Kathleen Norris says in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith that the Hebrew word for “salvation” means literally “to make wide” or “to make sufficient.” She tells the story of a friend on a destructive path who got out; he “recognized that the road he had taken was not wide enough to sustain his life; it was sufficient only as a way leading to death.”
I went to a small group this week where the theme was Christ as Victor. We talked about the meaning of the resurrection, and it was said that death was not a part of God’s plan, and I wondered. Death is a subject that has been on my mind this summer. I read Annie Dillard and was reminded how rampant death is in nature, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a bad thing. Our skin cells are dying every second to keep us new. Death in the earth makes fertile ground, so plants and trees can thrive. This itself seems to me a sort of rebirth.
Genesis does not read as a scientific account to me, so I’ve wondered what Eden might mean in light of what is known about our planet’s history, the billions of years of life and death and more life. In the story itself, the death promised to Adam and Eve is not a literal one. God says in the day they eat of the fruit of the tree, they shall surely die, but they don’t die. Not physically, for many years. What change might sin have wrought upon the world? What could be the meaning of death without sin?
Perhaps I am losing my more fundamentalist readers who believe Genesis is a literal account and I am ignoring God’s clearly written word. I would say to you only that I love the story of Eden. I think it is beautiful and true, but I think truth comes in different forms. We could have a long discussion about the genre of our oldest scriptures, about truth and myth, but that’s not what this post is about.
When I posed the question to the small group of what the world might look like without the cycle of death we know so well, the necessity of death to make way for new life, someone said, “There’s a lot of room. There’s no competition.”
And while I cannot fathom a natural world like that, one ever-growing, ever-expanding, always more and more—something in those words rang true. After all, scientists say the universe is expanding at a rate of 74 kilometers per second (per megaparsec). Perhaps this is in preparation for some vast explosion of life to come.
Whatever the physical implications for our world, it seems to me that is the essence of the Kingdom: there is more room.
Room for wide experiences. Room for those of us wondering if we truly fit.
It’s been a long road for me finding where I belong in Christianity. I’m not 100 percent there yet. In other small groups and churches most of my life, I have felt a need to conform my faith to look the same as everyone else. To fit into a box where we would all think about God the same way, all use the same words and experience the same call of the Holy Spirit to take certain action.
I have felt like I was hiding myself—my suspicions of people saying that “God told them” something very specific, my distaste of much Christian music, but most isolating of all, the feeling that I had to believe certain things without question—or if I did have questions, that I had to accept simple answers in blind faith.
I have so very many questions. Some that are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, some that seem incredibly important, yet most unanswerable. For example, why sacrifice at all? How does more death fix anything? Jesus is compared to the lambs slaughtered for Israel’s sins in the Old Testament, and many other ancient religions have similar practices, but why? How can one life ever make up for the faults of another? It seems in some ways the most barbaric and unjust of practices.
And yet, Jesus. Immanuel. God with us. My heart marvels at this God in man and the ancient scriptures we read as prophecy about him:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace;
and with his stripes we are healed.
He drinks the cup the Father gives him; he is nailed to a cross, and I cry holy.
My faith these days seems most clearly defined by wonder—both the skeptical sort and the kind that steps back in awe. You can study about thunderstorms, or you can step out and watch the flash of lightning, feel the pulsing thunder. There is a time for both.
In another section of her book, Kathleen Norris writes that “at its Greek root, ‘to believe’ simply means ‘to give one’s heart to.’” I think my soul gave a small sigh of relief as I read those words, because yes, I can do that. I am doing that. I think that is why, in spite of questions, I keep coming to church. In fact, I think that is why I ask these questions to begin with, because I have given my heart and I need to know what that means. I need to keep searching to know the savior I love, because love is fluid and moving and constantly wanting more. It is not a rigidly held doctrine about another being.
And so we come back to resurrection. Perhaps by now you think I’ve lost my train of thought. I haven’t, though perhaps I’m making obscure connections.
In resurrection life, in the Kingdom of God, there is room. Room for skeptics and awed pilgrims. Room for Christians who cover their walls in inspirational verses and room for those who can’t stand verses pulled out of context. There is room for those who would worship like Mary pouring ointment on Jesus’ feet, wiping it with her hair, and those who like Thomas demand to touch the holes in Jesus’ hands and side.
Our Lord does not answer to only one type of faith. He comes holding out his hands for us to see, he comes in bright and stunning visions on the road, and he comes in quieter, more ponderous faith.
This is salvation, a widening. This is resurrection, all of us breathing a taste of what we are meant to be, reflecting the many faces of our Creator. This is the Kingdom of God.