No Salvation

This essay is another of my adaptations of old journal entries. The original was written on 2/22/1988.


journaling, 1988

At last I learned that there is no salvation. I had retreated from belief in God and Jesus to the seemingly finer ideas of Buddha-mind and eternal Christ-Light, hoping for deliverance through them. And for a time, not seeing the circularity, I could sincerely use their conceptual milieu to frame subjective experiences — “satori,” “pure awareness,” “cosmic consciousness” — as evidentiary. But life proved the emptiness, as it were, of such enlightenment. Eventually, I saw that those concepts, too, had functioned as superstitions, attempts to make something of nothing. I had to acknowledge that there is nothing to believe or hope in.

There is no salvation. There is nothing I can do, or anyone do for me, that can rescue me from being what I am: a human animal conditioned in every sense. No deliverance from guilt, pain, death. No act, belief, or experience that would make acceptable the unacceptable. No person, institution, concept, or intuition to hope in. Nothing to hold, seek, or look forward to. Nothing anywhere any better than this.

Shall I believe or trust, then, in this? That is, shall I worship what is? If I can do that, then what is has become an abstraction — has become what is not. Must I trust, then, in an ineffable truth beyond my knowing? But there is no unknown truth, for the mind, which trusts only what it knows, must quietly conceptualize the mystery.

No salvation. Nothing and no one to believe or hope in. When I ask myself why I continue, the answer is that I live because I love. But that is not simply altruism; I allow myself to love because loving makes me happy. The beauty of love is that my living becomes bound up with that of the other, and together we may discover ever deeper, richer ways of being human. Because there is greater happiness for me in suffering for one I love than in experiencing pleasure without love, loving is my only activity that might be called spiritual. But spiritual or not, it is not salvific; ultimately, not even love remains.*

Nonetheless, I assert that I, who can neither believe in God nor hope in salvation, am Christian to the extent that I live in the love that is personified in Jesus. The four evangelists presented their own ideas about Jesus and who his followers are; I, perhaps no less inspired, present mine: Jesus is one who lived that love which would suffer rather than deny itself. His disciples are those who walk the same path. Although I know that the path has no end, I feel privileged to walk it with them.

* Cf. 1 Cor. 13:13.

6 thoughts on “No Salvation

  1. This is a rather harsh view of reality-nihilism countered by a Christian belief. This is perhaps the Protestant view of man’s state-we cannot be saved except by God’s grace. I find this belief too difficult to accept. I am exploring Buddhist beliefs at the moment, with some success. Buddhism gives us the opportunity to correct our behavior by influencing our karma. We are free to choose the good or the bad.

  2. Something is very cockeyed about your essay- perhaps it’s that it abounds with dichotomies. Something versus nothing for example- something seems to pop in and out of existence so surely and so frequently that nothing really is something. Salvation, like God, is a human creation. But God, as you teach us, is Love. And, as we experience God in us we are aware of our power to love those who have trespassed against us and to forgive ourselves for our transgressions. So, salvation is within our grasp.

    I believe the eccentricities that I experienced iin your essay have to do with writing from the head rather than the hearth , from the periphery rather than the core, from that part of one that enters meeting rather than the one who rises to speak.

    • One thing we can learn from the Quaker tradition is that head and heart are not to be separated. When the eye is single, the whole body is full of light. The one who enters meeting, if really one, is the one who speaks: “Christ is not distinct from his saints.” Salvation, the tradition tells us, is not something to be grasped, but a gift. It is a gift that I neither have nor need, but the tradition would say that if you seek it you must not grasp at it, but must empty yourself — as Christ is said to do (Phil. 2).

  3. Thanks. Coming from the background of a clinical psychologist, I am rather inclined to think of myself as a disciplined romantic. Thanks for offering me a new (to me) way of thinking about things Quaker. I should add that in worship, I am quite experiential, often experiencing visual as well as auditory and, sometimes, somatic, imagery.

    • As you recognize, the concept of salvation is a rich one, even among members of a given sect. A major theme in the Christian scriptures and tradition is, of course, salvation as deliverance from both spiritual and physical death, the latter following from the former. Such salvation is the goal and purpose, the telos, of human life — according to the tradition. I appreciate the tradition’s belief, but, as I noted in the essay (a journal entry written almost 30 years ago), I walk a path that has no telos, and I recognize and assert that even this path to nowhere has a Christian and Quaker character because it is a walking in love. In other words, I don’t see love as means or end but simply as present reality.

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