By Harris Franklin Rall
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SAVED?
I. THE PLACE OF SALVATION IN RELIGION
RELIGION has three aspects: it is a faith that we hold, a life that we live, a help that we receive. Salvation means religion as a way of help. There are some who feel that this side of religion belongs to the past. Not as much is said about salvation in the Church as there once was. There are various reasons for this. (1) Men found the old ideas of salvation no longer convincing or adequate. The old preaching was individual; it had no word for the great social needs. It was otherworldly; it did not enough realize that religion must bring life here and now. It was narrow, concerned mainly with escape from punishment for sin, or absorbed in some "scheme" of atonement or plan of salvation by which a man could be forgiven and get to heaven. (2) Men became more concerned in the human side of religion, in what man himself could and should do. (3) With the coming of science and modern inventions, the age of machinery and of multiplied wealth and comforts, men grew more interested in material goods and more confident that they could solve their own problems. (4) As the physical world grew in meaning and attractiveness, men lost their interest in spiritual values; the sense of the reality of God and of man's dependence on him weakened, and secularism and paganism increased. Within the Church itself, with the growth of organization and activity, there was a decreased sense of God as a power in men's lives.
But the movement has not all been one way. The situation has been changing rapidly since the first decade of our century. (1) There is a new realism today that has taken the place of the old optimism and romanticism. We see more clearly the forces of evil in our social order. We know how long and hard the fight is going to be if truth and justice and peace are to win out. We realize the darker passions and evil forces in human nature; the World War showed us how thin was the veneer of "culture," how near the surface everywhere was the old savagery. Men are talking of impending doom, of the race between education and destruction. (2) Increasing numbers are coming to see where our problem lies and what the help must be. Science and invention will not save us, for we have seen their use as instruments of destruction. World Courts and Peace Pacts and League of Nations cannot deliver us, nor political and economic reform. All have their place but all are useless unless there comes also a radical change in the spirit of men. Many have repeated with Sir Philip Gibbs, the great war correspondent, "Europe needs a new heart;" and so do Asia and America. (3) The modern man, throwing aside the old beliefs and authorities, is as deeply in need of help as ever his father was. Freed from the old restraints, as Walter Lippmann has pointed out, he does not know where to go or what to do with his life. Life has lost meaning because he has lost God. The boom days leave him restless and dissatisfied; depression days find him helpless and hopeless. (4) So far from the idea of salvation dropping out, our race has never seen a day when men in their need listened to so many voices promising deliverance. Communism and Fascism are the new messiahs hailed by vast populations, while endless panaceas are heralded in other lands. Meanwhile multitudes turn to the many cults that offer salvation, to theosophy, Christian Science, spiritualism, healing missions, millennial movements, or to the psychoanalyst.
The idea of salvation has a clear and permanent place. All life has two sides, the active and the receptive. Salvation deals with the second side, that of our dependence, or need of help. Physically we are dependent every moment upon what the world gives us of light, air, and food. Socially we are helpless if left to ourselves. Salvation represents this dependence and help on the highest level. Back of it lies a threefold conviction: there are evils from which we need deliverance; there is a good for us to attain; there is a world of spiritual being and power from which we may have help. The last point is the crux of the matter. We know the world of physical forces; we see clearly that human life and progress have depended upon man's understanding those forces, and relating himself rightly to them. But we have not known how to use the spiritual forces of life. Outward wealth and inner bankruptcy have gone together; and unless we can gain inner resources and strength, it is clear that scientific knowledge and material wealth will avail us nothing. But just as electricity long waited for us to know it and use it in transforming the earth, so there are spiritual forces waiting for man's understanding and use. There is peace for our unrest, forgiveness for our sin, strength in place of our moral impotence, healing for our social strife and inner discords, and hope that can look death, the inevitable, in the face.
In its full scope, the idea of salvation includes three aspects: the problem of the individual, the making of a new social order, and the life beyond. This chapter deals with the individual.
