Tuesday 25 June 2024

Salvation is a direction - not a goal

Salvation - resurrected eternal life in heaven - should be the direction of our life, not its goal. 

A direction provides a context and perspective for living. We know where we are going, we know we are going there - and we live in that environment of expectation. 

This direction shapes Christian life. 

But when salvation is instead understood as the goal of our life; then Christianity gets to be something like a politician trying to get elected, or studying for a scholarship examination, or winning a court case. 

We are already in God's family - it's a matter of recognizing that family as good, a matter of affiliating with our family (similar to the choice that most adolescents are confronted with). A matter of affiliating our purposes with those of our divine family; and therefore not affiliating our purposes with others who have chosen to reject (and attack?) that divine family.

Christian life isn't about believing and doing a "million" things derived from scripture, nor about obeying a million instructions from a church. 

It is (or should be) about aligning ourselves with a few, and simple, understandings of reality.

All this is part of weaning our-selves off the expectation that our personal faith ought to satisfy some external this-worldly arbiter; I mean the strange but prevalent notion that "what matters" is justifying ourselves to "other people" - (or to what we infer about other people, since we seldom really know with surety). 

It often seems to me that the greatest but most misguided act of faith is in the superior-to-ourselves honesty, competence and motivations of "other people" - whether those people are current or past, whether written or embodied in a bureaucracy. 

I see this as an attempted denial of ultimate personal responsibility for our own Christian understanding, faith and life; and I regard protestations that this deference to "other people" is due to the virtue of humility, to be nearly always a false evasion (as evidenced by their gross - ahem - "lack of humility" in all other respects!). 

But in the end this issue of humility just kicks the can; since understanding the nature, role and importance of humility is yet another issue about which we must decide whether to take personal responsibility, or to submit to the Superior wisdom) of other-people...

And then: how can we (how actually do we) discern which other-people are of superior wisdom to ourselves? If we answer in terms of a consensus of history; then which consensus? 

And why should consensus be wiser than the individual - who says, and is it right that those who say it must be believed? 

Wherever we squirm, we will find that ultimately everything has been underpinned by our own personal decision and choices. I think we will also find that the reality of our solid faith is much much simpler than the millions upon millions of explanations and rules and practices that are supposedly "Christianity" - and which we have actually derived by subordinating our personal responsibility to a wide range of "other people" - about whose competence, nature and intent we are essentially ignorant. 


Francis Berger said...

A lucid and helpful distinction that cuts through all the fluff and gets right to the core of what Christianity essentially IS, the clarity of which is so well described in the Fourth Gospel.

Of course, salvation not being a goal doesn't help the "extra ecclesia nulla salus" crowd all that much, but it should.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - For me the master idea (which I've posted several times) is derived from William Arkle; and is based on the understanding that God is the ideal good (wholly loving) father (or parents), and inferring how he would regard creation, and his children - and what he would want and need from us. How God would set-up the world, given that the wanted his children to choose Heaven. What kinds of thing would be necessary and which not. I have found this very clear and solid guidance, over the years - it navigates through all kinds of apparent dilemmas, even deeply metaphysical ones.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bruce S - ". I strongly suspect this sense of relief is the hit people seek when they abdicate decision-making in favor of a higher authority, even the highest authority."

I agree that CSL is in error here; he is probably overcompensating for what he regards as a besetting sin.

His best friend Owen Barfield wrote about how Lewis's self-negation made it impossible to discuss fundamental matters with him after his conversion, and there is a distinct sense from OB that Lewis thereby made-himself a less profound person, less capable of learning... CSL's deepest self then worked covertly and denied, mostly, e.g. in the science fiction trilogy and Narnia stories.

On the other hand, the argument against abdicating responsibility is a double-negative value - and we need positive values to live by. The ideal of Christianity being a matter of individuals obeying authority has never been correct, but didn't much matter in practice when people were not very self-aware and conscious: now we just are. It didn't matter so much when Christian churches were overall good and Christian - but now the major churches are overall evil and Satan affiliated in terms of their purposes and their underlying metaphysical assumptions.

These negative arguments, while true, lead to apostasy, hedonism, despair unless replaced by positive and true alternatives - this is the "romantic" part of "Romantic Christianity".

Instead of aspiring to negative ourselves and live in automatic obedience to God; the ideal ought to be an eternal commitment joyfully to work with God in loving creation.

So we don't just make our value choices in a void, arbitrarily; Christians would aspire to make choices, live life, from love of God and fellow Men, in harmony with the direction and motivations of divine creation.

This is possible because all have the possibility of a relationship with the Holy Ghost (i.e. the ascended Jesus Christ), and because we all (as children of God) have divine knowledge built-into us. In other words, there is individual guidance as to what's best to do, for those who cannot work it out for themselves (which is what God apparently wants us to do, most of the time), and who ask for it from the right motives.

Bruce S. said...

Dr Charlton

Many thanks for your comprehensive response.