings the victory over death to the forefront of its creed, shifting its principal aspirations beyond the confines of the visible world—into the everlasting kingdom ‘which is not of this world’ (Jn 18:36). For Christians, the very idea of salvation came to signify the attainment of life without death, which Christ promised to all who believe in him (Jn 6:47). Death was seen as ‘the ultimate enemy’ (eschatos echthros) of mankind (cf 1 Cor 15:26), so powerful that is made God himself come down from heaven to vanquish it.” (Nicholas Sakharov, I LOVE THEREFORE I AM, p 223)
We do not live for this world alone, but also for the life in the world to come. The evil of this world, its injustices and its suffering and sorrow, do not triumph over humans. Rather God triumphs over the world and over death itself.
Christ’s resurrection is the sign of this victory of God’s love. The resurrection of Christ is thus the key to understanding this world. Life in this world remains but a part of the cosmic picture of what God is doing for the salvation of us all. God who entered space and time in Jesus Christ is not limited by either space or time, or by beginning or end, or by death and hell.
Salvation is not merely an historical event, for salvation brings eternity into history and transforms history into an experience of the divine.
Next: Images of Salvation (XI)