The Three Stages of Salvation
Salvation takes place in three stages. The first stage has been completed. We are now in the second stage. The third stage is yet to come. The first two stages take place in the valley of tears. The last stage takes place with God in paradise.
The valley of tears is the vessel that God created between the gift of life and the gift of paradise that holds the marinade of truth in which we stew like pickles in a barrel of brine. During the first stage of salvation, God lets us marinate in the sourness of godlessness. During the second stage of salvation, God lets us marinate in the sweetness of paradise.
Marinating in the truth shatters the illusions that distort our perception of reality. The sledgehammer of truth shatters the illusions as the blow of a hammer shatters glass. The appeal of the truth is to our rationality. When the fuel of truth is fouled by illusions, our rationality leads us astray. When fueled by the truth, our rationality steers us in the right direction. Rational creatures seek the sweetness of paradise and flee the sourness of godlessness. It is contrary to their self-interest to do otherwise. It is crazy to do otherwise.
The truth in which we marinate is the catalyst of salvation.
The first two stages take place after the gift of life was given to us but before the paradise is given to us. In the third stage of salvation, God gives us the gift of paradise. In the third stage, we have finished stewing in the truth. Our days in the valley of tears are over. God delivers to us the gift of paradise.
Who is God?
Who is Man?
What is God's Plan to Rescue Us from our Dire Predicament in the Valley of Tears?
Can you answer the questions? Are you not curious about the answers? Do the answers matter? Does knowing the answers give you an advantage? Does not knowing put you at a disadvantage? How can you play the "game" if you do not know the rules? How can you find your way without a map? How can you get your bearings if you live in a dark room without walls? How can you orient yourself if you do not know the context in which you exist (Plato's Cave)?
We exiled ourselves into the valley of tears. The valley of tears is hostile territory. Our predicament is dire. As we pass through the valley of tears, crosses nail themselves to us including the worst of crosses, death.
What is your plan to handle the crosses that nail themselves to you as you pass through the valley of tears? What is your plan to deal with the most horrible of crosses, death, when it confronts you? Surely, you have a plan?
During our exile in the valley of tears, only one job matters. Each of us has the same job. Escape. Our job is to escape from the valley of tears and to help our neighbors to escape as well.
However, our ability to escape is limited. We cannot rescue ourselves. We need help.
The good news of great joy is that God is executing his plan to rescue us from our dire predicament in the valley of tears. Our savior is saving us.
God built an escape route through the valley of tears (Isaiah 35:8), defined it with holy places, made a map of them, established a Church, entrusted the map to the Church and gave the Church the mission of serving the new exodus as the new Moses as we make our escape through the valley of tears from slavery under the yoke of Pharaoh to freedom with God and his holy family in the promised land. The escape from godlessness to paradise is primary. Nothing else matters. Everything else is secondary. Anything that interferes is suspect. The new exodus is underway. It is in progress. Everybody is invited. The escape route is a public highway. All are welcome. We are marching from godlessness to paradise, hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, together as one family, to the living beat of the loving heart of our savior, Jesus.
But, are you cooperating with your rescuer?
It helps if you are familiar with his plan to rescue us from our dire predicament in the valley of tears.
Our exile in the valley of tears unfolds in two distinct, well-defined phases. An event more powerful than the big bang that created the universe divides the first phase from the second phase. The event was the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. From his passion, death and resurrection, truths emerged to illuminate the darkness of our understanding of God in a glorious burst of epiphany. The first phase is the sour phase. In the first phase, the knowledge of God disappeared from the face of the earth. God became a stranger to us. Darkness enveloped the earth. Without the knowledge of God, our souls are dead. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus returned the knowledge of God to us. When the knowledge of God is returned to us, the dead are born again. A light shines in the darkness. The second phase of our exile is the sweet phase. The sweetness of the second phase mitigates the sourness of the first phase.
To understand our exile in the valley of tears and its implications, let us begin at the beginning. Let us go back to the age of Adam and Eve.
The story of Adam and Eve is viewed by many as a child’s fairy tale with little or no relevance to us today. Its lesson is judged too simple and, hence, too well-understood, to deserve any further serious contemplation. It is taken for granted. Few sermons are preached about it. Yet, the story of Adam and Eve informs us about the origin of our dire predicament in the valley of tears and sets the stage for our rescue therefrom. It explains the dynamic that drives us through our existence. It gives us the context in which we exist. In other words, it is ripe with existential wisdom.
