What does it mean to be saved from something? And, does being “saved” from something exempt us from suffering? We use the word in many different ways. In Christian thought, there is the idea we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. There is a past, present, and future sense to our salvation.
In that sense, where is the “saving” located? Locating salvation in time and what it means is difficult, because it is not a static, once-in-time, type of event. This makes problematic the fundamentalist/evangelical obsession with knowing the year, month, even date of a person’s salvation. That mind-set is what leads to the focus on personal testimonies, of being able to tell about a specific moment in time, when a person was “saved.” It is so important to many fundamentalists/evangelicals, that they will doubt a person’s salvation, if they cannot give that type of specific information.
When we consider the narrative arc of the Judeo-Christian story, we see that salvation is more a going through, than an escaping from.
While not exhaustive, here are some examples:
Noah and his family did not escape the rains, nor the loss of home or the life they knew beforehand, but went through the storm upon the grace of an ark.
Moses and the Hebrew people did not escape the Red Sea; they went through the sea upon the grace of dry land.
Daniel and his friends did not escape the furnace; they went through the fire upon the grace of God’s presence.
Daniel did not escape the lion’s den; he went through the night with the lions upon the grace of God’s provision.
The Apostles and first disciples of Jesus did not escape jail, imprisonment, or physical harm; they went through each instance upon the grace of knowing Christ’s presence and suffering on their behalf.
Jesus did not escape the cross; he went through it all, from temptation in the desert, to his cries in Gethsemane, to his flogging, his crown of thorns, and his cross. He went through this time, these events, carried upon his great love for us and all creation.
This consistent Biblical theme of going through, rather than escaping from, is one of the reasons (among many!) that I let go the fundamentalist/evangelical belief in a Rapture of God’s people to escape the judgement and suffering they believe is coming for all those not “saved.”
The idea of a “rapture,” an escaping, a being caught up or away from suffering doesn’t seem to follow the Biblical pattern. It also doesn’t ring true as to life. Even as Christians, we suffer. We are not exempt. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The sun shines on the believer and the unbeliever.
We don’t escape the “valley of the shadow of death;” we go through the valley and we are able to because we do not travel the valley alone (“you [God] are with me…”).
If salvation is more about going through than escaping, where do we locate our salvation in time? When does going through end as far as our time here? And when we see the water, furnace, den, valley, or cross up ahead, where is our salvation located then? Were we saved when we crossed the dry sea bed, or when we stepped to the other side? Were we saved when we were in the furnace, or when we stepped out of the furnace? Were we saved when we prayed with the lion’s breath upon our face, or when we were pulled up out of the den? Were we saved before the valley of the shadow, in the valley, or when we felt the sun on our face as we walked out of the valley? And were we saved if we did not come up from the water, or den? Were we saved if we did not come out of the furnace or valley?
I think the answer to all those questions is: Yes. Salvation isn’t a temporal location/event within time (except as signs) or an escape from time; it is my journey through time and eternity.