The meaning of salvation
I was asked by a friend recently what I mean when I make use of the term “salvation.” At the time I was rather surprised, not at the question, but rather that I had been caught talking about salvation. It’s one of those terms that recovering evangelicals tend to shy away from due to its tight association with what they’ve come to see as a fairly cheap idea of “getting saved.” But as I reflected on it, it became clear to me that my dissertation work is really aptly characterized as a project on salvation, or soteriology (in big-word-talk).
So what do I mean by salvation? Here’s a brief attempt for your consideration: Salvation is that event or process in which one is both made fully aware of the limits of life, and yet, rather than turning back into some form of intoxication, denial, or rebellion, one experiences oneself as “accepted” or “held in being” in such a way that the limits of life cease to create anxiety, and therefore compulsion. Salvation is thus freedom to embrace one’s limits and the courage to engage life to its fullest. The one who experiences this salvation most radically is the one who is able to choose their own death for the sake of life. I think here of, for example, Thich Quang Duc. Surely, such acts could be done in the confidence of some reward in the hereafter, but this is not what I have in mind. I am thinking rather of the sober acceptance of life’s limits with no further guarantee beyond it. It is the freedom to live into the true, the good, and the beautiful for their own sake and not to be deterred by our existential fears, e.g., the loss of money, the good opinion of those you care about very much, personal comfort, or even life itself.
This, I think, gives fresh meaning to the old question: “are you saved?“