II. TO WHAT ARE WE SAVED?
To understand what salvation means we must ask three questions: To what? From what? By what? To what are we to be saved? Webster says salvation is "preservation from destruction or calamity; deliverance from sin and its consequences." But it is more than that. It is something positive, the good that we desire. Is that good happiness, success, power, personal development, heaven? There is but one adequate word and that is "life." Salvation means to gain life, life at its fullest and highest. In Tennyson's word,
"Life" is one of those words, like "truth" and "beauty" and "right," which you cannot define because it is unique and ultimate. We can, however, say some things about life that will help show what it means. Life is a matter of relations. We may smile at the tautology of Webster's definition, that life is the "fact of being alive," but the phrase is significant Life is more than existence. The meaning of life and its measure are to be found in the range of things to which we are alive and the degree of our aliveness. The simplest plant is alive to sun and rain, to earth and air. The dog has a far more varied and interesting world—think of a dog in the country on a fresh summer morning, alive to his master and to all the scents and sounds of field and wood. Man is the creature who belongs to the greatest variety of worlds and is alive to them in the most intense and meaningful manner. That is what makes a man's life. He is a physical being, with an interest in food, drink, pain, pleasure, work, rest, and other bodily concerns. He is a social being, entering into the myriad relations with his fellows in home and society which give his life such varied and engrossing interests. He is a personal being, not only conscious like the dog but self-conscious, with an inner world of his own. Beauty speaks to him in color, form, and sound; the majestic and sublime enthrall him; truth summons him to endless search; the stern yet appealing realities of the moral order, of all that is just and good, lay hold upon him. And in his times of clearest vision he knows that he belongs to the world of the Eternal, to the life of fellowship with God. This is what life means, not just existence, but to be alive to all these worlds and to all that they offer.
The story of the development of life on earth will help us to understand this. In a fascinating philosophical work, Holism and Evolution ("holism" is from a Greek word meaning "whole"), Jan Smuts has described the process of evolution as one of the making of wholes. The electric particles unite to form the atom, the atoms unite in molecules of different character, the building-blocks out of which our physical world is made. The living cell marks another and far richer "whole," and begins another movement of advance. But at every stage the process follows a common principle: the individual or particular is summoned to unite with a larger whole and so to rise in the scale of life. So hydrogen and oxygen unite to form water, that compound which is as essential to life as it is indispensable to the beauty of nature, which transcends anything that we can find in oxygen or hydrogen taken alone. So the particles which form the living cell share in a life far beyond anything that might come to them apart from this new relation. The law of life in its advance is the same: find a greater world, a richer whole; give yourself to it, lose yourself in it, in order that you may find yourself again in a fuller measure of life. The mark of man above all other animals is to be found in those many wholes, those relations of life, or worlds of being, to which he can thus give himself. The goal of creation on earth seems to be this creature, man, with body, mind, imagination, affections, spirit, will, who can see these many worlds and enter into living relations with them.
Salvation, then, means the gaining of life, life at its richest and fullest, a life that is given to us as we enter into right relations with that world on which we depend. It does not have to do with a segment of life that we call spiritual, or with saving some inner core or part of our nature which we call soul. It is the man's whole being that is to be redeemed, indeed, his whole world. It is a mark of that development noted above, in which life moves from lower levels to higher, that the lower is never lost as life moves up. The lower becomes the foundation of the higher and is taken up in it. The healthy body is a necessary condition of the life of the spirit, at the same time contributing to that life joys of its own. The mind, trained, alert, clear-thinking, renders high service and brings its own rich gifts. And so we move up into the ethical, the social, and finally into fellowship with God.
Four main relations constitute the sphere of man's life: nature, self, man's fellows, and God. Religion includes all and emphasizes the last, but the relation with God is not just a fourth added to the other three. We might call each of these relations a dimension of life. As each higher dimension comes it does not simply add; it transforms the whole. So the supreme relation, God, the last dimension of life, the Eternal, transforms all the rest as it takes them up into itself. He who finds God learns for the first time what the world and his brother and his own life mean; through God alone these come to their full meaning and expression. He learns how to enjoy this world without becoming its slave, to rule it instead of being its servant, to dwell in it without fear. And he learns how to live with his brother. Here, then, is the supreme matter in salvation, to come into right relation with God and so through him to find all else.
