by Berry Friesen (March 21, 2016)
Being “saved” from some earthly threat is a frequent concern in the Jewish writings of the First Testament. As we read those ancient texts, we find salvation discussed within the context of danger from the Egyptians (Ex. 14:30) and later from the Philistines (1 Sam. 17:37), the Assyrians (Hos. 13:10) and the Chaldeans (Jer. 8:20).
In contrast, many contemporary Christians view salvation as divine rescue from human mortality. It’s a very different concept than we find in the First Testament.
Of late, the First Testament way of thinking about salvation seems to be re-emerging.
According to data released last weekend by NASA, the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951-1980 average temperature for the month. This is a far larger monthly increase than ever previously recorded.
As reported by The Guardian, “These results suggest that we may be even closer than we realised to breaching the [2C] limit,” according to a spokesperson for the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. “We have used up all of our room for manoeuvre. If we delay any longer strong cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, it looks like global mean surface temperature is likely to exceed the level beyond which the impacts of climate change are likely to be very dangerous.”
So if we don’t make big changes fast, children living today face a bleak future. Humanity is in great danger, not from a foreign empire, but from the consequences of our own way of life. We need to be saved.
Might Jesus of Nazareth qualify for this role? Or is his contribution limited to the gift of immortality?
Jesus expected to die at the hands of the political authorities and deliberately precipitated the decisive confrontation in Jerusalem. Why? He explained it this way: “The [Human One] came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In other words, Jesus expected his death would “ransom” people, set them free.
From what? “From the futile ways inherited from your ancestors,” said the author of 1 Peter; “malice, guile, insincerity, envy, slander” (1:18; 2:1). Another text refers to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed (Col. 3:5).
Of course, Christian writers have consumed an ocean of ink explaining all of this in much grander terms. Jesus had to die, these writers tell us, to persuade us of God's love or to win God’s forgiveness and wipe away our sins. Mostly, this sort of theologizing has served to divert our attention from the very First Testament kind of salvation Jesus had in mind: escape from the earthly threat of repeating cycles of greed, power-seeking, violence and retribution.
Can we imagine a way of life that would save Earth as a habitation for generations to come? Do the life, death and resurrection of Jesus help us start living that way now?
If we wish to maintain our claim that Jesus is the savior of the world, the answer will be yes.