I have a problem with several issues when it comes to Soteriology. For those reading this who are not familiar with Christian theological terms, Soteriology is the study of salvation and is generally used in reference to Christian salvation.
First on the list is the idea that salvation is unconditional. Grace is freely bestowed on the believer. The believer is not saved by works, or by earning it in any way; it is a gift, offered freely and without cost to the believer. Or so we are led to believe. I contend that this concept does not make sense. If salvation is a free gift and we as human beings can contribute nothing to our own salvation, but 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 from either the Arminian freewill approach versus the Calvinist predestination ideal, 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 on the last day. So, if we are not saved by works but by grace, I ask again, why aren' t we all saved?
Let me explain further what I am thinking in regard to this matter. If there is some requirement for us to receive salvation, it can logically be said that we have earned our salvation through the performance of the requirement. I have heard it explained that we must believe the gospel 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. Therefore, 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 my skeptical mind went like this: If a deposit is made in your bank account making you a millionaire, then it can be said you have the free gift. It is up to you to make a withdrawal to reap the benefits of the gift, you have to believe that it is there in your account in order to make use of the money. This analogy was persuasive to me for quite some time, but I believe it breaks down in the fact that whether I use the money or not, I am still rich, and on my death my estate will benefit even if I lived like a pauper all my life. I do not loose 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 affected is my lifestyle.
I am constantly told that the Christian religion is different because all other religions require it's 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 regards to this. The true believer in Christ must pray the sinners prayer, he or she must repent, turning from their old lifestyle and sin, they must ask Jesus to become the Lord of their Life. 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, then my seat on the heaven train is unavailable to me.
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, that 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 before crucifixion being beaten and scourged. 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 evenly compare with an eternity in torment. In the book of Genesis, the consequence of sin was death. Adam and Eve and all of humanity began to die, and continue to do so to this day. Christians are absolved from that since Christ died in their place, so why do they still die? Obviously everyone still dies, so it is contingent on religionists to spiritualize the plain words of Scripture that states that Christ has set the believer free from the wages of sin through his free gift.
If I accept that the free gift of eternal life is resigned to a future after 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, is 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 who my son victimized, would they be satisfied with my death in his place, while he roamed quilt less for his own crimes? The concept of justice that is promoted by the Biblical writers is defies simple logic. It is quite frankly bazaar.
The retreat of Christianity is to foam at the mouth here and state emphatically that we cannot 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 dependant 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 had to endure will be lavishly rewarded in the next life.
In Porgy & Bess there is a song which says, "It aint necessarily so, the things that you're liable to read in the Bible, it aint necessarily so." The ancient Egyptians spent their whole lives preparing for the afterlife. Some of them 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 give us reflection on our own beliefs and what we do with our lives now.
This is the only life we have.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)