A Pilgrim's Catechism
The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey
Towards the Reign of God
HISTORY OF SALVATION
Rosso Fiorentino: Allegory of Salvation with the Virgin and Christ Child, St. Elizabeth and the Young John the Baptist
What do we mean by the history of salvation?
To begin with it is not God’s history. God exists in the ever-present now without before or after. God therefore does not have a history. God just exists; God just is.
Neither does the world of things have a history. Things are in space and time. They change according to the laws of nature but they do not have a history. They are just there.
Humans however do have a history. Humans are free even though that freedom is limited. Humans ex-ist. They go out of themselves and interact with one another and with the world. Through this interaction humans create a future which is not a mere repetition of what went before.
The history of salvation is the history of human beings as they interact with one another and the world in response to the one unchanging act of God which calls them in every moment and everywhere to accept and grow in his life.
Gustave Doré: Moses Coming Down From Mt. Sinai
What is the basic storyline in the people's understanding of the history of salvation?
The foundation event in the history of the Israelites is Exodus and Sinai. In that experience the Israelites understood that God had led them out of political slavery into political freedom and met them at the holy mountain where he revealed himself to them as their God for them, his people, and commanded them to lead good lives in obedience to the Law and promised them life in the Land.
The Israelites would later recall that God had originally promised the Land to Abraham whom he had summoned forth from his home in Haran, and to Abraham's descendants, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants.
The Israelites also recalled the origin of sin in the world by their first parents, Adam and Eve, and by their progeny which brought about the flood and how God had saved the one good Man, Noah, and his family. The Israelites rehearsed as well the beginning of corporate sin in the story of Babel and the dispersal of the people throughout the world which followed.
Despite their experience of the saving reality of Exodus and Sinai, the Israelites then rebelled against God in the desert and had to be purged of their sinfulness over 40 years before finally entering the Land under Joshua.
They continued to surrender to evil even in the Land. There was division among the people and punishments send by God especially through the Assyrians who carried off the ten northern tribes and the Babylonians who took the people of Judea into captivity. Later there would be the scourge of the Hellenists and the Romans.
During all of this time there were prophets continually summoning the people to give up their evil ways and return to holiness of life.
By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews were especially looking forward to a messiah to deliver them from the Roman occupation and return the Land to the people.
Jesus, on the other hand, preached an otherworldly reign of God which was final and absolute in its victory over evil, which reign was already bursting into the world. Healing accompanied his words.
Jesus was put to death on account of his preaching, a menace to the Jewish authorities and the Romans.
The followers of Jesus then experienced him risen from the dead and gathered in expectation of his imminent return and the end of the world. They united in the Church baptizing and breaking Bread together and striving to live a communal life of shared love as they waited.
The Christ event, recognized as deliverance from sin and death and incorporation into the life of God himself, replaced Exodus and Sinai as the saving mystery for Jesus’ followers.
Finally the Church settled down under the leadership of bishops challenging one another to lead lives of holiness in God’s grace as they celebrated the sacraments and looked forward to the world to come. The Church over the centuries, often a beacon of holiness, experienced its own divisions, strife and evil.
Alexander Master: Moses Raises his Arms in Prayer that Joshua will Defeat the Amalekites
Does God in fact intervene in history?
God acts in history but he does not intervene much less takes over in history. God’s act that is his being is one and unchanging. Yet its effects are felt all through history. In this one act that is his being, God continually creates the world and calls humanity in every time and place to accept and to grow constantly in his divine life and power. God’s one act offers forgiveness to all who have sinned who will accept it. Foregiveness is freely offered and never needs to be sought after. Since God’s act is one and unchanging, God, unlike created human beings, never acts here or there, now or then.
A popular understanding of God has God taking part in the world as the principal actor deciding for this event and not that, a God who responds to supplication by taking over in the lives of his creatures, fixing this problem but leaving another unresolved, healing one person but not another.
Rather God is constantly present to the world creating it and offering his divine life and growth in that life to all humans who will accept it but he does not enter within the world to manage its activities and direct its affairs.
Deism understands God as a creator who, having created, leaves the world to progress on its own, like the watchmaker who, after making the watch, leaves it on the mantelpiece to tick away.
Against the deists, although God does not intervene or take over in the world, God’s one, unchanging act is constant in creating the world and calling humanity to grow in divine life.