11 January 2022
Whenever you see in the Bible people asking how they can be saved, it's not a direct reference to eternity. They are asking how to gain peace with God. It doesn't take an awful lot of analysis of the literature and intellectual traditions of the Ancient Near East to discern that this was the primary big question in the minds of just about everyone. To them, "salvation" equates to "peace with God".
Yes, that includes eternity with Him, but it was a peculiar expectation of the entire Ancient Near East that there was no way to describe eternal things of the Spirit Realm. The cultures and civilizations there all universally believed in the Spirit Realm, but would never expect to have words to explain it. Instead, throughout the entire Ancient Near East, humans knew that the only way to talk about it was through symbols, parables, or figures of speech. They all knew that ultimate truth was ineffable.
So it's a feature of the entire range of Ancient Near Eastern literature that the languages themselves were fundamentally parabolic. The most important things anyone could say required an indirect reference in just about every one of those ancient tongues. If you try to read them literally, you'll never understand what they are talking about. It requires cultural immersion to begin recognizing how the various symbols were used. It's nothing like our Western allegories; the symbols themselves were regarded as living things. Symbols could change their meaning within varying contexts, just as real humans could change their roles in varying contexts. The readers and hearers were expected to track that.
Thus, "salvation" is not something you own. You can't just put it away and save it for a rainy day. It's a condition you maintain; it's a living relationship with God. It's a living thing in itself, and you have to pursue it as moves, much as a lover chases her beloved. Do you see how I personified it? That's how Ancient Near Eastern languages worked, and Hebrew language in particular. So when someone asks about being saved, they are seeking advice on what this peace with God looks like, and what God demands to maintain it.
Yes, everyone assumes without direct comment that this includes eternity in God's favor. That's the whole point, no? But the assumption is that God's favor is eternal itself. Sure, you'll have a tough time in this world, but the entire Ancient Near East bore the unspoken assumption that this world was largely an illusion. The concept of the Fall was taken for granted in most religious and philosophical thinking, in one form or another. This world was a vale of sorrow, and not ultimate reality. So if you could find a path to God's favor in this world, what comes after will take care of itself.
Here's the thing: People claiming to follow Christ have no business investing so much effort into securing something eternal, as if a fallen human could do anything about it. Our mission is not "getting people saved" in the way most evangelicals mean it. Nor is it a matter of securing the institutional favor of the religious hierarchy, as most liturgical denominations mean it. Our mission is to enter into the Covenant and get other folks to commit to that. We don't persuade them, in that sense, but we make it apparent what it means and how sweet it is. The mission of the church is teaching the process of holiness, and allowing the eternal consequences to take care of themselves.
The proper focus is our "salvation" in this life. It's our loving embrace of the Father's will for us here.
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