The last couple of days I have written about salvation. In the Bible there are places where we are told that God loves us, that God's desire is to save us and that He wants all people to be with Him. We also know that there are numerous places where God allows people to walk away and suffer the consequences of their choices, the wrath of God. Lastly, we looked at the claim that because our actions are never perfect that God must save us by grace through our faith, but I asked the question, is there any indication that our faith is any less flawed than anything else we do?
I think some of the tension created for people is generated by how we understand the world. The basic model for most Christians that I know goes like this:
God made us to be happy with Him.
Adam (and Eve) sinned so we lost that relationship with God, now all of us suffer the fruits of Original Sin.
Every human is on the planet as a test and if we get it right when we die we can go to heaven.
Getting it right, however, is debated (some think confessing Jesus is the ticket, while others think we are judged by our works probably on a curve of some sort. There is a third group which combines the two in some form or fashion).
The key is we want to live 'right' so when we die we can go to heaven.
Ever been asked by someone, "If you died tonight do you know where you would go (for eternity)?"
Ever wondered why Jesus never asked anyone that question?
Having spent the last couple of years studying the Old Testament, I have noticed that the ancient Jews saw life differently. There is little or no discussion of "heaven" or the afterlife in the OT books. Salvation is almost always expressed globally as "God rescues Israel" or as deliverance from some personal threat. The word 'redeem' (which is an economic term for buying back a slave's freedom) is utilized as a metaphor to describe God's saving acts with Israel. [As I have shared in the past, the term "saved" and the term "healed" are the same Greek word in the NT.] With an almost exclusive focus on this present life and future generations, it is no surprise that there are even places where the OT denies that there is any life beyond the grave. I have to tell you, studying the OT as a young college seminarian was very disconcerting, because God just did not reveal the sort of info I expected based on my understanding of the world (see above, "test for heaven").
There is, however, a hunger expressed in the text. A desire to escape the current struggles and to experience shalom/peace/perfect order. The OT answer seems to be that once people submit to the rule of God and serve Him as true King, then there will by prosperity and justice. Then all will be well. The struggle between human rulers (foreign, Jewish or autonomy) and the Divine King is one of the strongest themes of the OT. The source of that struggle is rarely seen as demonic or satanic. It is, however, seen as a battle to the death.
I believe in the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of the dead. I cannot conceive that God created billions of people so as to save a small portion through a subjective, verbally confessed faith in Jesus Christ, while the vast majority serve the function of 'firewood for hell.' [Please note, I do not think my capacity to conceive or comprehend creates any limit on God. I am not saying God cannot deal with the world in that way. I am saying that I doubt that is how He deals with the world. I also think that if He does deal that way with the world that it may have pretty serious impact on our theories about godliness, mercy and justice.]
There are two streams in the OT. In one, God has set apart the Jews as His holy people. They have a mission to purify the land and to expell all the non-Jews. Extermination of the nations is a recurring demand in the Torah (see Deuteronomy, Joshua, Nehemiah). Alongside that call to isolated and holy existence is another stream. In the second stream, God calls Israel to be His people. They are set apart as His holy people. They are to be a blessing for the nations. All the nations shall stream to her temple and learn to worship God. Israel is to be a light to the world. This latter view, which is also found throughout the OT is exemplified in the promise to Abraham, late Isaiah, and some psalms.
If the world awaits God ascension to His throne on earth, then perhaps our working model of life is a bit off. Perhaps the parables of Jesus ask, when the King returns will you serve Him or resist Him? When the Son of Man judges the Nations (i.e. not Judaeo-Christians) it is based on kindnesses offered (food or drink, etc.) to others with whom Jesus self identifies. Is there some clue here?
In a kingdom spirituality, things like faith are central. Faith is our membership in the citizenry. But love suddenly matters, too, as does justice. Faith allows us entrance into the Kingdom (by God's grace) but the rules of the kingdom are still in place. There is a covenant expectation on our behavior. There are things we do and do not do. Suddenly, faith and works are subsumed in a larger concept of citizenship. This explains why Paul writes extensively of the centrality of faith and the uselessness of works in one place, only to list any number of behaviors which would exclude one from the kingdom in other places. What we do matters, even if we trust Jesus as our king. I have no illusions that I have solved every problem with this model, but I do know it seems closer to the world the Bible describes.