Only in Him is there salvation
(Acts of the Apostles 4:11)
If people have no concept of themselves as personal sinners and no belief in the existence of an eternal hell does the Christian doctrine of salvation serve any useful purpose? One could argue that disbelieving in a fact, like for example the law of gravity, does not make a person less exempt from the effects of that fact. So if the doctrines are true (which they are) then people will discover that, for themselves, in due course. It is, however, the business of the Church to save souls in time not to follow the (reputed) example of Scottish presbyterianism-
"There will be people cast into the pits of Hell, crying 'oh, Lord, we didna ken!' And the Lord will reply, 'well, ye ken noo!'"
The obvious angle of approach, I suppose, is to persuade people that they are wrong by urgently preaching about the wickedness that truly does abide in each person's heart, leaving them vulnerable to temptation, and about the eternal consequences of indulging that sinful inclination. It is important that this path is pursued vigorously but Christians should have more than one string to their bow.
Another line of argument can, I think, be found if we consider the significance of the words "in Him" from the text. To be saved is to be in Christ and to have Christ in us. "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Pope Benedict XVI) When we rest in Him life is transformed, we see things and people and our very selves differently. We have entered into a new relationship. We are in love and will be so for eternity. That is what salvation is.
It is no coincidence that the romantic language of lovers mirrors the language of our salvation relationship with God. The first is an as yet imperfect icon of the second. As the Pope Emeritus put it "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love" When He saw our estrangement from Him this desire He has for us led Him to travel the infinite distance from divine glory to abandonment, shame and death on the Cross for no other reason than for to win us back to loving Him. He does not dazzle us with His power but He shares with us our vulnerability and weakness.
As romantic love changes into conjugal love over time so our life in Christ alters from our first experiences of it. We discover "in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other."(Deus Caritas Est 7) Since God is not physically present to us here below we can only, as it were, do good to Him through our neighbours whom He loves as thoroughly as He loves us.
This then is the beginning of salvation, to experience in our limited way infinite love here and now and to share that infinite love with all those, both the good and the bad, who are around us. The end of it is to experience the same in an unlimited way for eternity. Is salvation relevant to you, now, today? Of course it is.
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