God's power made paradise for us. But, it is God's love for us that makes paradise sweet. Power demands respect. But love demands love.
Although paradise was Adam and Eve's home, paternalism was not the policy of God. Adam and Eve were free agents. They could leave paradise or stay put. The decision was theirs. It belonged to them. God respected the sovereignty of their decision making. Even though it was in their best interest to stay put in Eden, God did not build a wall around Eden to immure Adam and Eve therein. God did not post armed guards around its perimeter. Its exits were not closed with barbed wire. Eden was not a prison, Adam and Eve were not prisoners, and God was not their warden. Furthermore, Adam and Eve were not God's pets. They were not birds locked up in a cage. A cage is a cage no matter how gilded. Paradise was not a plantation, God was not the slave owner and we were not God's slaves. We were not put on the earth to pick cotton for God. We were meant to be more - much more - than God's slaves. In an act of perfect generosity, God shared his dignity with us by bestowing upon us inquisitiveness and the sovereignty to exercise our inquisitiveness. He made us masters of our own domains. He made us kings and queens of our own kingdoms. God made us philosopher - kings. We ask questions and seek answers. As fellow philosopher - kings, God respects the freedom of our wills to inquire.
The only force that God designed to induce us to keep the gift of paradise when God delivers it to us is the truth. God witnessed the debacle of his creatures and was shocked and dismayed. God delivered the gift of paradise to Lucifer but Lucifer let the gift slip through his fingers. God delivered the gift of paradise to the gaggle of angels who followed Lucifer but they too dropped the ball. So too Eve. So too Adam. All of them had the gift of paradise in hand but failed to keep it. God did not want the same fate to befall the children of Adam and Eve. When God delivers the gift of paradise to the children of Adam and Eve, God wants them to keep it. God plans to deliver the gift of paradise to us just as God delivered the gift of paradise to Adam and Eve. God will not be less generous with us than God was with them. Adam and Eve were the first beneficiaries of God’s love for us. They were not the last. God’s philanthropy did not end with Adam and Eve; God’s philanthropy began with them. This is good news of great joy - very good news for us indeed. So God put the gift of rationality in the service of our free wills. When fueled by the truth, our rationality steers us in the right direction. When the fuel of truth is fouled by illusions, our rationality leads us astray. To increase the likelihood that we will keep the gift of paradise when it is delivered to us, God would expose the children of Adam and Eve to the truth about the sweetness of paradise and the truth about the sourness of the valley of tears. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). The truth shall persuade us. Rational creatures seek the sweetness of paradise and flee the sourness of godlessness. It is contrary to their self-interest to do otherwise. It is crazy to do otherwise.
The hard part is to distinguish reality from illusion - fact from fiction - truth from falsehood. The difference between fact and fiction - reality and illusion - truth and falsehood - is at the heart of humanity's first controversy - a controversy that determined the arc of our existence. Adam and Eve became embroiled in an unwelcome, game-changing controversy not of their own making. The children of Adam and Eve are born out of controversy.
The serpent testified to Adam and Eve that they would become 'gods' without God in the valley of tears (Genesis 3:5). God testified otherwise (Genesis 3:3) (Genesis 2:17). There was a conflict in the testimony. This perplexed newly-minted humanity. Adam and Eve were creatures of truth. They had no conception of falsehood and absolutely no experience with it. The possibility that the serpent would lie to them never even crossed their minds. Adam and Eve did not know that the serpent was the father of lies (John 8:44). Only in retrospect, did humanity gain this knowledge. At the time of the controversy, the serpent had given Adam and Eve no reason to suspect his treachery - other than giving testimony in contradiction to God's. Falsehood did not exist before the advent of the serpent. And, thus, no defense mechanism to protect them from falsehood had evolved within them. In a world of truth, there was no need for a defense mechanism to guard against falsehood. Furthermore, isn't it remarkable that God was AWOL in the middle of humanity's first controversy - at the moment of their greatest need? Isn't it remarkable, that God let them - neophytes to falsehood - figure out a solution to the controversy on their own? It seems that God wanted the controversy to play out - to run its course, no? How could the contradictory testimony be reconciled? To find their way out of the controversy, Adam and Eve undertook an investigation. They set out to reconnoiter the valley of tears for themselves. Conducting their own investigation was a logical solution to the controversy. Yet, this was the "original sin". This was the great mistake. They decided to discover the truth for themselves the hard way by passing through it instead of discovering the truth the easy way by listening to the word of God about it. Either way - hard or easy - would lead them to the same truth. Thus, our "original sin" is that we were schmucks - we took the hard way instead of the easy way to figure out the truth.
