At a recent bible study I decided to do a quick run through of our ‘salvation history’. I expected it to be a fun little review, a chance to retell our story but it turned out to be new to participants in the study and they encouraged a wider sharing of this particular expression of our faith. So here goes…
Salvation history is a telling of our faith story with a theme of God striving to redeem humanity. The story typically begins with the second creation story from Genesis, Adam and Eve in the Garden. For the purposes of this telling this story is about the fall from grace, it is about disobedience. Given a paradise and complete freedom save the command not to eat of the one tree, humanity disobeyed and entered into a conflicted relationship with creation. Now as with so many biblical stories this is not about something that happened long, long ago this is about something that happens all the time. We live in an abundant creation but we abuse it and enter into a conflicted relationship with it. (Our current struggle with climate change are a prime example of this.) The point is that we are estranged from God and creation.
The next story often told in this narrative is that of Noah and the flood. It is a story that imagines resetting creation, starting over. Maybe the problem was a particular group of people and a new group could do better. But following the flood God looks upon the earth and realizes that nothing has changed. Humanity is what it is and God (and we) will have to work with what we’ve got. God covenants, in this story, to never destroy the earth again. God commits to working with us, flawed though we may be.
The covenant with Abraham and Sarah comes next. One small group of people commit to living differently, to living as God wills. God promises to make them a light to the nations and to make them as numerous as the stars. People can choose to live differently, people can choose to live in greater harmony with creation, in greater peace with one another and when they do so they become a sign of hope for others. Again, this is easily placed into our modern context. We choose to live less anxious, less consumptive lives and in so doing show others that there is another way to be in the world.
Now when a people decide to live differently they then have to spell out how, exactly, they shall live. The next chapter in the story is the Mosaic covenant, the giving of the law. We commit to things like honouring the Sabbath, not killing, not coveting. There are actually 613 laws and the idea was that if we followed them all it would be like being back in the garden; all would be well. Unfortunately following all the laws perfectly seems to be beyond our capacity. And so more is needed for our salvation.
We then enter a period of prophetic imagination in which people dream of what the world could be like, what human/divine relationship could be like, what human/human relationship could be like. It is a rich and hopeful telling of peace and harmony. Wine and milk are enjoyed without cost, workers reap the reward of the labours, justice prevails. In our bible study this was seen as the hardest part of the story to tell today. People are cynical and do not have a lot of hope. It was hard to imagine how the dream could be told without coming across as naive.
The birth of Jesus becomes the fulfillment, the climax of this narrative. Salvation is achieved in him. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, the incarnate one. God has entered creation and become one with it, overcoming the estrangement long suffered. Now we can see the sacred in the mundane, now we know that God is with us in all things – from cross to resurrection. In his life Jesus brings us back into the garden. The feeding of the 5000 is such an experience; creation is once again abundant and good.
Paul reflects on this in his talk of Jesus as the new Adam. Adam was disobedient but Jesus, when facing temptation, was obedient and so has redefined our humanity. We can choose a different path. We do not have to be defined by sin, estrangement, brokenness. Of course we continue to be the people of the Noah covenant and so are as flawed as any previous generation but we have seen that flashes of the kingdom are possible, we can live into the prophetic imagination if only for certain bursts of time. Beyond that there is grace. As Paul says, “now nothing can separate us from the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This Salvation History is complex and does not match our longing for a one time, fix all kind of solution. This understanding of salvation involves an ongoing, ever deepening relationship with God, a constant movement back and forth. Individually and corporately we move from the garden to the fall to various covenants over the course of our lives, sometimes over the course of a day. Each chapter in the salvation narrative is also a spiritual state of being, a political commentary, a confession, and an act of praise.
Christmas is a time in which the story is often told. In many churches it is told through a Service of Lessons and Carols. In anticipation of our own such service I shared this telling of the faith with our bible study group. I hope it has meaning for you. I hope Christmas is a fulfillment, a salvific experience. If nothing else I hope this gives you a way to reflect on your life and faith and on humanity’s current state. The Bible remains a text of rich complexity.