There’s a lot of talk in religious circles about salvation, or being saved, presumably from an eternity spent surrounded by the fires of hell. Each religion has its own recommended path to avoid such an unpleasant fate. Considering the stakes involved, (after all eternity is a really long time), it’s hardly surprising the topic warrants so much attention.
So is salvation merely the result of stumbling upon the ‘right’ religion? Does a merciful God consign the rest of His children to eternal damnation simply because they were raised in a household that did not practice the right religion, or any religion at all for that matter? Are we not all His children regardless of our race, sex, country of origin, or the way we choose to worship Him? Is God’s love so limited that He does not make allowances for our varying life circumstances? Is it not more likely that it is our understanding of God that is limited rather than the other way around?
With this is mind let us return to the topic of salvation. Where does one begin the search for God? What if you’ve never been shown how to connect with Him? Or maybe the way you were shown doesn’t work for you. Does God simply write you off? Look around you. Look at the beauty and the variety of life. Look how much care and attention He gives to even the smallest creature, or the tiniest plant. Then look up at the skies, at the seemingly infinite and ever expanding number of stars and planets. Is this evidence of a God of limited love who dictates His children must pass through a single door in order to return home to His loving embrace? Does it not make more sense that God has laid out many paths for His children to stumble upon in the chaos of this physical life so they might find their way home to Him?
If there are so many ways to find communion with Him, does that mean organized religion is of limited value? Of course not. Just as in the experience of their physical lives, some souls are determined to do things the hard way in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. They feel compelled to scale the steepest heights, to fight their way through clinging, prickly branches that block their path and stumble over pitted, rocky ground even when a perfectly smooth and less challenging path is available to them that leads to the same destination. An individual soul’s choice to take the long way home isn’t wrong even if it seems inexplicable to the rest of us.
As to the place of organized religion in your personal search for a more meaningful connection with God, to my way of thinking it’s not a bad place to start. History tells us that in times of crisis, (and in this I’m referring to the kind of crisis that threatens a civilization’s very existence), the accumulated wisdom of those whose way of life is in danger of extinction is often entrusted to the guardianship of a very few. The world’s organized religions are frequently called upon to act as the stewards of such knowledge, a knowledge that extends across the very length and breadth of man’s recorded history. Given the purpose they have served in preserving the hard-won spiritual knowledge mankind has managed to painstakingly accumulate over the millennia of our existence, an exploration and even devotion to an organized religion seems a perfectly reasonable place to begin one’s search for God.
For many their search ends in the comforting arms of a religion that speaks to them. For others, the way is not so easy. They must carve out their own way. Even those who are devoutly religious at some point recognize that all organized religions are at heart, human institutions that are run by imperfect humans. These same humans sometimes make poor decisions in their zeal to convince others of the rightness of their singular way to God, or sometimes just to further their own ends in order to preserve their standing in the world and among their followers.
But while we traverse the path of our human journey, each of us seeking salvation in our own stumbling way, we must remember that salvation is not available to institutions, regardless of their religious origins. Nor is salvation available to the plural ‘we’ or ‘they’. Salvation by its very nature is an individual pursuit. A soul is saved. The process is a personal one between the individual and the Almighty. Each of us will stand before God, (or preferably kneel before Him) and give an accounting of ourselves and of our lives. We do not go before Him in groups. We don’t get to let another speak for us. Nor can we point an accusing finger in another’s direction thinking to shift the blame for our own failings to another. There’s no such thing as pulling one over on God. We cannot get away with anything in His sight. There’s no possibility of Him never finding out something we’d prefer not to share.
Given again the stakes involved it seems that even the non-believer would want to hedge their bets just a little, maybe find out a little more. Not necessarily about a religion they’ve turned their backs on, or one perhaps that has turned its back on the individual, but to seek instead the inspiration behind all religion. God.
God stands alone. Unchallenged. Separate from every religion, theologian, sacred scripture or prophet that seeks to explain Him. He is, was, and always will be, regardless of our belief or disbelief in Him, of our fervent devotion or indifference towards Him, of our reverence or lack of it before Him. There is no escape from God’s love just as there is no escape from life. Death offers only an escape from this life, but life itself is unaffected by our passage to a new expression of our eternal selves.
Eventually we are going to run out of excuses. Eventually, like a rebellious teen, we are going to have to go home and face the music. Or at least there will come a time when we desperately wish we had the courage to do so.
Why not now? Why not today? Isn’t it easier to begin the long journey home when we still have time on our sides, to plan, to weigh, to think about what we’re going to say when we’re called upon to account for the gifts of this life and our stewardship over them? Time to maybe even make a few changes in our lives so the conversation isn’t quite so painful when we’re confronted with it? Isn’t it easier to have such a discussion with someone we already know well? With someone we’ve already had numerous conversations with? Someone we love and who we know loves us and is eager for us to return home to Him?
So let us resolve not to waste the opportunity given us in each moment to draw closer to our source. If looking for God in every moment is too intimidating to consider (and how could it not be), let us strive to make a little more effort to open the window to our souls in the coming year… maybe a single prayer at the beginning of each new season, each new month, each new week…new day…new hour…new minute…new moment…
All great endeavors begin in a single, tiny moment of resolve. So simply begin….somewhere….somehow…draw a deep breath and begin….