Lesson 4: From When to What

Let’s switch from the when to the what of salvation. This picture plays much the same role as Aristotle’s “Good” in his Politics. Citizens are to discuss what is good for their city and pass laws that lead to it. He would be disappointed with our current campaign that focuses on what is bad in the opponent rather than what is good for society.

In the Old Testament this picture of salvation is being a part of a great nation God rules. It includes the kind of justice described in the Law. Even a quick reading shows it includes caring and looking out for one another (Exodus 20-22, Deuteronomy 19-25). A fine picture of the peace and safety this provides is found in Isaiah 11: 1-9.

The New Testament pretty much keeps the same picture of salvation, insisting it does not even remove a letter from the Law. However, it talks about the Kingdom of God in far more intimate terms. The most common picture is a meal shared with God. . The nations come from East and West to eat at God’s table. (Matthew 13: 29, Luke 14: 15-24). The meal is sometimes described as a marriage banquet to emphasize the coming together of God and his people (Matthew 22: 1-14, 25: 1-13). In other places it is an extravagant family feast as in the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-25). Of course, such a meal involves sharing so all have enough (Matthew 20: 1-16).

This picture of salvation is continued when Jesus eats with his followers in just about every resurrection appearance and the early Church makes the Communion meal its primary act in worship.
All of these themes come together in the last chapters of the Bible, except the context becomes a safe and productive city. “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.”
There is nothing about sitting on clouds playing harps in these pictures. As Mark Twain so humorously shows in his Captain Stormfield Goes to Heaven this would become silly and boring mighty fast. These are very relevant pictures of salvation that can serve as goals for us right now. That is why it is so distressing that we ingest fast food rather than sharing meals with others, suffer broken marriage rather than enjoying long term faithful relationships, and live under governments controlled by special interests rather than pursuing a common good. The Church agenda should include championing eating together, good marriages, and just governments as examples of what is good for our society.

I’d also be interested in other pictures of salvation you think are appropriate for our time and place.

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