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Searching Sabbath 10: The Experience of Salvation

17 Comments

This week’s video, as always, is both longer and shorter than I’d like it to be. When I started this Searching Sabbath series, I wanted to keep the videos to about a 3 minute length, obviously overestimating my ability to be concise, which has never been my strong point. Instead, they’ve generally exceeded five minutes, which I think exceeds most people’s YouTube attention spans. This one is no different. But it’s also shorter than I’d like because, as always, there’s so much more to say about the topic of “salvation” than what I can cover in a short video.

In the video, I touched mostly on a question that I think is of great concern within the Adventist church and other evangelical churches: is the message of “salvation” relevant to the people we’re trying to reach? Speaking, that is, from the perspective of the twenty-first century church in North America. If what we are offering is “salvation from sin” and most people don’t have a sense that they are “sinners,” are we connecting? And if not, is the solution to try to make people more aware of sin — i.e. to induce guilt? — or to find out what people really do feel a need for in their lives?

However, there are whole other huge swathes of the idea of “salvation” that I haven’t touched on. One of these is: Do people really need salvation? Is sin, or the sense of being separated from God, really a problem that needs to be solved?

I guess that with all my doubts and questions, this is one of the places where I come down most firmly on the side of traditional evangelical Christian doctrine, because I don’t see how anyone can look at this world and say, “Everything is as it should be.” Something has gone sadly wrong, and all our best attempts have not fixed it. Or rather, we’ve fixed some things while at the same time making other things worse.

This, by the way, is also where I have a problem with a purely evolutionary view of human origins that denies we were created in the image of God or that we ever “fell.” As I see it, sin=selfishness. Nearly all the problems in any society anywhere on earth (barring natural disasters) can be put down to people doing things for selfish reasons that hurt themselves or others. From a purely evolutionary standpoint, there’s no reason this should happen. Evolution rewards selfishness in some cases (striving to stay alive and pass on your genes) and rewards altruism in some cases, where it’s obviously for the greater good of the species (i.e. mothers sacrificing themselves to save their children makes good evolutionary sense).

So, if we were a species that had simply evolved, we should see humans making decisions that would benefit the survival of the species. But in fact what we see is humans sometimes showing incredible selfishness (i.e. “sin”) even if the results are demonstrably bad for them and for the species. A species that had evolved naturally would not, I think, have developed the level of knowledge and technology that our species has done, and then use that knowledge and technology to make the planet unliveable for future generations of our own species. Obviously all the data is not in yet, but it seems as humans that we may be in the process of doing just that which, if true, is obviously sinful. I don’t think (correct me if I’m wrong, experts!) animals making selfish, short-sighted decisions that result in their own suffering and death and the possible elimination of their species. Animals, guided by instinct, act in ways that preserve themselves and their species. Humans, guided by reason, often act against our own and our species’ best interest.

The flip side, of course, is that we humans can be stunningly altruistic, even when there’s no benefit for ourselves in it. In my view, the way humans act is far more consistent with a species created in the image of God but fallen into sin, than with a species that has evolved and is evolving. Of course, that’s just the way I read the data, and there are other ways to interpret the human experience. But in general I come down on the side of the traditional view: we are sinners in need of redemption.

Most of my non-Christian (and even my more liberal-Christian) friends will be uncomfortable, I think, with the language of evangelicalism I’m  using here in this blog and vlog. I think we evangelical Christians hugely underestimate how offensive our efforts to “evangelize” (that is, to convince others of the truth of what we believe) are to the majority of our neighbours and co-workers. There’s an assumed superiority in evangelical Christianity that people of other religions and no religion at all deeply (and understandably) resent.

So, do I believe in evangelizing? Not in the sense that I want to browbeat anyone into agreeing with the way I see God and the universe. On the other hand, if my faith “works” for me, if it gives me a sense of love, purpose and one-ness with God, why would I not want to share that with you? Particularly if you appear to be in need of it. My kind of evangelism is much too low-key for most Adventists. If you have your own beliefs and seem to be content with them (whether they are religious or non-religious), I’m not going to bother you with mine (particularly as I don’t believe you’re at risk of burning forever in hell … more on that later). If you ask about my beliefs I’ll do my best to explain them and discuss them with you, but I won’t go the further step of trying to convince you — partly out of respect and partly because I think it’s pointless anyway. Any “evangelizing” I do is more in the realm of giving information and trying to live in such a way that people will think better, rather than worse, of Christians and of Seventh-day Adventists based on what they’ve seen in my life. But if someone comes to me with genuine need and wants to know what I believe and how it applies to the need they feel in their life at that moment, I’m not going to refrain from telling them that I believe God loves them and Jesus saves.

As always, I’d love to know what others think about sin, salvation, and sharing our faith.

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17 thoughts on “Searching Sabbath 10: The Experience of Salvation

  1. Salvation is simply God’s attempt to connect/reconnect with her creation. Starting from here many stories can be told about this effort to connect. If one or another works for someone, halleluiah! However, if someone wants to say, “There is only one way to connect to the Divine and I have the formula” then this is where I must part ways. It is this that religion becomes a method of control and the “opiate” for which it is much criticized. If God is infinite, then there must be many many ways by which he can and does connect. To say otherwise is nothing short of limiting Her.

