2/23/2010 | Share this article:By Webmdave --
I have problems with several issues when it comes to Christian Soteriology. For those reading this who are not familiar with Christian theological terms, Soteriology is the study of salvation, and the term is generally used in reference to Christian salvation.
First is the idea that salvation is unconditional. Following is that grace is freely bestowed on the believer; the believer is not saved by works or by earning salvation in any way; salvation is a gift, offered freely and without cost to the believer.
Or at least so we are led to believe.
I contend that this salvation concept does not make sense. If salvation is a free gift, and we as human beings can contribute nothing to our own salvation, and if it is all a work of the grace of GOD, then why isn't everyone on the planet destined for eternal life in heaven? While Christians throughout history have debated this issue from either an Arminian freewill approach or a Calvinist predestination interpretation, neither camp believes everyone is bound for the heavenly city paved with streets of gold. Most Christians would unanimously agree that most of humanity will find themselves in a very uncomfortable position at the "Judgment seat of Christ." So, if we are not saved by works but by grace, I ask again, why aren't we all saved?
Let me attempt to explain more clearly what I am thinking here. If there is any requirement for us to receive salvation, it can be said that we have earned our salvation through the performance of the said requirement. I have heard it explained that we must "believe the gospel" in order to be saved. Another description is that we must "accept the free offer of salvation" -- that we must figuratively reach out and "take the gift." In my mind, since I am held accountable for doing something in order to receive salvation, then in a very small way I have contributed to earning my salvation. Admittedly, accepting a gift is not doing much, but it is still doing something. Another analogy presented to me by Christian evangelists sounded like this:
"If a deposit is made in your bank account making you a millionaire, then you have the free gift, but it is up to you to make a withdrawal to reap the benefits of the gift. You have to believe that the gift is there in your account in order to receive it."
This particular analogy was persuasive to me for quite some time, but I realize now that it breaks down in the fact that whether I use the money or not, I am still rich. On my death my estate will benefit someone even if I lived like a pauper. I do not lose the money in the bank simply because I do not believe it is there. The existence of the money and my ownership of it is not impacted by my acceptance of it's reality. The only thing likely affected is my spending pattern.
I am constantly told that the Christian religion is different because all other religions require its adherents to follow some code or perform certain established rituals or do good works to earn the favor of whatever god the religion promotes. In my opinion Christianity is no different in this regard. True believers in Christ must pray the "Sinners Prayer"; they must repent, turning from their old lifestyles and sins; they must ask Jesus to become the Lord of their Lives. This is the basic formula presented by Campus Crusade for Christ, by Billy Graham and by most of Evangelical Christendom. If this is not a ritual or a good work in order to achieve the notice of GOD, I don't know what is. If I do not submit myself and conform to these established rules, I won't be ferried into heavenly realms when I cross the Stygian depths.
Another thing that just makes no sense to me is the propitiation for sins embodied in the death of Jesus on the cross. Supposedly Jesus suffered the condemnation that I deserve. He stood in my place and took upon himself all the consequences for not only my sins, but the sins of the whole world. Correct me if I am wrong, but according to Christian doctrine if I do not have the propitiative blood of Christ on me when the last trump shall sound, I will face eternal separation from God as the recompense for my unrepentant life. Or more simply: I go to hell forever. Apparently my punishment is more severe than that endured by Jesus. The way I understand it, Jesus spent about three hours in agony on the cross, with perhaps a few more hours being beaten and scourged prior to crucifixion. I do not mean to minimize the pain suffered by being tortured and executed in such a cruel way, but even a few weeks of torture do not seem to really compare with an eternity in horrific torment.
In the book of Genesis, the consequence of sin was death. Adam and Eve and all of humanity began to die (at very old ages, but still they died), and continue to do so to this day. Christians are supposedly absolved from that curse of death since Christ died in their places. So why do Christians still die? Obviously everyone dies, so religionists spiritualize the Genesis curse to mean "spiritual death" instead of physical death so that Christ can be said to have set the believer free from the wages of sin (death) through his free gift.
If I accept that the free gift of eternal life is resigned to some future time after my death -- a resurrection life -- then let me ask this: Did Jesus really die? Oh sure his body died, but his bodily death did not win an escape from physical death for us, so it must have won an escape from spiritual death for us. So, did Christ die spiritually? What is spiritual death exactly? Isn't it eternal separation from GOD? Hell and death are thrown into the Lake of Fire, which is the second death -- at least that's how the writer of Revelation concludes the final book of the Bible. So Christ suffered eternal separation from GOD then, right? No, wrong! If he was separated from God at all it was only for a few days.
Then of course there is the whole Trinity thing. Christ prays to himself; He dies and is separated from himself; He turns away from himself when he sees himself on the cross. None of this makes a bit of sense.
Now let's consider the justice of someone dying for a crime that someone else committed. If my son -- my only son -- were to commit some heinous crime deserving of death, is there a single court anywhere on Earth that would accept my sacrifice in his place? If I were to die, while my depraved son went free, would anyone believe justice had been served? The people whom my son victimized, would they be satisfied with my death in his place while my son roamed guiltless for his own crimes? The concept of justice promoted by the Biblical writers defies explanation. It is quite frankly bizarre.
The response of Christianity at this point is to foam at the mouth and state emphatically that we cannot ever understand the workings or mind of God. We must simply accept these contradictory concepts... on faith. I contend that such statements are a bold admission by the believer that indeed, salvation does not make any sense. But, the believer believes it anyway.
The need to believe is powerful. It is terrifying to many people to think that this is the only life we will ever have, that there is no one in heaven pulling the strings, that our happiness or our misery is dependent on us alone. Some people need a friend, a friend that is totally in control and gives them the assurance that their lives are mapped out for them. Some people want to believe that no matter what difficulties they may face in life, all their efforts and the injustices they may endure will be lavishly rewarded or at least made right in the next life.
In the Gershwin musical Porgy & Bess there is a line in one song which goes,
"It ain't necessarily so... The things that you're liable to read in the Bible, it ain't necessarily so."
The ancient Egyptians spent their whole lives preparing for the afterlife. Some of their bodies are on display in museums to this day. While their extravagant preparations for a life after this one helps us understand the past, it should also give us reflection on our own beliefs and how we spend our lives now.
This is the only life we have.