Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Salvation as Maturing

This is an attempt to clarify my thoughts on salvation, and at the same time a preparation for a discussion on baptism.

I think that one of the most beautiful visions of salvation is the one worked out by Irenaeus of Lyon. To him Adam and Eve were only children in paradise. The fall was not so much a failing to live up to some standard, it was kind of a mistake something Adam and Eve would not have committed if they would have had more time to mature.

Sin caused the to stop growing. Man remained something not fully formed, something that does not really is what it is supposed to be. We have it in us, it's there, the imago of God. But we're a long way off similitudo. Now the question is, what is man supposed to be like? What would Adam and Eve have been like if the had not and sinned and had grown up to adults?

Irenaeus says that it is because of this question God sent his son as the second Adam, who is the true image of God, the True Man, Man as he/she was meant to be. By baptism a healing process starts, so that man starts growing into more similitudo with God. More like Christ. But the process will not be complete in this life, only in the Kingdom of God.

Now, if we take this not so much as a description of history, but as a story that says something about our lives, I think we have a rather good image of how salvation should work out in life. It is a process towards greater likeness to Christ, which is at the same time what we are deeply inside.

This is not a process of changing our personality. It is a process of removing that which hinders us from being who we really are. There is something that hinders us from growing into who we really are.

We are not honest if we just call this something "sin" and leave it at that. We must really address what those things are that hinders us from being who we really are. I have argued in my previous posts that what hinders us is to a large degree the system in society that want to turn us into consumers, and that makes us act in ways that are deeply inhuman. We have built a world which systematically deforms us.

It is from this system we need to be saved. Or rather, from the influence of this system.


byron said...

Is it simply the system, or also the systematic deformations of the self? That is, rather than blaming the self or the system, isn't it a both/and? Indeed, traditionally, three sources of corruption have been identified: the flesh, the world, and the devil. Any thoughts on this third term?

byron said...

Though having said that, I am a fan of Irenaeus and his idea that salvation is something more than restoration to creation-in-the-beginning. However, I would have thought he was a little more radical in seeing salvation as still a turn around/new departure, than simply as maturation. Isn't it instead a completion of creation's original (but now lost/obscured/broken) telos?

Patrik said...

Yes, I think "the system" is both outside and inside us. See my posts on sin, original sin and the demons. I guess I understand the devil as a kind of sum of all demonic activity.

Re: Irenaeus: In a short description you tend to focus on the things that are "corrective" to some kind of general view. I like that Irenaeus underlines the "process" aspect of Christian life. And it is clear that this maturation is one that would not be possible wihtout Christ. THe point is that salvation is about becoming oneself.

Aaron G said...

Marcus Borg offers the flip side of your argument-- our separated selves (the fall) are a result of maturation. "The process of growing up, of learning about this world, is a process of increasingly forgetting the one from whom we came and in whom live." (Heart of Christianity, 114( He goes on to argue that for Adam and Eve the advent of self-consciousness meant the advent of the separated self.

Salvation, then, is not about maturing - but being born anew.

Having said all of that, I really resound with what you say about becoming who we already are. I have seen this as the connection between justification and sanctification.

Patrik said...

To that, Irenaus would say that what he calls maturing is in fact not maturing at all, but remaining a child. But I'like his point too, because, as I have argued in several posts now, what stops us from being ourselves is "the world". Salvation is escaping from its influence.

Steve Blakemore said...

This is a great discussion, one that is greatly needed to correct Protestant individualism. The concern one must be aware of is not to lose, in all this affirmation of the systemic nature of sin, is the biblical and orthodox affirmation that there is always a moral component before God to sin that the individual must repent of. Recall the words of Jesusin St. John's Gospel.

We struggle against, not only the world, but also the 'flesh' and the 'devil.' Men 'love darkness rather than light.' If we are influenced by the world it is a willing condition.

Patrik's response to Borg on maturity is smack on, BTW.

Looney said...

I guess I am the protestant individualist. Older people may sin less, but that is usually due to a general mellowing out and less of the hormones of youth. For some, this allows time to better reflect on their mistakes and we see maturation. For others ... None of this has anything to do with Christian maturity, however, as it applies to all creeds - including atheism.

Christian maturity is about the close relationship and bond with the Lord in thoughts and actions.

The salvation issue seems to me to be a third item that, like the first two, is coupled, but I don't see how we can switch the coupling to an equivalence. I always understood that salvation was like receiving lifetime tenure at a university. You are there and no one can throw you out. That certainly is no guarantee of maturity - or even a process towards maturity!