  2. I think that the reconnection with God is what we personally experience. Taking our sins,etc… That’s God’s business. Some say you need to understand what God is doing to make it stick, but we don’t understand how God created us, yet we’re still here. I think sometimes we take try to take too much credit for something utterly beyond us.

  3. Why do we need an intermediary to connect with God? Why does someone have to “die” for us? Did Micah get it wrong – telling us,

    What does our Father require of you? What has He shown to be good? Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.” All those prophets who promoted repentance as a method and means of salvation – did they get it wrong? Did they not tell the complete truth?

    • Life is a Journey:

      Maybe they told as much truth as they understood? Maybe “walking humbly with our God” works because God is willing to sacrifice Himself for us. After all, salvation is all about what God does, not about what we do.

      Evert & PJ, I like the way you both put that. I am very suspicious of anyone who claims to be able to “explain” salvation to me, as if it’s a formula they have figured out.

    • LJ, how about this: per my comment above, if if the Story of the cross helps someone to connect with the Divine, I’m all for it. However, if for someone else it gets in the way of that connection, it is superfluous.

      Trudy, did you get the implication of my comment: if someone says, “the cross is the only way to reach God (receive salvation)” they are wrong?

      • I think I “got” the implication (though that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree).

        I believe if envisioning redemption in a certain way gets in the way of someone’s connection with God, then that particular image should be discarded. So (as I think I said) above, if someone views PSA as a barbaric blood sacrifice carried out by an angry God upon His innocent Son, then I would not emphasize that view with them. There are so many ways to see the Cross and its meaning.

        But I would not dispense with it altogether. I do believe that Christ’s death on the cross is necessary for our salvation. That is not necessarily the same as saying that a person needs to understand or accept Christ’s death on the cross in the way I do (or even needs to have heard of it!) in order to receive the benefits of salvation.

        I think the cross was something God had to do.

  4. Or maybe they knew a God we don’t; a God who is merciful and compassionate and who doesn’t need blood in order to forgive. Either way, God “sacrificing himself TO himself to satisfy His own requirements” doesn’t make much sense. Perhaps salvation truly IS as easy as “repent of your evil acts, change your ways (completing the process of teshuvah) and be saved”.

  5. No, it’s a process. Just like with your kids… they are not perfect, but you love them regardless! You don’t insist on perfection, and killing the family dog (or another of their siblings, or even your spouse) wouldn’t make you more disposed to forgive them when they are disobedient! Yet this is what we somehow think God is doing – that somehow in order to be “reconciled to us” that God must be presented with an offering of blood. That is heinous and comes straight out of paganism. Have you ever studied about the similarities between Christianity and Mithraism?

    • Yes, but I’m not convinced of the evidence (regarding Christianity and Mithraism).

      Do you take the view then, that the multitude of blood sacrifices in Judaism (prior to the destruction of the Temple) were NOT seen in any way, by the Jews of that time, as “atoning” for sin or being required by God because of sin?

      Honestly, the sacrificial system in the Hebrew Scriptures seems to me more like killing the family dog, cat, gerbils and goldfish for reasons which are not clearly defined, just to keep your kids in the proper amount of awe.

  6. IF those sacrifices had been necessary in any way, then anyone who lived in times when the Israelites were cast out of their own country and taken captive would have been lost. We’re talking Jeremiah, Ezra, Daniel, etc. Prophets! These people were unable to offer sacrifices! Are they “lost” because of this?

    JewFAQ.org discusses the issue this way:

    “Some would say that the original institution of sacrifice had more to do with the Judaism’s past than with its future. Rambam (also known as Maimonides, a famous Jewish scholar from the middle ages) suggested that the entire sacrificial cult in Judaism was ordained as an accommodation of man’s primitive desires.

    ‘Sacrifice is an ancient and universal human expression of religion. Sacrifice existed among the Hebrews long before the giving of the Torah. When the laws of sacrifice were laid down in the Torah, the pre-existence of a system of sacrificial offering was understood, and sacrificial terminology was used without any explanation. The Torah, rather than creating the institution of sacrifice, carefully circumscribes and limits the practice, permitting it only in certain places, at certain times, in certain manners, by certain people, and for certain purposes. Rambam suggests that these limitations are de-signed to wean a primitive people away from the debased rites of their idolatrous neighbors.” (end quote)

    In other words, Rambam concedes that Judaism inherited blood sacrifice from its idolatrous (pagan) neighbors and that the God of the Jews never intended for such rites to be included as part of His worship. This is wholly in agreement with the latter prophets.

    As far as whether or not sacrifices were meant to keep our kids in a certain amount of “shock and awe” regarding the seriousness of sin, consider your local butcher who kills hundreds of animals. Do you suppose he becomes more sensitive to the pain and death and blood, or completely desensitized to it? What about his kids? How do they fell about the death of these animals?

    Ask yourself this question. Would you have survived the bloody sacrificial years of Judaism? Would your heart have become more tender and compassionate or more hardened and callous after murdering hundreds and eventually thousands of animals to “atone” for your sins?

