Saving is a process

by Kristin on February 3, 2012

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by thebittenword

Saved. It’s one of those words that has such powerful, deeply resonant implications, as well as judgmental, divisive, fear-inducing potential, depending on when, how, and where it’s used.

Many of our uses of the word “save” are banal—we take a different route to save time, we buy a smaller car to save gas, we save money to buy something we want, and we save leftovers so we can eat them later. In some uses the word takes on more weight. We help save the environment by recycling. We save a friendship by having an important conversation. In old movies, the phrase “You saved my life,” is usually followed by a long kiss and eventually a wedding.

But the particular phrase “I am saved” has unquestionable Christian meaning. Even saying “I was saved” implies a work of God, right? (Although it could apply to the work of a paramedic or surgeon.) Which brings me to the heart of the matter: We can’t really understand what we mean by “saved” unless we’re willing to ask “Saved from what?”

The importance of saying what we mean

This is where our discussion about the word “saved” last night at our Bible & Beer group got interesting for me. Because often when Christians use the word “saved” they mean saved—in a single moment of conversion—from hell. It’s a black and white distinction: I was lost, now I’m found; I was in peril, now I’m saved. Done.

(An aside: I don’t pretend to actually know what others mean when they use Christian jargon, but I do know something about how most people hear and understand it. I think that’s a pretty good argument for all of us taking a bit more time to explain whatever it is that we each mean when we use these words.)

That common Christian understanding doesn’t sit well with me, for a number of reasons (some I won’t get into now, like my understanding of hell). For one, I don’t appreciate the use of black and white labels—I’m in, you’re out. But more importantly, on a personal level, I believe being saved is a process, one that involves being saved from countless little and big things throughout your life. There are alternate translations of the Greek word sodzo which fit that understanding, including “made whole” and “healed.” We all know those both involve a long and sometimes painful process.

“Rescued” is another translation, so I’m going to substitute that here for saved. (Btw, I am not a Greek scholar! My pastor shared these translations with me.) What am I rescued from on a daily basis? I am rescued from my poor judgment and bad decisions, whether I make a better decision at the last moment or I go through with the bad decision and am able to navigate my way out. I am rescued from the ways the world presses in on me, and beats me up. I am rescued from my own self doubt and lack of trust. I am rescued like the Psalmist was, again and again, and also like the Psalmist I recognize that the “saving” doesn’t always happen when and how I wish it would. That fits in with the idea of saving being a process, too.

These are all rescue stories I am willing to share. What I’m not willing to do is just say “I’m saved,” without further explanation.

How do you feel about the word “saved?” What have you been saved or rescued from?

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  • Sipech

    Yes, yes and a thousand times yes!

    I too have not been comfortable with the idea of switch where one moment you are not saved/rescued and the next moment you are.

    There is of course another view, where, in addition to being saved/rescured from something, we might be being saved/rescued for something. In other words, the christian message is less of a 19th century fearmongering hellfire and brimstone kind of idea, and far more about looking forward to the future resurrection. If you’ve not read it, I’d recommend Tom Wright’s ‘Surprised by Hope’ which exands on this much more, though I would add that I don’t quite agree with everything he says there.

    Thanks for this.

  • Dan J

    Hi Kristin! I love this post. :)

    For one, I don’t appreciate the use of black and white labels—I’m in, you’re out.

    That’s a sentiment that I truly appreciate. The exclusivity that some religious groups put into practice every day relies heavily on those black and white distinctions. I think it’s very divisive, not just for religious groups, but for society as a whole.

    …I believe being saved is a process, one that involves being saved from countless little and big things throughout your life.

    This!!! For myself and other atheists, that would be the only attitude that truly makes any sense. If I am able to deny any or all religious concepts of how I should live my life, yet could be “saved” by a deathbed conversion, why bother with all the hard work in the first place?

    If a serial killer spends his life as an avowed atheist, murders a dozen innocent people, then confesses his sins to a minister while sitting in the electric chair moments before his death, is he “saved?” Is he immediately turned into a “good Christian?”

    For myself, it’s how we live our lives each day that matters. Dying is the easy part.

  • aniko

    Hi do you feel about saying ‘I am being saved,’ ie God is saving me every day – helping me heal, find my way, grow and be more like the best I can be? I actually like the idea of being kept safe for eternity, but if ‘saved’ has those meanings (and I don’t doubt it – actually I think I read sth related very recently), we could use the progressive and be quite accurate, don’t you think? By the way, have you ever read a book called ’10 things your minister wants to tell you’ by Rev Oliver Thomas? Interesting.

    Thanks for the discussion! Beer and Bibles sounds fun!

  • aniko

    I think I meant ‘how’ do you feel about….


  • The Modern Gal

    There’s probably no other word that makes me feel so different from other Christians as the word ‘saved.’ As a Catholic, I usually hear that word in connection with the ensuing argument that Catholics aren’t saved because ‘they believe they need both God and good works to get to Heaven’ — an argument which I feel shows a fundamental lack of understanding about Catholicism and how we’re all tied together as Christians. Hearing the word ‘saved’ in relation to Christianity therefore has always been like nails on a chalkboard to me. If I hear it, it usually means my faith is about to get assaulted.

