What is salvation, anyway?

2004-08-09 17:08

(Another repost from ChristianForums. The original thread is here.)

A lot of people seem to have the idea that “salvation” is a process where you have no fun in your life, in the hopes of being rewarded with an afterlife which is also no fun, but at least you’re not on fire.

This misses the point.

Let me tell you about salvation. No, that’ll never work. Let me show it to you. Come, then. Let’s set the Way Back Machine for the lovely spring of 2002, and meet our test subject. Is she saved? Is she unsaved? We don’t know. We are about to watch the process of salvation. Being saved is not a state, but a process. Trying to pick a moment misses the point.

So, let’s start out. Our subject is a non-denominational Christian, who lives in constant fear. Let’s look at a few things she’s said. Because the Search feature is broken right now, I’ll paraphrase.

“I believe that all non-Christians are possessed by demons all of the time, and most Christians are possessed by demons some of the time.”

“Certain movies contain demons, which can possess you if you watch them.”

“Please stop promoting Satanism.” (In reference to a discussion of D&D.)

“I am afraid that I will sin without knowing it and go to Hell.”

In short… She is living in constant fear. The world around her has precious few islands of marginal safety, surrounded by raging waters. Demons lurk behind every door. Animation could contain hidden messages. Occult powers are a constant threat. And, most importantly, the entire world is dominated by sin. There is, at this moment, no escape. Any action must be studied carefully, lest it turn out to contain a hidden element of sin.

And yet… She is tired. She is tired of living in fear, tired of hating things, tired of being judgmental and angry. She wants peace. She begins to talk to people who disagree with her. She’s angry at first; hostile, judgmental, quick to condemn. Many people react, perhaps justifiably, with hostility or condemnation in return. A few are more patient.

And here, a miracle occurs. She is able to see that the peace these people apparently possess is available, also, to her. She takes her first halting steps. She decides to play a game, not because someone else told her it was okay, but because she personally considered her convictions and concluded that she was not convicted against it. She began to consider the possibility that there was such a thing as legalism — and that some of her own reactions were a kind of legalism.

Looking back, now, trying to sort out the order of events, is difficult. It is easy to see the overall shape of things. It’s like watching time-lapse photography of a flower blooming.

I remember, once, when she lashed out at the Catholics, condemning them, attacking them. She was briefly banned. During this time, she sent me a note, asking me to please apologize. She’d done it to try to impress a guy. She understood, now, that it was wrong.

There’s something important here, though. She didn’t expect forgiveness. She wasn’t apologizing to make people like her again, or to make people treat her differently. She was apologizing in the desperate, sincere, hope that, if people knew she didn’t mean it, that she was sorry, that they would be less hurt by what she had said. There was no concern for the consequences to her.

This is true repentance.

People talk a lot about repentance as a part of salvation. Repentance doesn’t mean being afraid you’ll go to Hell. It means not caring what happens to you, accepting the consequences of your action, but wanting the harm you did to others to be undone, to be made up for.

When she came back, there were changes. You could see them. When someone started a thread on interactions between divorce and abuse, she stood up and said that an abused woman should leave, and take her kids with her. When people tried to shout her down with prooftexts, she didn’t yield. You could still shout her into submission on her own account, but she would not be dissuaded from defending others. She wrote a simple post explaining that the dogmatic adherence to an abstract principle, when it harmed people, was simple legalism, not Christian morals.

When I read that post, I nearly wept for joy. I saw, then, that she had started being healed. You could hear the angels singing, exalting.

As time went on, she became braver, and stronger, and wiser. Much, much, wiser. Someone who was once an object of ridicule for her beliefs about demons and occultism was becoming a serious and respected poster. But, ultimately, the process was not an intellectual one; it was a spiritual one. She who had been held captive was now free. Psalms 68:18 comes to mind; “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive:”

One day, she became a moderator. A user who, a year earlier, would have been widely feared for abusing her powers became one of the most fair-minded and conscientious moderators. She didn’t just hand out warnings; she talked to people. She explained the board policies, and worked with users to help them express points without violating rules. She worked ceaselessly on proposals for improvements to the board, and was a major participant in discussions about the health of the board.

As time went on, she found herself more free to pursue interests that she had once been afraid of. Television and books that had once been sources of terror became hobbies, things to pursue quietly, and in moderation.

It would be easy to assume that she simply stopped thinking things were wrong. It would be foolish, too. Her conscience, freed from the endless task of worrying whether a book might be possessed by demons, found strong convictions on many topics. She came to find herself in opposition to war as a basic mechanism of social policy. She ran afoul of many people who called her names and attacked her, but she stuck with her convictions. She did not condemn those who disagreed; she merely disagreed, politely, and showed the reasons for her positions.

In short… She replaced fear with love, and judgment with careful consideration.

Looking at her today, we see a woman who knows who and what she is, makes moral decisions with confidence and grace, and who is more patient, more kind, than the majority of members at this site. While once her life revolved around sin, and attempts to avoid any possibility of accidentally sinning, and fear that God hated her, today her life revolves around her love for God and neighbor.

This is salvation. This is freedom. This is finding joy in life. This is loving God, not in the sense of slavish devotion to whatever some guy preaches on Sundays, but simple and direct joy in both Creator and Creation.

She’s taking a break from this board for a while now. It turns out that the environment here is pretty hostile to a woman who is unafraid to admit that she is bisexual, whether or not she’s celibate. She eventually tired of being called a pedophile, and called, well, lots of other things, many of which I can’t write without the censor filter going off on me. She tired of people saying that same-gender attraction is a sign of damnation, or a barrier to faith.

But… They cannot take her faith, because she knows who she is, and she knows how God feels about her.

Anyway, just a shout out to my friend Susan, whose salvation happened, right here, on ChristianForums, over the last couple of years. It’s still happening. She’s still out there, somewhere, loving something a little more today than she did yesterday. Where once she was angry and defensive, now she is humble. She helped me fact-check this article, aware simultaneously that it would make her look bad, and make her look good. But, ultimately, if talking about her life will help people understand her faith, she will share what she can.

That’s salvation. It happens here, not just in the afterlife. It happens to real people, not just to guys on TV wearing expensive suits. It doesn’t always mean being delivered from drugs and sex. It doesn’t mean becoming a strict literalist. It just means exactly what Christ promised.

John 8:32

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

A postscript for readers who don’t know any of these people: Susan was, indeed, a moderator at ChristianForums. A day or so before I wrote this, she wrote her coming-out post, admitting that she was a bisexual woman. Not a woman who sleeps with other women; a woman who acknowledged that she had these desires, although she had chosen not to act on them. The reactions were many and varied, but… Knowing how many people would be quick to retroactively condemn her because of this, I wanted to share the joy, the wonder, of knowing her. To let people know that, of CF staff, she was one of the best, the brightest. She was better than the people who gossip about her sexuality, she was better than the people who joke about her and attack her behind her back. And to explain this, to show this… I had to explain how it happened.

So I did.

Peter Seebach

---

Comments

  1. seebs I love you brother.

    — praying · 2007-03-24 11:19 · #

 
---