Standing the Fire

Soteriology–the doctrine of salvation–is my favorite topic in Christian theology. In many ways, it’s the center around which all other doctrines revolve, given that it gets at the heart of the gospel message of what Jesus has done for us; and I love the fact that the church endorses a wide variety of images and metaphors to describe it. The possibilities are vast, and the conversations are always rich and rewarding.

The part I don’t like, however, is the way in which some Christians use the assurance of their own salvation as a club to wield against others, seemingly taking great delight in their conviction that certain people are going to hell. This seems to me to be a profoundly unChristian attitude for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because whether or not it is true, salvation is not for us to decide–that’s God’s job, and in the meantime, we should in Christian love earnestly hope that God will “save” everyone, whatever that might look like. That’s the least we can do.

However, that’s not all we can do. I just came upon this statement from Sojourner Truth, as quoted by Margit Ernst-Habib in her chapter in Feminist and Womanist Essays in Reformed Dogmatics. Here’s what she says:

“You seem to be expecting to go to some parlor away up somewhere, and when the wicked have been burnt, you are coming back to walk in triumph over their ashes–this is to be your New Jerusalem!!  Now I can’t see anything so very nice in that, coming back to such a muss as that will be, a world covered with the ashes of the wicked!  Besides, if the Lord comes and burns–as you say he will–I am not going away; I am going to stay here and stand the fire, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!  And Jesus will walk with me through the fire, and keep me from harm. Nothing belong to God can burn, anymore than God himself; such shall have no need to go away to escape the fire!  No, I shall remain. Do you tell me that God’s children can’t stand fire?”

Taking Truth’s statement to heart, it’s not enough just to passively hope for other people’s salvation–instead, we are called to stand with them and walk with them, even into the depths of hell if need be. What are we afraid of? If there is a hell, surely Jesus is there, with the God-forsaken and the condemned, just like he was on the cross. And as a Christian, my place is with Christ, and with those he loves. Maybe instead of concentrating so much on salvation as what gets us out, away from here, maybe we should think of it more as what enables us to stay here and “stand the fire.” Less escaping, more abiding–that feels more faithful to me.

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