Friday, July 06, 2012

“Our God is mighty to save”… me?

As the band rehearsed for the 9:30 service, I reflected on that line from the chorus:
He can move the mountains
Our God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Mighty to Save by Michael W. Smith
[click for full lyrics]
Evangelicals used to talk a lot about escaping judgment (see for example John 5:24). We didn’t make up that concept, but it doesn’t communicate much to the modern materialist. In other words, if someone thinks that the present life is all there is, hell isn’t scary; the same applies to someone who doesn’t think himself a major villain—he might say to himself, “I’m no Hitler or Milošević—hey, I’m not even Bernie Madoff—so I guess I’ll do okay.”
and I wondered, if I weren’t already a believer in Jesus, what would I make out of these lines? I mean, let’s be realistic: as an upper middle class American male—in other words, as a man of privilege—what kind of salvation do I (or men like me) need? A not-very-helpful answer is mentioned in the box at right.

But as I asked the myself the question, the words of the Apostle Peter came to mind: “you were redeemed from the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers” (from 1 Peter 1). Peter also wrote about being “useless or unfruitful” (2 Peter 1) and how we can avoid that. Paul’s words also came to mind: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, spending our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another” (from Titus 3). From these passages we might have the beginnings of an answer for the post-modern man who thinks he has everything.

Because even the healthy, successful American man isn’t as good a person as his dog thinks he is; his family and his colleagues and his subordinates have seen his selfishness, his mistakes, his blind spots. And if he’s honest with himself, he also knows self-doubt. Has his life made a difference, really? Will this world be better because he was in it? What does his life mean beyond the accumulation of experiences, possessions and accomplishments?

Paul’s words are echoed in step 1 of AA-esque twelve-step programs: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.” (link) That is, we are not masters of ourselves; we cannot control our tongues (try going 24 hours, or even two waking hours, without complaining). We need to be saved from our blind spots, our envy, greed, pride, and so on; we need to be saved lest our lives be wasted in our selfishness and futile slavery to our urges.

And Jesus came to save us from a meaningless life; he offers us salvation, not only an escape from the judgment of Hell, but also the opportunity to join with him to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth—beginning with our own hearts. This is what he meant when he taught us to pray, “Father in heaven… your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6). And when he says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8), he doesn't just mean that one might suffer eternal judgment after this life is over; he also means that one may gain an abundance of accomplishments, experiences, possessions—one may be a man of privilege—yet still not be comfortable in his own skin in this futile and meaningless life.

But this need not be anyone’s fate, because Jesus is mighty to save. And when we sing that Jesus conquered the grave, we don’t just mean we have a chance to live forever after we die; we also mean that Jesus overcame the tragedy of death. That is, when our time on earth is up, we can leave knowing that our lives are not useless or unfruitful, that we did not entirely waste them in futile pursuits, that in the end God was pleased with who we have become.

Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Mighty to Save by Michael W. Smith
[click for full lyrics]

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