Is someone beyond salvation
"Pastor, it was a relief for grandpa that he could finally die." I have heard such sentences many times in my everyday work. Someone is lying down with severe ailment, is in severe pain, and is getting less and less from day to day. The relatives suffer with him, and even if they do not want to lose him or her, they are as if redeemed themselves when death comes. "It was a redemption", this sentence also says that there are worse things than death, yes, that redemption from suffering sometimes means redemption from life.
The Christian message of salvation was and is often understood as follows: It is about liberation from the sufferings and limitations of this earthly life in death. "In heaven" we are redeemed when we have left this earthly vale of misery behind us. It is a great comfort when we can have the hope and the certainty that salvation to a new, healing and good life awaits us beyond the threshold of death. Yet redemption is much more than that.
In the Old Testament "redemption" means something very earthly and at the same time divine. When the Old Testament speaks of salvation, it is about the liberation of the people of Israel. In Exodus it is reported how God announced to Moses that he would free the people from captivity in Egypt:
"And I will lead you away from the burdens that the Egyptians put on you ... and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm."
Or it is about the "second exodus", the liberation from the Babylonian exile. Especially in chapters 40 to 59 of the Book of Isaiah it is about the redemption that God intends with his people, yes, which he has already brought about:
"Do not be afraid, I have redeemed you ..." (Is 43.1).
Even if this prophet speaks of salvation in magnificent, almost eschatological images, it is about salvation in this world, about something very earthly.
But the salvation from Babylon was not the great liberation of the people that the prophet announced. Israel was and remained a dependent, tributary province under changing foreign rule: first the Persians ruled, later the successors of Alexander the great and finally the Romans. It was precisely the "pious" who tried to cling to the faith of their fathers and therefore resisted the religious confusion of the Hellenistic and Roman times, who suffered from the occupiers. The hope of salvation remained alive.
But over time it became more and more clear: Many have already died who had worshiped God with total devotion and kept faithful to him and his commandments. And yet redemption had not come. Israel was and remained a zone of occupation. In time a new hope arises: God is faithful and he is so great that death cannot place any limits on his faithfulness. After the devotion of his followers has not been honored in this life, he will reward them after death in a future life. Thus, in the book of Daniel, for example, the idea arises that the righteous will be redeemed to eternal life after death (Dan 12: 2).
The hereafter was in the background for Jesus
In the New Testament we make an interesting observation: The word "salvation" does not appear in the mouth of Jesus, except in one place: In the Lord's Prayer. "Deliver us from evil." And it is entirely in keeping with Jesus' message that he means evil here and now. For Jesus it is clear that there will be an afterlife and that suffering and pain will then be healed. But he doesn't put much emphasis on that part of the belief. His message is summed up in the Gospels with the words: "The kingdom of God is at hand. So repent, change your attitude, rely on this good news." (Mk. 1,14-15).
Jesus did not teach a belief in salvation according to the motto: Be good, decent and inconspicuous here, then you will be rewarded in heaven. For Jesus, the hereafter is in the background. It is good to be able to trust that my life will not be wiped out by death, that nothing that I do and suffer here in this life is in vain. But what matters much more to him is the release from fears and compulsions, from exclusion and egocentrism. In this life! Those who entrust themselves to God are freed from worrying about themselves. They are freed from the compulsion to constantly secure themselves and to have to give their own meaning to their lives. He is released from circling around himself, the fear of coming up short or missing out on life.
Of course, man will fail again and again. He will fall back into fears, will revolve around himself, again and again lose himself in egocentricity and worry. The important thing is: The redemption that Jesus preached must not become a new claim: "You must be redeemed!" I can open myself to the redemption that has already happened. This is the focus of Paul. Even if I fail again and again, I am redeemed, through the death of Jesus on the cross (e.g. Gal 3:13 or Eph 1,7). This is where the perspective of the hereafter comes back into play: God will not punish me after my death if I stick to Jesus Christ and what he did for me through his death and resurrection.
Released from fear for my own life, I can open up to my fellow human beings
Of course, this in turn has an impact on this world. For Martin Luther it was the decisive, life-saving relief when he realized that we do not have to be right with God through our own piety, but that everything is right between God and us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was able to let go of the fear that the medieval notions of Christ as the merciless judge had aroused in him. He was free to get out of the system of fear, coercion and dogmatic rigidity, and his rediscovery of Paul's message of freedom has given countless people courage and joy in life since then - for life in this world. Because the afterlife is taken care of, we don't need to worry about it.
This message is still very relevant today. How great people's fear of dying is can be seen in the way death is pushed out of our lives. But as long as death is experienced as the great threat, the message of salvation cannot be heard here and now, or only with great difficulty. Anyone who is convinced that "everything is over" with death can hardly accept the message that we need not be afraid of anything or anyone, that we do not need to give meaning to our lives ourselves because it also makes sense in failure.
When I am released from fear for my own life, I can open up to my fellow human beings. I can do what is mine to ensure that they too experience liberation and redemption. We learn from the Bible that this liberation is something very earthly. It is about liberation and redemption from disease-causing, enslaving structures, i.e. about the redemption of the community. And the point is that the individual comes into a good and healthy relationship with himself, with his fellow human beings and with God.
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