What does it mean to be saved?

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God's desire to save includes everything.

Salvation is one of those churchy words we use all the time with relatively little reflection. To Catholics of a certain generation, or Christians of some denominational persuasions, it simply implies you're not going to wind up in hell for your sins. But that's a very reductive idea. Being saved is so much more than that.

In theologian Jon Nilson's wonderfully rich definition, salvation is the condition of the ultimate restoration and fulfillment of humanity and all creation effected by God's action in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. I mean, wow! This is so much bigger than the singular rescue of your soul or mine from eternal flames, so to speak. God's desire to save includes everything. This reminds us of the words of Jesus after the multiplication of loaves: "Gather up the fragments that nothing may be wasted." It's God's plan that no crumb of creation is wasted.

The important question this raises is: Is this your plan and mine? Climate change reveals how human beings are very careless about the stewardship placed in our hands for all of life. Pope John Paul II's admonitions concerning our "culture of death" point toward the many ways we "waste" life: in warfare, poverty, capital punishment, and abortion among others. Pope Francis likewise warns about our "throwaway culture," which pollutes the air, soil, and water in its consumptive production, then tops off landfills as we discard it for more. And of course there are other ways in which we squander life: in the wasteful use of our time. In exploitative careers founded in personal greed rather than meeting social needs. In addictive habits, injustice, racism, hate speech, attitudes of resentment, and so much more.

What seems clear is that, if we are not saved, if we are in fact wasted or lost, it's not because God wills it to be so. God's design and desire are to rescue all. The story of salvation history traced in Scripture describes the perpetual efforts of a "saving God" who seeks to rescue and reconcile a people repeatedly and stubbornly choosing to wander into harm's way again. Heaven and hell, properly understood, are images that invite us to participate now in the happiness or misery we ultimately want. In Nilson's words, "Taken seriously but not literally, [heaven and hell] are reminders of the ultimacy involved in one's everyday decisions." There should be no mystery in how we spend eternity. Just contemplate how you spend today.

Scripture: Mark 3:4-5; 10:50-52; Matthew 1:21; 8:25-27; 14:30-32; Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:10-11, 29-32; 7:50; 17:19; 19:9; Acts 4:10-12; Romans 3:21-26; 5:9-10; 8:19-24;  1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:1-2; 2 Corinthians 2:15-17; Galatians 2:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10 

Books: Teresa of Avila, the Holy Spirit, and the Place of Salvation, by André Brouillette (Paulist Press, 2021)

Jesus and Salvation: Soundings in the Christian Tradition and Contemporary Theology, by Robin Ryan (Liturgical Press, 2015)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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