“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?'” -Matthew 19:25
“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” -Captain James T. Kirk
In the part of the church world in which I serve, it is not uncommon to refer to someone’s entry into the Christian faith as “getting saved.” Though years of seminary have made me often refer to this as “becoming a Christian” or “converting,” there is something powerful about the starkness of this vernacular phrase.
Thinking about crossing the line one faith and getting saved illuminates some things. It points to a human need for salvation, the possibility and path of salvation, and the reality that there may be someone or something that can actually do the saving. Here in Matthew 19 the disciples wrestle with such topics. They hear Jesus talk about the difficulties of the rich entering Heaven and they begin to wonder if anyone can be saved.
The question of eternity and our own personal final destinations are, in many ways, never far from us. One accident, one medical situation, one moment of stupidity or violence, and life can be gone. Understandably, most people prefer not to dwell on the inevitable for very long, focusing instead on other things. Death stalks us all, in other words, so there’s no use whining about it.
The matter of who can be saved from death is not just a Christian one. Nor is it a necessarily religious one. Confronting the inevitable end of this life is something that human beings deal with variously: via science, medicine, distraction, philosophy, and, of course, religion. The answers we choose to embrace are different, but the fact that such answers are needed in the first place points to one reality: this life will one day be over.
We know, that–all things being equal–we will die, both as individuals and as a human race. If science is our only guide, we must accept that this world will eventually end, whether by human hand or natural occurrence. Even if we manage the planet in the best way possible, the sun will go nova in five or six billion years. And if humanity survives that? Well, eventually the universe may come to its conclusion with a “big smash” of all there is collapsing together or via a “cold death” in which entropy wears out all the potential energy of everything. A bang or a whimper, it seems.
Not too optimistic, huh? Picturing both the eventual end of everything and my own life’s countdown is, well, depressing. If death is the end of consciousness and being, well, that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. And if death actually takes us to an eternity either forever separated from our true home with God or eternally present in communion with God, that’s profoundly emotion-inducing as well.
I say all of this to remember that the question of “who then can be saved?” is not just a question for preachers. It is a human question. Whether death is a hard stop on our existence or entry into a plane the reality of which has eternal consequences, it can be a scary thing. No matter what we think happens after death, it seems hardwired in us not to want to die. Death is wrong, somehow. It is an enemy.
Despite what the perceptible patterns of this brokedown world and our faltering bodies say, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). As a Christian, I know that God has made a way for life beyond death in Jesus Christ, and it is not just available for me but all who believe and accept it (John 3:16). I offer this as the answer for all people, even as I’m well aware that not all accept this.
Here’s a question I’m interested in, then: what about those of you who aren’t Christians or who aren’t even particularly concerned with matters of faith? Honestly and humbly, I want to know how you approach death. What do you think about it? How do you deal with it? Do you ever ask yourself how you might be saved, either from the sheer extinction of being or as you move into eternity? As death is a common human experience, I think these are legitimate and real questions around which we could dialogue. If you’re interested in sharing, I really want to know what you think about death and end of life: how you approach it, what you believe, and why you choose to believe that as opposed to other answers. For those who may participate, thank you in advance.