The protagonist of Marilynne Robinson's wonderful novel Gilead , an aging congregationalist minister writing about his life and theology, mentions late in the novel that the word we usually translate "saved" comes from a Gk word sozo, which could just as well be translated "made whole", "restored to wholeness," even "healed." That fits, for me, with the prayer that comes to me any time I begin to pray for others -- it has become almost a mantra with me: I pray "for the peace of the world, and the healing of Your creation." The healing, the making whole of all of us, the reconciliation of what is broken, healing of what is broken and divided in the human world and in all of Creation -- this is what God desires, and what it may really mean to say that Jesus died to "save us." Not that we are in daily danger of hellfire and need this brutal sacrifice to somehow save us from the punishment we deserve and make up for the evil we have done (though I'm not denying we've done evil); but that God desires to save us, and will go to any lengths to do it - that is what the Cross is about. And since God has done this, a responding, grateful love is called out of us, a love we are free to offer or to withhold.
Thinking about salvation this way only works if we really trust the mystery of the Incarnation -- that God becomes human in order to join in the suffering that any human being would experience who resists the established systems of the world, mostly dedicated to domination and power, and insists on an ethic of love of enemies, nonviolence, and forgiveness:. Eventually Jesus becomes too threatening to both state and religious authorities, all of whom are still wedded to human ideas of power and control. He sees, as they don't, that their violent and self-serving ways are leading to disaster. (One commentator I've been reading points out that violent factionalism and sectarian struggle among the Jewish people and between Jews and Romans ultimately leads to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the loss of that physical center for the spirituality of God's chosen people). He predicts this disaster, but he doesn't fight his opponents on their terms, with violence or miraculous powers. God gives up control, paradoxically, by becoming human, and suffers at human hands to show the depth of divine love, and of God's desire to heal and "save" us; In Jesus' actions God reveals the urgent importance of turning away from the ways of violence and power-grabbing and self-occupation and toward the way of suffering love and compassion. For us who want to follow Jesus, the Cross reminds us that embracing God's desire for wholeness and reconciliation will be costly in some way, at some point on our journeys, in a world driven so much by ambition for power and domination, and the free use of violence. The Resurrection tells us that even death cannot defeat the love of God, and God's determination to save us.
Today I attended a Eucharist celebrating the life and martyrdom of Martin Luther King (the anniversary of his death, and so his "saint's day" in the Episcopal Church's calendar), was yesterday. The preacher reminded us that Jesus came to save "all" -- and I mean ALL. He left it at that as far as "salvation" goes, but I appreciated that "all," and he wanted to make sure we all heard it. I too want to believe that salvation is ultimately intended for everyone, all of creation, not just for a select "in group" who are right with God and free to consign others to hellfire. He moved on to a prophetic exhortation that we should not just be "worshipping" Jesus, we should be following his example, in whatever way presents itself to us. Martin Luther King was an example of someone who did this and paid the price. We don't follow Jesus in order to be "saved" -- God's desire to save us will ultimately prevail, even if we fight it very hard, unless we are truly determined to resist it. I believe this. We follow him because we have caught the power and the appeal of God's desire to heal this broken world - to "Save" the world.
The power of divine love seems to me to be greater than any other power. Because it is expressed in self-offering it doesn't seem to be powerful. But it is undefeated: that's the meaning of the Resurrection. It is through self-denying, passionate love for other people and for the dream of God that transformation comes, in human relationships and in societies. It is good to be remembering Martin Luther King this Holy Week, the same week that I'm teaching Gandhi in one of my classes. It is a reminder of two great leaders of the last century who took the dream of God, and the power of love seriously (ahimsa - soul-force or love-force, Gandhi called it) , and by doing so made a difference, and this despite their own personal foibles, inconsistencies and character flaws. We could use this kind of leadership in today's world.
Another thing I pray for.
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.