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A Christian Perspective on Judgement and Salvation

John Breadon's picture

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What’s the point?

Does life have a point? Is what we do as human beings of any ultimate importance? At the end of the day will we really be ‘marked’ down as good, bad or indifferent?

For most of us, working all this out – the ‘meaning of life’ to use the common expression – is a life-long task. Depending on which stage of life we’re at (childhood, adulthood, old age), we tend to give different answers to the questions life pushes us towards asking. For the monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – this sort of reasoning is only half the battle. The most important bit is to get round to discovering the fact that religions themselves assert the ability to lead us toward, if not into, the Truth. For religions, let us not forget or beat about the bush here, offer themselves as the Answer to our deepest questions. The meaning of life is God and his law, or Jesus and his resurrection, or Mohammed and the way of the Qur’an. To put it differently – and to use for the first time the word ‘salvation’ – religions offer us an ultimate refuge from the doubt and uncertainty, strife and struggle of living. Religion, if you like, saves us from ourselves, from getting too tangled up in all the questions that bombard us. Relax, the religions tell us. Trust, believe and hope in God. He knows even if you don’t.

What are we being saved from?

When we come to ask what each religion actually means by offering salvation – the word itself, from the Latin salvare, means ‘to save’ – we get very contrasting answers, as noted above. In 2000 years of Christianity, many different folk have attempted to pin down exactly what it is that Christianity saves us from. The ‘official’ answer is from sin, evil, God’s wrath and an eternity in hell. A less orthodox Christian might tell you that Christianity saves us from a life lived solely in the pursuit of self-worth and that wearisome cycle of accumulation and loss. But whichever sort of Christian you speak to, the fundamental idea runs along these lines: belief in God and Jesus saves us through offering a hope, a method and a rule by which to tackle life’s big questions head-on. Other religions and creeds, of course, will promise much the same, but by offering their particular path as the way to go.

When we look at the world – or even just our own family! – it’s hard not to observe that some people are in greater need of ‘saving’ than others. Jesus once said that healthy people have no need of a doctor, but the sick certainly do; the question is whether they will find one in time. The extent to which we are sick and in need of salvation is a deep and searching question. This is so because it focuses our attention on those things we can’t do, those aspects of life we struggle with, or the ways in which we fail. Jesus said: ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30) Some have found in this verse a message of hope that strikes at the very heart of their problems; to others it is merely sentimental.

No need, no choice

The business of salvation, then, is all about need and choice. If there’s no need arising – no reason to call out to the universe for help, release, inspiration, support or whatever – then there’s no need to choose which salvation system to go for. Or is there? We may not consciously choose to follow the way of any particular religion, but some path must be cut through the forest of life. So however we choose to live, and whatever we choose to believe, we press these things into ‘saving’ us. If they don’t work, chances are we’ll find something else that does.

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