  7. Note: I have friends who are hunters. They take their children hunting. The death of an animal means NOTHING to these friends or their children. I really don’t think there is any sense of sadness or awe or anything more than how I would feel if I were to slap a mosquito. As someone who loves animals, I find this deplorable!

    So it can’t be about how it affected those doing the killing, because it was truly No Big Deal to them. These sacrifices were supposedly about what GOD wanted (or in reality what the priesthood, aka the local butchers who profited from these sacrifices, SAID God wanted). Having the priesthood also in charge of the records of “what God wants” is very much like putting the US Beef Association in charge of the USDA food pyramid. What do you suppose the Beef Association would say humans need the most of? Could they in any way be trusted to be objective?

  8. One more thing: Consider this passage found in Jeremiah 7:21-23:

    “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: “Take your burnt offerings and your other sacrifices and eat them yourselves! When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’’

    In other words, God Didn’t Tell them to sacrifice animals! That was not part of the deal!!! God told them what we told our kids – “Obey me!”

    It is interesting and troubling to note that the NIV deliberately mistranslates this passage by inserting a word that does not exist within the Hebrew. The NIV renders the passage adding the word “just” into the passage, which completely changes the meaning from the original thought and context of the underlying Hebrew. This sectarian bias in the NIV’s translation is part of the problem with Christian translators who try to push the simple Hebrew into a decidedly Christian mold in an effort to water down Hebraic passages that would naturally destroy a cherished but highly errant doctrine that have either contradictory or absolutely no real support within the Scriptures.

  9. Thanks for that insight, Life (can I call you Life for short?). I’ve heard many different interpretations of the role of animal sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures. It does seem that Christians have far more investment in emphasizing the importance of those sacrifices as atoning for sin, than modern Jews do — obviously because they are seen as prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice.

  10. Life is good. 🙂 And you are so right. Christianity places undue influence on these sacrifices, because without them, they have no place for Jesus. The prevailing thought is that he was “born to die” and they often completely miss or disregard his foundational message of love, peace, repentance, and obedience! I remember getting irked one time because a printing house reprinted part of EGW’s “Desire of Ages” under the title, “Born to Die”. Hello, I wanted to exclaim, look at what he preached! Look at how he lived! Look at Who he worshipped!

    Historical records indicate that Jesus was very likely an Essene (or Ebionite), and these folks were vegetarian. James the Just was said to be vegetarian (and siblings generally are very similar in whether they are or aren’t vegetarian). According to Josephus and Philo, Essenes did not participate in animal sacrifices like the temple priesthood mandated. Are these facts coming from “Biblical” sources? No – but there are enough sources out there conflicting with the “sanctioned” Biblical records that we should seriously ask further questions. Most Christians don’t want to ask those questions because they really don’t want to be challenged by what they might find. I understand and respect that because life is hard and sometimes we just want to stay where we’re at. I appreciate the fact that you are actually open to dialogue; many Adventists aren’t.

    • I’m not entirely convinced by the Essene/Ebionite argument in Eisenmann (and have a LOT of quibbles with that book!!!) but I’ll save that till I’ve finished the book and posted a review.

      I’ve spent most of the past 15 years reading things I disagreed with (or didn’t know about) and discussing issues regarding Jesus and the Bible with all kinds of people from varying backgrounds … I always enjoy any kind of debate or discussion as long as it’s carried out with respect. I’m very lucky in that people who comment on my blogs are always polite and respectful no matter how controversial the issue is!

  11. The field of textual criticism is a lot like Christianity in general – there are a lot of opinions and interpretations! To make sense of it, I believe we need to look first at what is the compassionate path. For example, consider that in first century Jerusalem before the destruction of the second Temple, the blood of innocent animals ran so thickly from the temple altar that there were literally rivers of blood gushing from what was supposed to be God’s House of Prayer! Instead of being a place to worship the Most High, it was nothing more than a butcher shop of epic proportions!! The Jewish historian Josephus wrote of this wholesale slaughter around the time of the destruction of the second Temple:

    “So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice, (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves), and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to two million seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons that were pure and holy …” (Josephus (c. 37- c. 100 AD), War, vi. 9,3. ii. 14,3)

    Various historians have noted that the impact and intensity of this collective sacrificial carnage was mind-numbingly stunning. So intense was the slaughter by the priests that a veritable river of blood ran out the back of the temple and into the Kidron Valley. One need necessarily ask: Was such a brutal slaughter of the innocent really the mechanism of forgiveness of a compassionate and loving God— the very same God who is mindful and cares about the fall and death of a single sparrow?

    We need to analyze what our doctrines are actually communicating! What are we teaching our children? On the one hand, people can forgive others if those who have wronged us repent of their actions and apologize. Yet, on the other hand, we believe that our even more loving Heavenly Father cannot forgive that easily— He somehow must have blood!

    How come we in Christianity never stop to ask ourselves why we call this kind of Sovereign Monarch loving and perfect when we can apparently forgive more easily than we believe He can? Why is this “okay” with Christianity?

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