"I see that hand."
If we would all just accept Jesus into our hearts as our personal savior, we would then be saved. Wooo! I like this concept; it makes me comfortable and relaxed about life. I’ve said a prayer, so I’m saved, I’m fully accepted as who I am in my brokenness, and no matter how much I sin (although I should really try not to) I will just be extended grace, grace beyond grace.
I've done this, and for a long time I thought it was my fast pass to paradise and I really wish it was. There seem to be however, a lot of Biblical texts that speak to the lives we live and how that is what brings eternal salvation, a few too many than could allow me to believe that I’m saved no matter my life, so long as I believe. And I get that this is not representative of true theology across all Christendom, and I get the Christian argument would state that true belief inevitably seeps in and directs our lives, making us good or better at least. But what is true belief? It's nothing if it doesn't make us different, and it's a choice we make every day so how could we make such a delineation in one moment?
Rabbi Yehoshua and I talked about this topic at length. The Jewish faith doesn’t share this notion of belief in order to be saved. Belief is a means to an end in Judaism, the end being a life of action, partnering with God, not accepting sin as inevitable and waiting for the rapture, but collectively working towards making the world perfect while asking for atonement for their sin along the way. This is a less comfortable set of beliefs as one can never fully know at a point in their life if they are saved.
In his book On Human Being, Olivier Clement quotes Ambrose of Optino who said, ‘we are saved between fear and hope’. Clement argues that we are not to discuss the warnings of the gospel and hell (whatever it is) as a distant notion for others, but to see it as ours, in both responsibility for its existence and place of our future. A life in that fear leads us to the presence of Christ who has conquered Hell and gives us hope, and in that hope we ask in repentance and that the fire of judgment burn the evil from our own souls.
It sounds neurosis inducing, but the perk is that it makes me desperate for salvation. "If I die tonight I know exactly where I’m going”, salvation for so many is a given, something that happened in the past and we begin to assume it is our unalienable right. We forget to remember that we don’t deserve it, that we’re wretched people and that if we could be so fortunate we should beg for it every day and fall on our faces in gratitude. Clement talks about how we have allowed our capacity for celebration to wither away because of this notion, and in its decline so goes our daily engagement with God in our lives. When we remember we are condemned but cling to hope, salvation becomes worthy of daily, exuberant, life altering celebration.
I’m uneasy about the end of my life. I’m afraid I won’t do enough, I won’t believe enough, that I didn’t make the cut that is much more narrow then we wanted to believe it was. Then when I think about the possibility that I might have my slate wiped clean and stand before God clothed in his majesty and that he might accept me, I remember my desperation that his mercy would be in abundance and a hope that in front of such amazing grace a wretch like me might be saved.