A message to President Obama about salvation

Ted Grimsrud

[A friend of mine, in response to yesterday’s post, asked me to imagine trying to summarize my ideas about salvation so that they could be presented, say, to President Obama in 90 seconds. Recognizing that the President is a Christian, I will assume a certain level of common understanding and common commitments—such as belief in God, respect for the Bible, and acceptance that ultimately we as human beings are accountable to God and not free simply to operate in an autonomous way.]

God is a God of justice, and the universe operates according to this justice. However, contrary to many conceptions of justice, the biblical picture of God’s justice presents it in terms of healing and reconciliation, not punishment and retribution (or even strict fairness). God’s justice seeks to heal and restore people and relationships that have been broken.

From the beginning of the Bible, God works to bring healing in face of brokenness. Humanity’s biggest problem has been not trusting in God’s healing justice (which is an expression of God’s love, not in tension with it). Rather, humanity has tended to trust in sources of meaning and security other than God—that is, in idols.

Tragically, trusting in idols rather than in God exacerbates the problems of brokenness and alienation. The worst idols, according to the Bible, tend to be human kingdoms with their power politics, religious institutions, and cultural boundary markers. Like most idols, these human structures are part of created reality and can play a life-enhancing role when they are kept in perspective and do not usurp God.

The clearest indication that such structures have become idols is when people commit violence against other people in their service. The God of the Bible, revealed most clearly in Jesus, does not ask people to do such violence.

God’s way of bringing healing has been to intervene in human history with expressions of mercy that reveal God’s welcome to all who turn to and trust in God—and turn away from idols. Most profoundly, God intervened through God’s Son Jesus, whose life and teaching displayed consistent love and healing justice.

The Powers that inhabit idolatrous social structures worked in concert to crush this expression of God’s mercy that, if recognized and embraced, frees people from their idolatries. God responded to the violence of the Powers against Jesus by raising him from the dead, vindicating his life, exposing the Powers, and providing the model for how salvation might be embodied. The path of salvation is clear—turn from the ways of the Beast and simply follow Jesus (the Lamb) wherever he goes (Revelation 13–14).

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4 thoughts on “A message to President Obama about salvation

  1. In this presentation there is no Cross. No substitutionary atonement. Quite different than the apostolic message. Cf. Paul who said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Obviously the resurrection was a part of his core gospel as well, but he didn’t skip over the suffering of Christ for our sins. When pacifism becomes the controlling center of one’s theology, God’s retributive justice (including a penal substitutionary atonement) is too often rejected. I do see restorative justice (grace) in Scripture, alongside retributive justice. We should avoid the temptation to choose either/or.

  2. Well, Ted, this is a wonderful “try.” I admire you. I followed you all the way until the final paragraph. It seems to me you are making some huge assumptions there that need to be more clearly articulated.
    1. What is resurrection in a “presidential” context? Are you talking rimarily about some metaphysical “miracle”? Or the socio-political effects of some kind of long-term, Jesus-oriented political strategy?
    2. Is salvation primarily personal (so that the political can be largely ignored)? Or is the salvation you are really trying to share with Obama fundamentally a socio-political-cultural reality in which we as individuals participate and which we are ultimately privileged to share/become?

    Again, thanks for your 90-second attempt at the impossible.

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