Once upon a time an elderly man was stopped on the streets of London by an old acquaintance. “I hear you buried your wife this morning!”
“Had to. Dead, you know.”
And then there was the millennial who asked a friend: “Have you found the Lord?”
Friend: “Wow, I didn’t know he was missing!”
Sometimes words are understood differently than intended. That is because, 1, words generally have more than one (dictionary) meaning, and 2, the meanings of words are most basically in people, secondarily in dictionaries.
Recently I talked with an independent church pastor who told me he got “saved” (i.e, found the Lord) at the age of 46 after decades of drinking, womanizing and wild living, even though he was attending church and taking communion in his R. C. church regularly. When he got saved, he said, asking Christ to come into his life and forgive his sins, he experienced an immediate and drastic change. Instead of bondage to addictions, gambling and womanizing sin, he found freedom, love, joy and meaning. So he became a pastor. I have another friend who’s a pastor in a similar church who seems to use the words “save” or “saved” at some point in every conversation. I don’t.
But I must be honest, here. This story stirred in me a nostalgic yearning for the evangelical/ charismatic church that has been a major part of my life. In my church, (Anglican), one seldom, if ever, hears the word “saved” and people, including the pastor, don’t ask others Do you know the Lord? The great theologian Karl Barth said that some people go to church to escape God! (My “Padi” shares my concern that people often substitute “religion”, even taking communion each Sunday, for a personal, saving, relationship with God through Christ.)
But then I started to think about salvation on a deeper level. What, really, do we mean when we speak of being “saved”? For many Christians, it means going to heaven, not hell, when we die. In other words, “make the cut”.
But is that the main Biblical idea? The Bible uses the words save, saved, salvation, etc. at least 234 times. It is obvious that these words mean much more than “going to heaven”, not hell, some day. Often the idea involves freedom from enemies, conflict, guilt, despair, disease, death, etc. One famous passage, in Psalm 103, says For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. And the disciples in a boat with Jesus when a storm came up on the Sea of Galilee cried out “Save us Lord, we are about to perish.”
According to New Testament authority N.T. Wright, Jesus introduced, taught about, and ultimately died for the Kingdom of Heaven—the zone we can live in now, and in doing so we are saved (Yet of grace) that is, experience forgiveness of sins and the powers of the age to come. Like my pastor/friend, after 46 years of foolish living, or a 50 year old inmate in the District Jail who recently came to Christ in a chapel service. He had no peace before, being lost in a life of addictions and shady behavior. But now he’s happy and at peace; he is found.
In the mid-70’s Charles Colson, ex-president Nixon’s attorney who came to Christ, did time in prison for his part in Watergate and then founded Prison Fellowship, was thoroughly “saved”—from a life of prestige and power-seeking, through lawyering, to a life of exciting and deeply meaningful service to prisoners and their families. (His most famous book is Born Again.)
There are many ways of getting lost, for example, thinking we are on this world to be entertained or endlessly diverted with cell phones or other “social media.” I see many souls who are lost in these ways, not realizing or caring that God in Christ in his self-revelation, death and resurrection, has provided an “anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6: 19). I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father (finds God, lasting meaning, hope) except through me. (John 14: 6). They are loved by their Source, but don’t realize it. Tragic, for their entire life, even their marital and family relationships will be affected, one way or the other, and there is a Judge who we all must answer to, some day.
I taught world religions for years on the college level. I can assure you, only in Christianity do you find a cross. It makes me sad to see so many people be so close to realizing this, and having the personal relationship with God that is available, but still are lost. They need to find not “religion”, but be able to answer the question, Have you found the Lord? with the lines from “Amazing Grace,” I once was lost, but now I’m found, was bound, but now set free.
Or as I’ve pointed out in the last article, discovering how their brains can be at their best.