My salvation will last forever
“Give attention to me, my people,
and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
My righteousness draws near,
my salvation has gone out,
and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
and for my arm they wait.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.
(Isaiah 51:4-6 ESV)
At the end of the day, what lasts? What remains? What endures? If we move – what do we keep and what do we throw away? A piece of furniture or a piece of jewellery may last longer than we do but after you’ve moved a few times, I think, you realise, that while they’re good to have, none of our possessions, our things are super important. Gurus who talk about ‘de-cluttering’ your life suggest that if you haven’t used something in a year, you don’t need it. If all we leave behind is ‘stuff’ and nothing else then even if it’s a lot of ‘stuff’, most of us would say that there goes a poor life.
At the end of the day, what lasts? We may hear sentiments like: people are important – no one ever died saying they wished they’d spent more time at work – we are all alone until we accept the need for each other. As communal beings – created and grown in communities of one sort or another – we learn that those around us can enrich or belittle our lives. We learn to work at relationships – to get them right. Relationships are important to get right – they can hurt so much otherwise – but they do not necessarily last and those that do last are finally brought to an end by the grim reaper.
I suppose lasting is relative. If fruit flies living at around 25oCelsius live about 37 days, then one living for 70 days really lasted. If the giant tortoise lives around 177 years in captivity, then one which lived 120 years didn’t last very long. I wonder how long the mountains on this world will last? Science fiction might suggest that at some point humanity will evolve to the stars and this planet will just be dry deserts and mountains when the sun goes super nova. At the end of the all days, what will last? Here on earth? Nothing. That is what the logic of our existence, our drive to make life meaningful, and even the predictions of science all point to. At the end of the day, what is left? Here on Earth – nothing – not even the earth itself. Scripture confirms such thinking when Isaiah says: Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and they who dwell in it will die in like manner (Isaiah 51:6a,b).
Against such a back drop, we can understand why some people want to make their life count for something while some others just don’t get out of bed in the morning. It is how people deal with what lasts that shapes much of daily living. If there’s this eternal life – it lasts – it’s in the name ‘eternal’. If there’s no eternal life – then perhaps people can ‘last’ through their influence on or shaping of this world or simply by being remembered by someone and if people don’t care about ‘lasting’ then they might say “just drop me in a hole somewhere, Padre, when my number’s up, its all over”. Fatalism, humanism, and religion are all responses to humanity’s desire to last … even for a little while.
Christians are not immune to thoughts about our place in the scheme of things as we look to the vastness of the heavens, drink in the majestic beauty of the landscape, gaze in wonder at a new born baby, or use the counting of days as a trigger for thinking about pasts and futures. Why am I here? What does my life mean? What will last? Will it be me?
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) suggested that human beings couldn’t find comforting answers to such questions so they made up a being that was all-knowing because their knowledge was limited; all-powerful because they weren’t; and all-loving because that is what we crave most of all and hope will last – and people called this being ‘god’ – created in our image to sooth our fears and comfort us in the dark nights. An analysis of the religions of the world, in my opinion, suggests to me that Feuerbach makes a lot of sense.
Until, you come to a group of human beings who are organised in various denominations, categorised as religious, and who certainly talk about God a lot and even eternal life. At first glance, they’re just another religious projection of feeble minds. It’s when these people talk about their God whom they also say is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving – and yet point their hearers again and again to a cross – that Feuerbach’s view comes unstuck. These people, called Christians, focus on this cross – return to this cross – and in the broken,
powerless, scorned and hated body of Jesus – find God’s salvation. This is not a religion whereby you do the right thing by the deity and you might get to live a day longer. This is a relationship with the only true God that involves – carrying crosses, suffering even, struggling with sin and pride – and trusting this God to do with you as he wills, not the other way round.
Human beings in all situations have an eye for self interest and religion can be one big self interest event. Salvation is our goal which people can either achieve or at least make a contribution towards. Yet this cross again dares to be different and instead offers salvation freely – lasting forever – a righteousness of God that is given by God so that people might live. It is pure grace – with unforeseen consequences – not dividends from a good investment – or rewards for a good decision – but a life in this world whose only lasting quality is God’s salvation alone.
Luther even suggested that people who truly trust such a salvation would be prepared for God to even send them to hell because all that matters is God and his will – which because of the cross is always for us and not against us – and thus for such a person ‘their hell is heaven’.1 Christianity does not offer wages for effort, bonuses for overtime, or blessings for being on the right team – all it does is proclaim a cross through which God gives himself.
We participate in the living but we don’t have overall control. And on life’s journey whether with laughter or groans – plenty or poverty – Christians declare that ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord’ not on the basis of the benefits they’re receiving but through faith in the one who died on the cross.
And this faith can be observed – not proven – as these Christians live in all circumstances giving thanks to God for the one thing needful – his Word, himself – his salvation given in baptism, strengthened in Holy Communion – and lived out with a peace that passes all understanding; a humility born of self awareness that even I, a sinner, am loved by God; and a daily thankfulness for my daily bread and my daily life.
Only in Christ, we can also say that Redeemer Lutheran Church will last. On earth this building or our future buildings, the furniture, the bulletins, the pastor and people, even the coffee machine / teapot – will all come and go – but, through faith, God’s salvation will last forever and his righteousness (in Christ) will never fail.
This we believe – and so we live.
1 Cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, p.286.
- Isaiah 51:4 - 6