For believers of many faiths, salvation is a word of most supreme importance. For others, however, I’ve learned that the word “salvation” connotes something foreign and off-putting at best, and offensive or threatening at worst (reflecting, as it often does, an implicit sense of eternal judgment on the non-saved).
In other moments, however, when I have witnessed suffering in people of all backgrounds, I have found myself wondering, “whatever term we happen to call it, don’t all human beings seek some sort of reprieve, relief and release from suffering?”
While Christians might call it “salvation” and envision additional meanings beyond the here-and-now, don’t we all seek the very abatement of suffering that many great religious and philosophical teachers have sought in various traditions?
Beyond the exclusively Christian definition, the dictionary defines salvation as “a source or means of being saved from harm, ruin, or loss” or “preservation from destruction or failure…deliverance from danger or difficulty” or “liberation from ignorance or illusion.”
This starts to get at a sense of salvation that everyone – no matter their conceptual differences – might resonate with…due to the simple fact of universal human pain.
It was this insight that became the First Noble Truth in the Buddhist tradition – namely, “There is suffering, dukkha. Dukkha should be understood. Dukkha has been understood.”
This insight, one teacher elaborates, “applies to everything that you can possibly experience or do or think concerning the past, the present or the future. Suffering or dukkha is the common bond we all share.”
For me, at least, that insight potentially helps move the conversation about salvation itself beyond the wearisome “saved or not” debate (only feeling relevant to Christians) – towards something much more juicy: opening up a fascinating inquiry into the various kinds of “salvation” we seek from pain and suffering (clearly relevant to anyone that is alive).
Just look around! Go ahead and google “statistics” and any one of the following: “pornography” or “hours watching television/playing video games” or “gambling” or “prescription painkillers” or “anti-depressants” for starters…
Don’t get me wrong…with some exceptions, many of these can be healthy parts of life when used in sensible, balanced ways. Every one of them, however, without exception, can and does become for many people a kind of domineering influence that controls many people’s lives – and multiplies suffering.
Among other things, it seems to me that these various attempts to “save” people from discomfort and woe share a similar characteristic – especially when compared to what the Christian or Buddhists might portray as “liberation” or “salvation.”
In each instance – drugs, alcohol, sex, television, gambling, shopping, food – there is a substance or behavior encouraging and permitting us to step away from what is hard and what is painful. Each allows us to “leave behind” the pain (at least temporarily, at least on the surface) as we occupy and preoccupy ourselves in one or another form of stimulation.
Whatever exactly stimulation it is matters less than that you are distracted, and taken away from the moment.
In that moment – no matter what lies ahead, no matter the side-effects or long-term consequences – in that moment we are “saved” from whatever discomfort may be bothering us.
In this way, we can come to cling to some kind of pleasant sensation as our primary relief, comfort and joy. Even if not calling it “salvation,” isn’t this relief something all human beings seek?
If the interest is there, we might fill entire days with Netflix alone – or porn or food binging. In the modern world, the distraction is potentially never ending.
Over months and years, individuals can be reduced to nursing their pain through the daily injection of some kind of numbing/stimulating agent.
Little wonder, then, that the Buddha taught that this kind of grasping or avoiding was itself a primary cause of suffering (rather than the “liberation” these things seem to promise).
Other kinds of salvation, by contrast, including Buddhist liberation and Christian salvation, always involves some degree of turning towards what is hard and what is painful. In bending of the knee, the opening of a communion with God, the confession of a sin, or the partaking of the sacrament (similar to the sitting on a meditation cushion), the mind and heart are turned more directly and attentively towards one’s circumstances and condition first of all.
Out of that, of course, the Christian plea then turns towards God – not necessarily to distract from or take away all the pain magically (although this is how we all pray sometimes), but to ultimately and fundamentally to seek a relationship that promises redemption from it.
Although this path often involves letting go of some immediate forms of pleasure and stimulation, there is conviction that “as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Of course, from an outside perspective, these religious attempts at “salvation” seem like dressed-up attempts to take away all fun, pleasure, stimulation, satisfaction and positive sensations in life (!!)
Contrasting narratives aside, the point here is more simple. Whatever exactly call it, and whatever we decide it is, isn’t “salvation” something we are all seeking on some level? SOMETHING for the pain…?
If so, then maybe the fundamental question becomes simply: where will we turn? Where will we seek our salvation?
Needless to say, the Christian answer starts with an insistence that “man cannot live by Netflix alone…or porn alone…or anti-depressants alone.”
Far more than saying “these other salvation’s are not enough,” however, our message as Christians goes one step further. As King Benjamin put it, “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” He then encourages all men and women to “humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17-18).
As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to long-term relief and reprieve, there is only One fundamental salvation.In the communion of prayer, the remission of sacrament and even the stillness of meditation, it is Christ whose light is “in all and through all things” and “which giveth life to all things” (D&C 88:6 & 13). As King Benjamin added, it is He who “is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21).
Moment by moment, then, this becomes our choice: Do we run after some kind of stimulation – anything – to not feel this! Or do we take whatever we are feeling to Him – the One who has the authority and power (and empathy) to reveal the unique lessons this moment offers and to ultimately “wipe away our tears” in a redemption unmatched by all the other wanna-bees…