Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Salvation By Grace (?) Through Faith

I dont' know whether this line of conversation can go anywhere. It may stall out at the first word. The replies I have gotten suggest that, in the ears of my readers, "salvation" means something "abstract, theoretical, and distant" -- maybe having to do with the afterlife -- and that is by and large not relevant or of concern.

I just need to note that has not been my experience. I have had times of moral and spiritual lostness in which salvation was a "gracious light" a "homecoming," "a hearth of consolation," a sense of coming back to my true self.

A real life metaphor: I was nearly killed by a piece of barbecue chicken not long ago. It went down wrong and I was choking, unable to breathe. A friend at the table did the blessed Heimlich manuever so I am still here. For those moments I could not get my breath, salvation was breath (pneuma, spirit) -- not something distant or theoretical. And I assure you, I have had times of moral and spiritual choking, when life went down wrong, that made me far more desperate for salvation than that piece of chicken.

So all that said, what about "grace?" The word comes from the Greek "charis" meaning a gift. Back when I thought salvation was judicial, I thought grace was the merciful spirit that commuted my sentence. It really is that, but if salvation is something larger than forgiveness, then grace has to be larger too.

Everything is gift. There is creative grace that means there is something rather than nothing becaue God is generous. There is prevenient grace -- the awarenes of a need for God, the God-shaped hole in the human heart is a grace.

So if salvation is something larger than a commuted sentece, something that makes us whole (remember I am not making this up, it's what the word literally means), how is grace involved in that. How does grace grow us into what we were intended to be? How is our very self a grace? How is grace moving in our lives now to form us anew into the likeness of Christ? Into our own unique expression of God as Rahner would put it?


Matthew said...

This is helpful and makes it more concrete and I can certainly relate (glad you are still here BTW). This reminds me of when I suicidal many years ago -- choking spiritually and nearly physically as well. I am reminded of a quote from Rowan Williams, "Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted." Perhaps my problem with salvation (maybe even grace) is recalling my father's addiction, which consumed him. Not only spiritually choking, but he actually died as a result of it. Other people have suggested to me he is not saved, is not in heaven, etc. This really pushes my buttons because it seems so judgmental. I am grateful I found my way out of darkness, but some people don't and I know that I could be in that place again and not survive, at least physically. All I'm saying is that I don't like how grace and salvation are sometimes used as tools of judgment (I'm not suggesting you are doing that). That is why I detest that line from America the Beautiful, "God shed his grace on thee." What, he didn't shed any on Canada, France, etc. We, the USA, got the lions share of it? I like the heimlich part because I think our task is help other reaize it and see it and appreciate it, even if we are not always successful. Sorry this turned into a ramble, Matthew Wright.

Bishop Dan said...

Yes, salvation as a judicial concept isn't helpful to me either. Something more holistic is involved. I love the Rowan Williams quote. A turning point for me was a Jesuit retreat in which I was taught to see myself reflected in God's eyes. That is a grace and if it is a judgment, it is a far kinder one than I have passed on myself. Regarding the unfortunate judgments someone passed on our father, those kinds of judgments are irreverent in that they assume the province of God and blaspemous in that they purport to limit God's infinite grace which not only forgives, but heals and transforms.