In Eugene Peterson’s Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, he discusses the meaning of the term “salvation” this way:
Salvation is the act of God in which we are rescued from the consequences of our sin (bondage, fragmentation) and put into a position to live in free, open, loving relationships with God and our neighbors.
Perhaps it is the season, but the mental image that came to my mind as I was reading was Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the ghost bound in chains stalking through eternity. What we need to be saved from, in Peterson’s description, are the damaging consequences sin has for our soul and our life. It is not that we need to be sprung free from a jury trial we are destined to lose, but that we need to be cut free from the chains we have clamped to our body and soul.
In Dickens’ story, Scrooge is not only spared an eternal fate but also he is given again the ability to love and take joy in his fellow creatures. He revels in Christmas. He lead the party. He overflows with love for humanity. This is the real salvation in that story, and, if I read Peterson properly, it is how we should understand Christian salvation itself.
In the musical Les Misérables, coming soon as what looks like an awesome movie, we hear this theme of salvation in the final scene. The spirit of the dead Fantine sings to the old and dying Jean Valjean a hauting song about rest and peace after a life of struggle. Her line is one that rings in my memory ever since the first time I heard it on stage. “Come to me, where chains will never bind you. All your grief, at last, at last behind you.” This is salvation. In Les Miz, it is not found until the final act. The promise of Christianity, however, is that such salvation is near, close at hand, if we will receive it.