The question is often raised in religion as in education, Is the final end self-realization or service? Or were the fathers right when they said it was to glorify God? But these ends are not opposed or exclusive. On the contrary, each involves the others, Religion is more than self-realization, or culture; it is finding the Highest and giving yourself in reverence and devotion, forgetting yourself because you have found something infinitely greater than yourself. Nor will you ever find yourself until you have thus found something higher—"He that will save his life shall lose it." And that applies to God and the service of my fellows. But the service of God is not a thing apart; we serve him as we serve them—"Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." But if God and my brother belong here, my own life is not left out. My own personality is one of God's ends; that, too, is sacred. Jesus' word was not, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor and not thyself," but, "Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself."
III. FROM WHAT ARE WE SAVED?
Life, we have seen, means the fullest attainment of our possibilities through right relations with God and our world. We need to be saved from all that stands in its way.
1. There are physical conditions: poverty, sickness, economic uncertainty, suffering, death. Religion is not without concern for these, but they are not our immediate problem.
2. Fear is one of the greatest threats to peace and strength of life. Social and psychological study has made that increasingly plain. There is fear of the world in which we live, of blind forces that seem to hold us, of the uncertain future, of inevitable death. There is fear of men, of what men think of us, of what they may do. And there is fear of ourselves: doubt, distrust, the sense of inferiority, crippling and often destroying. Fear means darkness, suffering, and the paralysis of life's energies.
3. We need deliverance from the sense of futility, the feeling of the aimlessness and meaninglessness of life which has made such deep inroads on the modern spirit. "The modern man," writes Walter Lippmann, "who has ceased to believe without ceasing to be credulous, hangs, as it were, between heaven and earth, and is at rest nowhere. There is no theory of the meaning and value of events which he is compelled to accept, ... no inevitable purpose in the universe." A famous caricaturist, brilliantly successful, left a revealing note after committing suicide: "I have had few real difficulties," he wrote; "on the contrary, an exceptionally glamorous life, as life goes, and more than my share of affection and appreciation. ... I am fed up with inventing devices for get-ing through twenty-four hours every day. ... I have run from wife to wife, from house to house, and from country to country in a ridiculous effort to escape myself." We need deliverance because we have lost God who is the meaning and goal of life.
4. We need deliverance from ignorance. There is not only folly, whose eyes are closed to life's real goods, but there is ignorance of the waiting forces with which our world is filled, the resources of help and strength. We are like the natives who once roamed over this land, who hungered though treading the most fertile soil of earth, who froze when beneath them were waiting beds of coal, who bent their backs to heavy burdens when in the earth and in flowing water there was unused power to do all their work. Ignorance is keeping us from the life that would come if we knew how to relate ourselves to the spiritual forces of the universe.
5. We need to be saved from ourselves. We are getting past the superficial romanticism and smug complacency which supposed that man was all right though society or the world was wrong, that we all were inherently good and only needed a fair chance, that self-expression was our supreme right and our only need. What if we haven't the right kind of self to express? Or what if we are many selves and not one? What if the wrong self has been coming out on top, and, more and more, with its selfishness, lust, greed, fear, and vanity, has been establishing itself as the only self? What if, like Paul and many another, I see the better and approve it, and choose the worse? "Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
6. That means that I need to be saved from my past, from the consequences of what I have done, and what I deserve. There is, of course, a law of consequences as inevitable in the spiritual world as in the natural. Some of these consequences remain unalterable. But there are consequences that can be overcome when new and higher forces enter in, or when man is set into new relations. My ignorance and selfishness and sin have destroyed the right relations of life. They have set me against God, against my fellows; they have put me out of harmony with the world of nature, and made me a divided self. From these destroyed fellowships and wrong relations I must and can be saved.
And now we can see more clearly what being lost and being saved mean. We are lost when we are out of place, out of right relations, on the wrong road. It is not destruction. Among the thousand papers in my filing cabinet there is one that is lost. I know it is there, somewhere; but it is lost because it is out of place. We are lost when we are cut off from God, from our fellows, from the true task of life, when we are severed from these by ignorance and selfishness, by lack of faith and loyalty and good will. To be saved means somehow to be set into right relations. That means life, and only so can life come.
