Saturday, May 21, 2011

Salvation

I'm one of those Christians who isn't comfortable dividing people into the 'saved' and 'unsaved'. I do believe there is a hell and some people will go there. I do believe in Christ, and I believe He is the only way to the Father.  With that said, I love and respect people who don't even believe there IS a Christ or a Father.  Despite what many nonChristians assume about us Christians, I don't mentally place them in a "damned" category.  I can't possibly know where they stand - or will stand - with God.  (Of course, I don't imagine that people who are living their lives with intent to destroy others -- serial killers, rapists, etc, presently belong to God.) Only He knows their hearts, their hurts and disillusionments, the reasons for what they believe or disbelieve. I remember a conversation with one of my closest friends, a Pagan, in which we both agreed there was a darkness in a particular store in town, owned by someone my friend suspected did black magic.  Traditionally, a Christian and a Pagan would not be entering into agreement over what was dark and what wasn't.  But I knew my friend, I knew her heart and her sensitivity and I trusted her instincts.

I once met a Muslim guy in London who was undergoing a depression over his ex-fiance's marriage to someone else.  He was confiding in me and my husband about how after a year his depression was as deep as ever, and he didn't want to live sometimes.  He said that he had been praying a lot and he had recently made his first pilgrimage to Mecca.  There he had experienced an intense and personal experience with God.  He told us that he was starting to think that God was trying to show him that it wasn't about his relationship with this girl, it was about his relationship with God.  "That's exactly what He's trying to show you," I told him.  I knew He was hearing from God because that is the God I know -- the one who loves us intimately and wants to be close to us.  It didn't trip me up that he was Muslim because what he had spoken was truth.  And I'm not a relativist -- I do believe certain universal truths.

I have come into conflict with a few fellow Orthodox Christians over my concept of salvation.  They think that I am saying Christ is only one possible way.  Well, I'm not saying that.  I believe Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity, is salvation.  Otherwise his atonement was just an option.  It makes His sacrifice meaningless to say it wasn't necessary.  I believe there is evil and darkness that can only be cancelled out by a divine, infinite holiness, not our falteringly human attempts to 'be good.'  We pretty much suck at that, even in our best attempts.  That's why I believe the blood sacrifice of Christ, the only sinless human, was necessary. 

Anyway, today I came across a transcript of a conversation between Billy Graham and Robert Schuller.  Graham really articulated exactly what I believe about salvation (even though the person who had posted this transcript has condemned Graham as a heretic).  Here it is:

Dr. Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"


Dr. Graham: "Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."
Dr. Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?"

Dr. Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

Dr. Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Dr. Graham: There is. There definitely is."

And there it is.  I believe in a God who isn't so unreasonable as to require the every living person hear one specific story to be saved.  After all, God, Christ, is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.  Hearing and believing the story of Christ is the ultimate revelation, however.  Knowing Christ is knowing love and forgiveness, is knowing that every person, despicable or righteous, was created in His image, is precious beyond words, and is able to be redeemed.  It's knowing that every living thing on earth has His breath of life, that every little creature has its own value and unique essence and is also an object of His very personal love. (That latter part is my own personal doctrine.)

I have run into hostility from Christians who think I'm heretical and I've run into hostiliy from nonChristians who scoff at my "simplistic" belief in Christ.  I'm learning, for the first time in my life, to be at rest with opposition from both.  And I'm thankful for my friends -- Christian, Pagan, Muslim, etc. -- who really know how to love, which is the ultimate thing God requires of us anyway.

3 comments:

Bronson said...

I very much hope you and Reverend Graham are correct. Thanks, for this thoughtful piece.

C-E C said...

Very thoughtful, indeed. Thanks, Naomi

Ego Ronanus said...

The Roman Catholic position on this is that salvation is open to all men except very evil and unrepentant souls. I remember this being taught in the days of my youth, even though educated in Ireland, which had a very conservative brand of Catholicism. An atheist who genuinely does not believe in God would not be punished, for God does not punish people who act in accord with their consciences. The same holds true of any member of any other church or religion.