Editor’s Note: This column is part of a series on dying.
One summer, as a college student working at a department store, I was approached during my lunch break by a co-worker. He sat down next to me, and innocently asked me, “Have you been saved?”
Before I realized what he was asking me, I thought, “Saved from what?” Then, of course, I realized what he meant. I had heard the question before, but was just taken aback.
In South Carolina and throughout the Bible Belt, we have each become pretty accustomed to being asked that surprising question. In many social environments, we have almost come to expect the question from friends, neighbors, and even coworkers. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we have been saved and what that really means.
The Gospels teach us that salvation from sin and its consequences, and the reward of eternal life in heaven, are found in Jesus Christ. In our baptism and the acceptance of his lordship in our lives, we find a hope for this salvation. St. Paul reminds us that we are “saved in hope” (Rom 8:24).
Since it is at the heart of our understanding of salvation, it is very important for us to understand the biblical notion of hope. It has become such a distorted and abused virtue in our society.
For Christians, hope is always placed in God. We do not hope in ourselves without God, or in human efforts without God’s presence. To do so would be to use hope as a disguise for pride and arrogance.
This is such a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith that Pope Benedict XVI wrote a special teaching letter in order to clarify our views on hope.
Like St. Paul, the pope called the church and all humanity to place their hope in God. The pope further called on all Christians to understand more deeply that salvation comes from hoping in the Lord.
Hope is placing a profound trust of one’s life, existence, and well-being into the hands of God. It is trusting him unconditionally, and actively nurturing in ourselves a worldview that has eternity as the focus and foundation of our lives on earth.
Our hope in God can help us appreciate the blessings and sorrows of this life. It can empower us to place an appropriate hope in our loved ones, and in the good things of this world.
By hoping in God, we rely completely and ultimately on him. In this radical hope, we find an assurance of God’s promises, the power to believe and cooperate with his grace, and the openness that is needed to let the Lord change us for the better, and make us fit for the kingdom of God.
In hope, we are being saved in Jesus Christ, and will one day reach heaven.
Father Kirby is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, currently in Rome studying moral theology.