I never use the word salvation. It carries too much baggage and bad theology.
Salvation, in the Christian tradition, has come to mean one thing and one thing only: Jesus died for our sins so that we will be saved from hell. And, frankly, I don’t believe in anything in that statement. I don’t believe in hell, so how can I believe that I need to be saved from going there? And I certainly don’t believe that God required a perfect human sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity. That’s barbaric.
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Sadly, as theologian Marcus Borg has said in his book, The Heart of Christianity, this definition of salvation “hides rather than illuminates the rich meanings of the term in the Bible and the Christian tradition.” Borg proclaims that, “In its broadest sense, salvation … means becoming whole and being healed.” Wow. What a difference.
I think I’ve been spending too much time on the computer lately, because I was comparing this to default settings. Typically, when you get a new computer all the default settings are just right and everything runs great, and then something… some virus, or some button you inadvertently clicked on, or some update… who knows… something happens and your default settings get changed. Suddenly your computer starts doing weird things, it runs slow, or you get the blue screen of death. It is extremely frustrating, to say the least. The nice thing about computers, though, is that we usually have the ability to go back to the original default settings.
So, I think that the original default setting for humanity is: “We are good.” Even Paul in Ephesians 2:10 says,“We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.” Then somewhere along the line someone pushed a proverbial theological button convincing us that our default setting really is: “You are bad and going to hell, UNLESS you do certain things…”
Traditional Christianity would have us believe that there is a checklist to be fulfilled in order to be saved and make it to heaven. They include things like confessing Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, being born-again, being baptized and confirmed, believing in the inerrancy of Scripture, continually confessing your sins and asking forgiveness, going to church, tithing, doing good works.
After examining the scriptures and doing my fair share of research, I’m convinced that the salvation Jesus offered had nothing to do with getting to heaven. What he was offering was transformation.
If I asked you today what you feel you need to be saved from, what would you say? Or to put it another way… what needs transformation in your life? Perhaps it is your health, or your attitude. Perhaps you need help to be healed and let go of guilt, shame, and past hurts. Perhaps you need to feel loved and worthy. Perhaps you feel lost and alone. I imagine the list could go on and on.
Now, think about the parables Jesus told and the things he did. These were the exact types of issues he addressed with people all the time. The lost were found (the parable of the shepherd and sheep, the woman and the coin). The outcast were restored to their families and community (stories of the blind seeing, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, a bleeding woman being healed). The poor were told they were blessed and loved (the Beatitudes). Sinners were forgiven, their shame and guilt wiped clean (the woman caught in the act of adultery).
Over and over again, Jesus acted in such a way that restored people’s relationships to themselves, to God and to others. That is what it means to be saved. It means we are being transformed as part of a continuous process in this journey we call life. And the transformation is an act of healing and wholeness.
I’m still not going to use the word “salvation.” I don’t know how to release it from the baggage it carries. But knowing the rich underlying meaning is important to me.