  • Ray Hollenbach

    Sometimes words, even good ones, get in the way. For example, at one point in his ministry Billy Graham quit using the phrase “born again,” favoring instead, “born from above:” both equally valid translations of the same idea.

    So it is with saved. Although part of the Biblical lexicon, it stopped being useful 25 years ago. I love aniko’s formulation, “God is saving me every day.” What good is it to be plucked from the fire if I am still the kind of person prone to start another blaze? I have been saved; I am being saved; and I trust by his grace that he will save me still.

  • Jonelle (warnoj)

    Thanks for this post. As a newly appointed “Elder” in my church, I am finding myself needing that saving every day, as Aniko so nicely put it. And, Ray, I loved the blaze metaphor.

  • ed cyzewski

    Perhaps any time we can refresh our language, we do ourselves a favor. Thanks for rethinking this. Good thoughts.

  • William A. Marshall

    Each day as the sun sinks into the horizon, we all experience a certain death, i.e., going under. However, there comes a “morning yearning” (e.g., Ben Harper), concerning another chance to get it right. This represents a rebirth. I leave you with this poem by Kierkegaard:
    “In yet a little while
    I shall have won;
    Then the whole fight
    Will at once be done.
    Then I may rest
    In bowers of roses
    And perpetually
    Speak with my Jesus.”

  • Jen

    Rescued… I like that.

    When I first understood just what I believe (around 14, 15… you know, the age when we know everything. :)) I was totally on board with the idea of saved. It was like all the years of believing didn’t matter and I had arrived! If only I knew the doubt, the growth, and the day by day rescuing still to come… and is still coming. I’m thankful to be rescued, day by day. (It’s a lot more interesting that way!)

  • Joi

    Such helpful conversation all around this important topic! I thought you might like also to read this verse, translated into contemporary language in “The Message”:
    “God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.” Col. 1:13-14

  • Kristin T.

    Sipech, a big yes to this! “…in addition to being saved/rescued from something, we might be being saved/rescued for something.” This reminds me of a teaching my pastor gave a while back on the word “repent,” which is a turning away from something but ALSO a turning toward something. We can always choose to frame these things in the positive or the negative—it’s sad that the negative seems to so often be the focus.

    Dan J, thanks! I always love your insights. You’re absolutely right—what might seem like a small seed of divisiveness really has the potential to grow into something that divides our society in big ways. In terms of lifelong conversions versus the deathbed sort, I definitely focus on the long-term process, but I’m also not going to say that a whole lot of forgiveness isn’t possible in a moment (we, for instance, might be able to have a reconciling, forgiving experience with a parent or sibling on their deathbed—as a believer in God, I can’t begin to grasp how much more he is capable of). Either way, though, I think the term “saved,” as it is most often used, misleads and divides.

    aniko, I really like changing it to that active verb form, although I have a hard time imagining actually saying it! Maybe if someone asked me “Are you saved?” I would respond “I’m in the process of being saved, every day.” Have you ever said anything like that to anyone? (Thanks for the book suggestion! I have not read it—will definitely add it to my list.)

    The Modern Gal, I’m really grateful for your perspective here, but I’m also sorry that you have a personal experience like this to tell. I’m certainly aware of the ways Protestants and Catholics have disagreed over the centuries, but I never fail to be surprised when I hear personal accounts of Christians assaulting other Christians (or assaulting ANYONE, for that matter). It’s never acceptable.

    Ray, I love how just using a synonym or equally valid translation can make us hear something in a new way (like “born from above,” or “rescued”). Most likely we’ll never get it just right, but if we keep working at it rather than gravitating to the cliches, we’ll be a lot closer. (Also, this is great: “What good is it to be plucked from the fire if I am still the kind of person prone to start another blaze?”)

    Jonelle, isn’t it interesting, if we’re being honest with ourselves, how being in a position of leadership makes us more aware of how far we have to go? Blessings on your work at your church, and your openness to being daily “saved.”

  • Kristin T.

    ed, absolutely! There are so many words that, ironically, get in the way of communication.

    William, the whole idea of ‘new mercies each morning’ really sustains me some days. Thank you for sharing the Kierkegaard poem, too. I haven’t had enough Kierkegaard in my life since my days hanging out in the Calvin College philosophy department. :)

    Jen, I know! “Rescued” seems like an obvious synonym, in a way, but it somehow changes so much in this context. And yes to this: “If only I knew the doubt, the growth, and the day by day rescuing still to come…” That’s one of those things you can’t really teach a teen—they sort of have to experience it on their own.

    Joi, I love the image of the “dead-end alleys.” I’ve seen a few of those! Thanks for sharing that verse and translation.

  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    I mostly need to be saved from myself. (This seems an ongoing issue)