Aaron G said...

Useful in this discussion might be a consideration of John's categories of "dear children," "young," and "mature" (I John 2.12-14).

Skoegahom said...

In the words of J.Buffett, "I'm growing older, but not up!"

I guess that my lack of understanding here is not knowing how to define maturity.

To me recognizing the revelation of God, and therefore that Man has fallen from grace and requires justification for our state of being that it can be obtained by merely believing that the Incarnate God gave His life as capitulation by confessing that Jesus is our savior provides man salvation.

So since I’m merely a philosophizer as opposed to a theologian, I’ll back up my words with these verses found in Luke 23:42-43 where Jesus was speaking to the criminal on the cross:

And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"

And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

How did the criminal on the cross obtain maturity?

Steve Blakemore said...


Don't make the mistake of thinking that growth to maturity is a "this-worldly" phenomenon only. The thief in paradise would, I think, grow toward some kind of "maturity" via the beatific vision.

Skoegahom said...

Steve, I guess my response to that would be what is salvation then? I am somewhat under the impression that making it to the next world is the result of salvation. At least the life with God as opposed to eternity without God...

Steve Blakemore said...


Don't pose a false dilemma. Why must it be either or? If salvation is a relationship with God that is meant to produce Christ-likeness (maturity), then of course eternity with God will be a process of maturity. But, one cannot bring oneself to this place or mature in some natural sense into right relationship with God. Hence, coming to be in right relationship with God in Christ (ala the thief) can only be accepted as a gift of faith. Maturity, then, is the resulting work of salvation (God working in us) because of salvation (God working for us). Or to put it in classical theological terms: sanctification follows naturall justification, but it is not the same work.

Patrik said...

I guess I am trying to think of salvation in a way that does not separate between God's salvific work and sanctifieng work. Traditional salvation (as getting into the next world) is merely the future aspect of something that in this world should have very real consequences. Or else, we would not know salvation at all, because life here is all we can know about.

Steve Blakemore said...

That is a very good thing to try to keep together. I think, though, that one does not want to lose in the process the distinction between "being forgiven" by God for sin and "being set free" by God's gracein the HOly Spirit from the power of sin and set on the trajectory of growth and maturity. HOwever, keeping these "acts" distinct does not necessitate seeing salvation and sanctification as separate. Sanctification would be salvation, but one must still be forgiven and justified through by the sheer gratuity of God's love in Christ so that that which "separates" us from God (sin and alienation) can be removed.

Skoegahom said...

Sorry this is long...

Granted, it is a mystery and you can call me a Fundamentalist if you must, although I don't believe in a literal 6 day creation... But these verses appear to say to me that we will be perfected either when we are raised from the dead as Christ was or that we will be changed immediately upon Christ's return.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” - I Corinthians 15:50-54

What I believe is that once we accept Jesus as our capitulation, that God views us through Jesus already perfected. By Grace we are saved, not by works...because no matter how hard I try not to sin, I am still corruptible (imperfect), but my faith in God is my salvation. That doesn't give me license to sin, but I also don't have to worry that if I scream at someone in my car driving down the road because they nearly caused an accident by talking on their cell phone that the unloving moment will cause me to lose my salvation even if the air head didn't hear a single word I said. God's Grace is sufficient.

Now having said that, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't strive toward spiritual maturity. We should all strive to be like Jesus. So that we may be an example so that other may come to know Him. As I also believe that we have been commissioned to use our gifts to further the Kingdom of God.

I don't have a clue what heaven (the next life with Jesus) will be like. But I do believe it will be filled with the overwhelming love that Jesus exemplified in His time on Earth.

Anonymous said...

Iraneus's ideas are extensively developed by the Eastern Orthodox as 'theosis', or as Maximus Confessor expresses it, we become all that God is (except nature) by grace, or we become 'deified.' Gregory of Nyssa also likens this process to restoring the beauty of our interior being to the infinite beauty of the primary archetype, God (an idea developed extensively in the work 'On the making of man') and it was also used by John Scotus Eriugena, who argued the entire created universe is a theophany of God's invisible being.

While I am a Roman Catholic, I find the Eastern heritage of the Church is extremely beautiful and helps a lot on the journey of contemplation, and well complements many of the beautiful works of Catholic spirituality, from Bonaventure to St John of the Cross, who also praise God's beauty in creation and also outline ways of restoring our fallen image.