Weekly Edgework #17 - Oct 25, 2004

Images of Salvation

It has been customary at times in the context of my church experience to whittle down the concept of salvation to a formula. Walk through four spiritual laws, sign your name signifying your consent, and you are saved. Follow the Roman Road that leads you to acknowledge your sinfulness and that Christ has died for you, say the sinner’s prayer, and “bingo” you are saved. Watch the Jesus Film, sign on a dotted line, and you are saved for time and eternity. It’s so simple, a child can understand it, we say. So having walked through one of the formulas, we are content to tuck away the concept of salvation in our back pockets. Make sure you don’t lose it because it is a ticket to heaven! But as far as salvation itself goes, we are convinced we mastered that when we first experienced it and so it is not worth exploring much further. The only thing left to do is spread your favourite formula around for others to experience as you have.

I have come to understand salvation as something that cannot be nailed down so neatly. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the Bible nearly always uses imagery when speaking about it. Having grown up in a modern, rationalistic world, many of us have missed the many-faceted dimensions of salvation depicted in the myriad of images used in the biblical text. These varied images tease us toward an ever-increasing understanding, appreciation and experience of salvation. They lead us into a world of grace and mystery - a world that we tend to shun throughout life. It would do us all well to hold our favourite image of salvation lightly while we explore the many others found in the biblical text.

Peter Macky compares this type of exercise to viewing a garden from various vantage points. Imagine a misty garden which is surrounded by a high wall with small windows set in it every twenty feet or so. You move around the wall taking mental photographs of the view from each of the windows. By the time you reach your starting point the sun has dispelled some of the fog, so you make another round, gaining some perspectives you missed on the first round. Then you try to tell a friend what the garden is like based on the series of images you have seen through the wall. You realize that the view from each window is unique, contributing some special insight into the nature of the garden. Taken together, these "snapshots" form a collage of splendour far surpassing the beauty of the individual photographs.

Paul Minear compares this kind of image-oriented study to moving through familiar territory along routes not taken before. To illustrate his point he states that there are two ways to reach the centre of Amsterdam. Most people follow the streets so familiar to them because they have travelled them many times before. But there is another way down town, and that is by way of the ancient canal system. The views from the boat in the canal are strikingly different from those from the walkways or trams, adding new perspectives on the magnificence of the city never appreciated before. Following the canals is not to deny the possibility of other ways of viewing the city, but it does offer an alternative route. Similarly, image oriented research offers a "visual-experiential" alternative to a more "intellectual-cognitive" approach normally used to dialogue about truths such as salvation.

I like to describe this kind of project as the "diamond" approach to discovering biblical truth. Imagine holding a very expensive diamond in your hand. As you rotate it, each face of the precious stone offers its unique beauty, demonstrating its great worth. But the value of the gem will never be appreciated until you see the reflection of all its many faces. So it is with image-oriented biblical study. Each image offers a unique perspective of the topic being studied, in this case salvation, but it cannot reflect all there is to know about the subject. So with respect to our understanding of salvation, we can only gain a fuller appreciation of the salvation in which we walk by exploring the many and varied images or word-pictures describing that reality.

One group of images of salvation most often found in Luke’s writings are related to the notions of repentance, turning and following. These images are built on the idea of being on a way and choosing a new and different way to walk.

Another set of salvation images has to do with passing through a gate or doorway. These images emphasize the passage from one kind of life to another. Life is always different on the other side of the door.

A third collection of salvation images rotates around the notions of being saved, bought, set free or rescued. While these images focus on the release from bondage, the implication that follows readily is that in the new state believers are set free to live their lives fully in ways for which they were created.

A final group of salvation images revolves around the concepts of light and darkness. To experience salvation is to walk in the light of God instead of groping around in the darkness of our own ignorance and fear.

Aside from these groupings of images there are many that stand on their own, each providing an added dimension or reflecting another facet of the diamond of salvation. To experience salvation is to be born again or born of God, losing one’s life to find it, drinking living water, eating living bread. It can also be finding peace with God, being washed clean, opening one’s eyes, becoming citizens of heaven or receiving a gift from God.

It is really too bad when Christians latch on to one favorite image of salvation and assume that by sticking with that image they will discover the final and ultimate revelation on the subject. Our challenge is to keep looking through new windows, to take alternative routes down town, and to rotate the diamond we hold in our hands to catch the fullness of its beauty. And that is a life-long project.