Recently I read a story in which the last line was something like, “It’s not everyday we save the world!” And I immediately thought: Yes, it is! It is everyday that we, as Christians, save the world. In fact, that is our whole purpose and power as Christians; it is the very thing for which God has called and empowered us. We do it simply by virtue of following Christ.
Remember, God has called us to be the salt of the earth. And salt has two important qualities that can be applied to our identity as Christians. First, it is a preservative: in biblical times, salt was essential for keeping foods from going bad. And second, salt adds flavor to foods-it makes them tastier.
As salt, therefore, Christians are called to preserve the world. Yet too many of us in the church pursue our faith as if the only goal is to save the souls of our neighbors for the after-life. To be the salt of the world means to work in the world here and now in order to preserve it; in essence, our job is to try to ward off the powers that would lead the world to destruction.
The world is not perfect, to be sure; if Romans 8 is correct, it suffers with us under the burden of our sin. But that fact does not make it bad; God called the creation good and there is no reason to think that it somehow became evil after humanity’s separation from God. Perhaps when Jesus says, “God so loved the world,” he really does mean the whole world: people, animals, plants, and earth; individuals and communities alike.
And if you still have doubts about this, consider the second quality of salt: why make the world tastier if it is evil? This makes no sense. The metaphor itself suggests instead that we are to work to improve what is good and healthy about the world: our cultural world as well as our ecological world. We are to celebrate both the beauty of nature and the potential of humanity, doing our share to foster the growth and health of both. As one theologian has put it, God saves the world by preserving it, and preserves the world by saving it (J. Ellul).
How do we do this? That same theologian points out that simply by being Christians, we help preserve and save the world. When we carry out our calling to be salt, our very presence in the world acts as protection against the powers of death and gives more savor to the people, places and events around us. Because we act justly, we bring justice into the world; because we act in peace, we bring peace into the world; because we serve the cause of love, we bring love into the world.
We may not always see this happening, of course, because we are changing the picture by our very presence; as George Bailey found out, it is hard for us to imagine what the world would be like without us. But when we truly root and ground ourselves in the love of Christ, everything we do, no matter how trivial, becomes an act of grace and redemption in the lives of the world around us. We really do save the world, everyday.
Steve Pearson is a Protestant mutt and failed theologian who has a Ph.D. in Literature and teaches at a midsize university in the South.