Last week, Rev. Raphael Warnock became the first Black Senator in Georgia, thanks to the tireless efforts of Black women like Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown fighting against voter suppression. On the same day, the U.S. Capitol was stormed by white supremacists. I’ve been reflecting on the contrast. Some are building a world where “82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton (can go) to the polls and pick her youngest son to be a United States senator.” Others are waving “Jesus is my Savior” flags alongside nooses while violently trying to hang onto power.* I see in them the fruits of two different gospels. The latter has no idea what Jesus’ salvation really means. This is a strong statement, so let me explain.
One of the Bible’s primary images of salvation is this word “shalom.” Shalom is often translated “peace,” but it means more than what our English word connotes. A better translation is “a thriving whole.” The Bible starts with depictions of shalom in Genesis 1 and 2: the flourishing world that God created where every part of creation lives together in harmonious, mutually beneficial relationships. The prophecies of Jesus proclaim that Jesus will be a “Prince of Peace (shalom).” Jesus elaborates on this with his inaugural address in Luke 4:18-19, quoting a picture of shalom in Isaiah 61, where the poor, prisoners, and oppressed are set free. Peter also paints this picture of salvation, “But we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which justice and righteousness will be at home” and he urges us to live at peace (shalom) with him (2 Peter 3:13-14).
This picture of salvation is different from the Sunday-school version of salvation, where we say the “sinner’s prayer” and try to be nice to each other so that our souls can float to Heaven someday. Jesus is not interested in saving disembodied souls. Jesus is concerned with whole people — people who need to eat and have a home and know their families will be safe. Jesus doesn’t just want us to be nice to each other and get along. He wants a flourishing world where Black people don’t have to worry about dying young, where immigrant families stay together, where the powerful get on their knees and serve with joy.
The gospel of Jesus is a gospel of wholeness, of “shalom,” that actively fights for the well-being of the vulnerable. Anything short of that has dangerous consequences. We cannot preach a gospel that cares about saving souls but has no regard for the beaten down bodies and minds of the oppressed.
How has Jesus been expanding your picture of salvation? How does that picture affect the way you live?
In my next post I will share a personal story of experiencing wholeness from Jesus.
This post was written in collaboration with Jon Ball, ministry coordinator for theological formation in InterVarsity. See his website at: jonball.net.
*Rev. Raphael Warnock quoted in the Washington Post: Timothy Bella and Tim Elfrink, “Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, honors mother and ‘the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton’”, Washington Post, Jan 6, 2021.
*Gina Ciliberto, “They invaded the capitol saying ‘Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President’“, Sojourners, Jan 6, 2021.