In the course of their investigation, they and their children discover the sourness of passing through the valley of tears without God. We do not become 'gods' without God in the valley of tears. God was telling the truth and the serpent was telling the lie.
We do not belong in the valley of tears. The valley of tears is hostile territory. Crosses nail themselves to us as we pass through the valley of tears in a variety of painful ways including the worst of crosses, death. In the valley of tears, our predicament is dire. We are in trouble.
Our trouble, however, is misunderstood (Matthew 10:28).
As our proximity to Adam and Eve's life with God in Eden receded in time and space, the knowledge of God faded from our memories. We forgot. God became a stranger to us. Moreover, the adversity that shits on us as we pass through the valley of tears also functions as an eraser. Adversity contributes to the erasure of the knowledge of God from the face of the earth (John 10:5) (Psalm 69:8) (Exodus 2:22).
Our real trouble is the loss of the knowledge of God and the opportunity to expand and deepen it - to build a friendship with the divine. "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28) (Matthew 5:29-30). The loss of the knowledge of God kills the soul. Indeed, the body dies. But, the worst kind of death is the death of the soul - a soul without God.
In the first stage of our exile in the valley of tears, we focus on our bodies. We are body-centric. In the second stage, we focus on our souls (Matthew 6:25-34). We become soul-centric. Our bodies become less important to us and our souls become more important.
In the first stage of our exile in the valley of tears, we suffer and die (Genesis 2:17) (Genesis 3:3). While in the valley of tears, our focus is on our dire predicament. Our dire predicament monopolizes our attention. We are mesmerized by it. In our exigency in the valley of tears, it is difficult to get us to focus on anything else but our dire predicament.
In the second stage of our exile, God wields the sledgehammer of truth to shatter our preoccupation with our dire predicament in the valley of tears. The second stage of our exile shifts our focus from our problems in the valley of tears to their solution. God is the solution to our problems in the valley of tears. In the second stage of our exile, God restores the dead to life. The dead are born again (John 3: 1-15). God returns to the earth the knowledge of God. God closes the gap between himself and our souls. God builds a bridge between our souls and divinity (John 14:6). God does this in the most unconventional, surprising, unexpected and apocalyptic of ways. The way that God does this is unconventional, surprising, unexpected and apocalyptic because of the exorbitant cost God paid out of his own pocket to publish the identity of God for us. The knowledge of God was published for us in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, his son. Publication was a two-step process. Both steps were necessary to publish the identity of God for us here on earth. The Son of God took flesh so
- we could torture and kill him in the fiery furnace of his passion and death and
- he could emerged therefrom still alive and still in love with us.
The exorbitant price that the Son of God paid is the guarantee of genuineness of his power and his love for us. His power and his love for us are real. Reality is reliable. We can depend on the reality of his love for us (Matthew 7:9-11). Our God is our almighty lover. Whom shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid (Psalm 27:1)? Will our almighty lover ever let us down? Will he ever disappoint? Rest in his love. Rest your head on the pillow of his love for us. He paid the exorbitant price not from his unlimited divine resources. He paid the exorbitant price from his limited human resources. He paid them all for us. He kept not a penny for himself. He has never paid more for anything else (John 15:13). The Son of God became one of us - an equal for us in our humanity - a partner with us in our suffering so we could become an equal to him in his divinity - a partner with him in his glory (Romans 8:17). That he and his love for us survived the evil we did to him are the two truths that emerged from his passion, death and resurrection. These truths are the seed that is planted in the soil. We are the soil. "And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred." (Mark 4: 1-22). "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28). The knowledge of God restores the dead to life. The serpent could not deliver what he promised Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:5). God and only God fulfills the promise of the serpent. Jesus, the Son of God who fashioned us out of the mud with his hands put himself into the hands of the mud to inseminate the mud with the knowledge of God. Like the mustard seed, the knowledge of God grows into an intimate friendship with the living God (Matthew 13:31-32) (Luke 17:20-21) if we cherish and cultivate it.
Therefore, focus on the cure not the disease. Focus on the solution not on our problems in the valley of tears. Allow your souls to enjoy a fruitful intercourse with the living God! Join the new exodus that is making its escape from slavery under the yoke of Pharaoh, through the valley of tears, to freedom with God and his holy family in paradise, marching hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, to the living beat of the loving heart of Jesus. Explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God as the new exodus marches from holy place to holy place on the escape route through the valley of tears.