Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A review of Horizon's "Salvation: Why it Matters"

C.S. Lewis writes of God’s glory. Lewis calls it a glory with some weight of which we must take care, since some bear it about their persons. Lewis writes, “Next to the blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.[1]

In the Nov/Dec 2012 Horizons, entitled “Salvation,” Karen Russell, program associate for the Office of Theology, Worship and Education, asks two interesting questions whose answers, in my mind, lead to the glory of God.  In her article, “Salvation: Why it matters,” she asks, “What, exactly, makes the good news so good? What difference does it make to how we live?” In the first part of her article Russell deals with the ‘good’ of the gospel. In the latter part she deals with the ‘difference’ to our lives—the ethics of a Christian. Russell makes hope the main focus of her article; it does affect the Christian life.

Russell, using Jürgen Moltmann’s understanding that “salvation counters the sin of despair, writes:

Despair is fed by looking at the world around us and realizing that we are not on a level with God. [2]Despair whispers in our ear that the hungry will never be fed, peace will never come and that nice gals finish last. Despair urges us to simply accept things the way they are.

It is from this that Russell turns to hope as a gift. She uses 1 Corinthians 13 where faith, hope and love are highlighted. Russell shows that both the prophets and Paul insist that hope entails knowing the reality of the situation while yet knowing, by faith, that God through Christ, is able to change the situation. That is hope. And yet something very important is missing. This is not the whole story-this is not the complete picture of salvation. This is not the ‘good’ of salvation.

As Russell begins her understanding of how hope “spurs us on to action,” she refers to 1 Thess. 2:12, Rom. 3:28 and most importantly Rom. 5:1-2. She writes:

In the intertwining of faith, hope and love, we can identify a Christian ethic that provides a guide for living a life that Paul described as worthy of God’s call to us (1 Thess. 2:12). It is through faith that we are justified (Rom. 3:28), and the gift of the justification is hope (Rom. 5:1-2). This hope fills us with God’s love, which is poured into us, filling us (Rom. 5:5).

This is not a bad beginning for Christian ethics, but Russell has missed a far more important beginning—the goodness of the gospel that is embedded in these verses. She fails to define the hope that is named. It isn’t just a hope that things will be better, not even that God will make them better. It is so much more than that. The Scripture text states, “we exult in hope of the glory of God.” It goes on to say “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations …” The first part, hope of the glory of God, refers back to the ‘why salvation matters’ question. It is the ‘good’ of the gospel. The latter, exulting in our tribulations, leads to the hope that shapes our ethics. And they are both wrapped in our union with Christ.

The hope of the glory of God is our hope in sharing once again in the glory that was humanity’s before the fall.  F.F. Bruce explains using Romans 3:23, “The image of God in which man was created was believed to involve a share in the divine glory, which was forfeited through sin.”  Of Romans 5:2 Bruce writes:

… the glory of God is the end for which he created mankind … and it is through the redemptive work of Christ that this end will be achieved. So long as his people exist in mortal body, it remains a hope, but it is a sure hope, one that is certain of fulfillment, because those who cherish it have already received the guarantee of its realization in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who fills their hearts with the love of God.

Our hope of the glory of God, which is promised, entails our redemption and our union with Christ. We are united with him. In his death we also die, in his resurrection we share his life and power. Because he suffered we share in suffering. We, as the text states, exult in our tribulations. Why? The text has the answer and it is bound up with our discipleship, our ethics.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

All that is ours we have in Christ—including our suffering. He works it out in us through the Holy Spirit. Salvation is not simply knowing that God will eventually change the circumstances, it is knowing Christ Jesus—it is living in him. It is Christ changing us as we, through the Holy Spirit, live in him.

Russell writes of our actions toward peace, justice and need. She writes, “Hope spurs us to action, whereas despair (hopelessness) bogs us down. If we believe that injustice will eventually be defeated we are more likely to fight against injustice now.” This is certainly true for most of humanity, but it is the transforming life we live in Christ that spurs the Christian on. And Russell does refer to the love shed in our heart by the Holy Spirit. It is our life hid in Christ that makes the difference.

In the end the works that are truly good works are his also. It will be his peace, his justice, his need, not arbitrarily chosen ones. As Paul writes in Ephesians, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand so that we would walk in them (2:10).  

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, revised and expanded edition, (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing 1975) 19.
[2] Karen Russell’s note: Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, (Minneapolis: Fortress 1993) 22.

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