Section 6: Salvation — Part 1
Week 1: What Is Salvation?
Day 1: What Is Our Fundamental Problem?
Our focus the next two months will be on salvation. The concept of salvation necessarily implies a problem. If you’re not in some sort of predicament, you don’t need saving. So before we dive too far into the discussion of salvation, it’s worth asking: What is the fundamental human problem?
The Importance of Properly Diagnosing the Problem
That’s an important question because our diagnosis of a problem in large part determines the kind of solution we’re going to be seeking. For example, I recently noticed some water on the floor in front of our kitchen sink. When I opened the cupboard door, I discovered a large puddle. I immediately assumed one of the pipes was leaking or possibly the shut off valve. So I got a flashlight, turned on the water, and waited for some sign of the leak. But I never saw the telltale drip, drip, drip I was looking for. I was baffled. Where could the water have come from?
I tried for days to reproduce the leak. It never worked, yet I kept finding water in the cupboard. Eventually I noticed the water appeared only on relatively warm days. I started to suspect the snow on the backside of the house was melting and that snowmelt was somehow getting through the wall into the kitchen cupboard. That’s obviously a different problem and requires a different solution.
Our Fundamental Problem Isn’t Societal
Given that we need the right diagnosis in order to find the right solution, what is the fundamental human problem? Different people locate the problem in different places. For non-Christians, it’s fairly common to say the problem in one way or another is societal. Our political, education, and other systems are broken. As a result, they produce broken people. Since that is where the problem lies, if we can just figure out how to fix our major societal institutions, we can fix most of our major problems and allow all people to realize their full potential.
How does that differ from the Christian view? In one sense, we’ll spend the next two months answering that question. For now we can point out Christians would agree both that our societal structures are broken and people do not realize their full potential. We can even say we hope to see that change one day. The big difference is that we don’t see societal structures as the fundamental problem. Faulty systems are merely a symptom of the larger problem. Where many see only the horizontal dimensions of the problem – our relationship to one another as human beings, Christians see a more fundamental, vertical dimension – our alienation from God[i].
Our Fundamental Problem Is Our Alienation from God
What difference does that make? As we noted, our understanding of the problem impacts our expectations regarding a solution. Many believe all we need to do is come up with better laws, build better schools, etc. If we can somehow do that, we will have a society in which everyone can flourish. Christians share a desire for human flourishing; we just don’t place our ultimate hope in societal institutions. We can monkey around trying to fix them. By itself however, that won’t address the real issue.
Go back to Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve sinned, they had to face some tragic consequences. One of the major consequences involved their relationship each other. Adam and Eve had known a perfectly harmonious relationship before the Fall. That would not be the case afterwards. Their relationship was fractured. As part of God’s judgment, friction and competition would now be an unfortunate reality in all human relationships (Gen. 3:16). The fracture in Adam and Eve’s relationship was in fact already evident even before God announced it. That’s why Adam was so quick to shift the blame to Eve for “making” him eat the apple.
Let’s suppose Adam and Eve had been able to get some good marital counseling and they learned how to listen to one another, how to avoid pushing each other’s buttons, and maybe a few other relationship techniques. They would have been much better off, right? Maybe. But would that have solved their most basic problem?
To answer that, look at how their relationship with God is different after all of this. In beginning their relationship with God in the garden is characterized by intimacy. He walked and talked with them personally. After sin entered the world, their relationship with God is radically different. Because he is holy and just, God now stands before them as a judge. And that has been the human predicament ever since. Sin alters our relationship with God. Instead of the intimate relationship we were intended to have, we find ourselves under God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
All other problems pale in comparison. Unless we find a way repair our relationship with God, we haven’t solved anything.
Read Genesis 2:4-25.
How would you describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God before sin entered the picture? What would it be like to have that kind of relationship with God again one day?
[i] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2d ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Books (2000), 903.