IV. BY WHAT ARE WE SAVED?
1. It is interesting to note some of the ways by which men have sought salvation. (1) Magic is the crudest of these. It is the dependence on rites and incantations, on signs and lucky objects. Science shows its futility. Religion condemns it because its whole spirit and attitude are wrong; for it seeks to master and compel the unseen forces for its selfish ends, whereas religion calls for humble and reverent devotion. Yet there are great numbers still who mix magic with their religion or make it a substitute. (2) Ritual and offering and sacrament are everywhere a form of religious life. As symbols to set forth the unseen, and as ways of expressing devotion and entering into communion with God, they are of real help. But when a church says, "God has prescribed these particular forms and ways; apart from these there is no salvation, and he has committed these to us alone," then they do not represent truly either God or the way of life. And when men think that consecrated water placed on an infant, or consecrated bread taken by an adult, somehow transforms the essence or nature of the human soul with a kind of mechanical inevitability, then we must find in this a survival of magic. (3) Asceticism is an ancient way, surviving here and there, though the spirit of our age is all against it. For it the material and natural as such are evil; and he who would find God and the spiritual must renounce and flee the world and the flesh. (4) Very old is the idea of salvation by "gnosis," which literally means "knowledge." In its broadest form it stands for the opinion that suffering is due to ignorance, our failures to lack of knowledge, that science is our messiah, that to know the good is to do it. But often it takes the form of systems like theosophy or Christian Science, offering men some special revealed insight, declaring that he who sees this and holds it is redeemed from all error, mortality, and suffering, and lifted to light and life.
Excepting magic only, there is something of truth in all these ways. But, aside from their errors, they do not get at the heart of the matter. Three facts must first be recognized. (1) Salvation is a personal and ethical affair. No man is saved until he is himself made over, until he is a new man, at one with himself where once he was divided, confident where he was anxious and fearful, master where once he was limited and bound, delivered from futility and aimlessness because he has found a high and satisfying goal, and fundamentally right within because of a new spirit of love and truth. (2) A man can be so changed only as he is brought into right relations, first with God in whom is all truth and life, then, and through this, with all his world.
2. There are many today who would rule out the idea of salvation altogether. Man needs saving, they say, but he must save himself; we must not expect any Power to reach down from the skies and help us. That was natural enough, they declare, in a day when men stood helpless before famine and storm and pestilence, and cried out in despair for aid; now it means laziness or superstition. The means of help are in our own hands and there is no other. Our science enables us to use the forces of nature. Our social problems will be settled when we learn to work together through economics, politics, diplomacy, and education. And for our personal problems we have the new psychology. If we are behaviorists, we will plan to "condition" or "recondition" man by properly controlled and applied stimuli, beginning, of course, with infancy, until we have made man just what he should be. If we are Freudians, we have the instruments of analysis and therapy by which to bring to light the hidden sources of frustration and fear, make whole the divided soul, and make it happy by setting it into right social relations. Such is the general position of naturalistic humanism.
There is some truth here that we must recognize. No community has the right to expect God to stop a typhoid epidemic because people pray for it; it will cease when the milk and water supply is kept pure, and when the city government is cleaned up whose inefficiency and corruption have made such conditions possible. No man can expect to be made over into a strong, well-poised character by simply folding his hands and asking God to do it; salvation is not "direct action" by divine power, as bricks are made by a mold. But this does not answer the question; it simply helps to correct misunderstandings. What has religion to say?
3. First, religion declares that there is a spiritual environment that is more real, more intimate, more powerful than our physical surroundings, the God upon whom we depend more immediately and absolutely than we do on light and air and food. The meaning of this God for our life cannot be put in a word. (1) He is sustaining Energy, in whom electrons and stars and men all "live and move and have their being." (2) He is the Order which at once sets limits to our action and makes our life possible. (3) He is the Purpose that is achieving itself in the universe through the ages. (4) But more than all this, God is Person, calling us to enter into fellowship, to link our life to his in understanding and faith and loyalty; he is Love that forgives our sins and shares with us its life.
Second, religion declares that there are laws in this world of the spirit, that there are ways by which we may find God and gain life through fellowship with him. This important practical question will concern ns in the next two chapters.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
FOR FURTHER READING