My friends signed their emails and letters this year more than ever before with: “Stay safe!” I know this was a loving gesture during a time when most people have felt anything but safety. It’s made me ponder several times, “how do we stay safe?”
Some people feel safe with masks or vaccines, but others don’t trust them at all. Some trust the police, but others don’t. Lots of people don’t trust news sources, politicians, or even community leaders. This was a big year for gun sales in the US, signaling that trusting others is at an all-time low.
A Wisdom saying from Proverbs counsels us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Prov 3:5,6).
Can we do that? If we can’t trust people, is this realistic? I think I had usually considered this verse in terms of allowing God (the Lord, or whatever we might call the divine Being) to guide me to make good decisions. But can we — or should we — “trust in the Lord” with our safety?
Trusting the Lord with our safety
These questions brought me back to the meaning of the word ‘salvation’ and the way it was used in antiquity. Back then, it had a broader meaning than it does today. Salvation was really a sense of being plucked out of a dangerous situation, preserving the inner being, being cured, and just staying in good health. The related verb is ‘to save.’
In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), we read many stories of the Hebrews under attack from foreign countries. They pray and they are saved. That is, God gives them some way out of the danger.
In the New Testament, we find stories of people suffering from various physical ailments who are saved when they encounter Jesus. That is, the same divine power cures them.
A passage in the Secret Revelation of John ties some of these ideas of safety/salvation together for me and sheds light on our current needs for finding safety.
I [John, the disciple of Jesus] said to the Savior, “Lord, will all the souls be led safely into pure light?” (Meyer, 128). 1
Jesus answers that they upon whom the spirit of life descends and empowers “will be saved and transformed.” … And this power will come to everyone, because “no one can stand without it” (Meyer, 128)
When we shake loose from the modern habit of thinking of salvation as a divine gift of afterlife in acknowledgement for good behavior, we can understand salvation better in terms of safety. It is protection and rescue from harm in the here-and-now.
So, ‘safety’—as it was understood among the early Jesus followers—was about neither escape from sin and punishment, nor about technological advances in the form of better vaccine, better seat belts, or better guns. It was all about a better understanding of our relationship to the divine power.
Technology may provide tools for safety practices, but technology will never accomplish what a shift of thought can do.
Safety in the Secret Revelation of John results in transformation, which leads to more constructive and safe community practices. Here is the next part of the passage on this question of safety from the Secret Revelation of John:
Those upon whom the spirit of life will descend and whom the spirit will empower will be saved [think: ‘be safe!’], and will become perfect and worthy of greatness, and will be cleansed there of all evil and the anxieties of wickedness, since they are no longer anxious for anything except the incorruptible alone, and concerned with that from this moment on, without anger, jealousy, envy, desire, or greed for anything (Meyer, 128).
I think it means: When we take in this spirit, we feel worthy of protection and free of worry. It sounds like a kind of childlike—but not naïve—trust in the great Cause and Creator. We listen better, we’re calm, and we make unselfish decisions.
Personal transformation supports our confidence in safety
I’m also interested in the way our personal transformation supports our confidence in safety. A good example is the way some communities have handled the Covid-19 crisis. We could argue that nobody has been safe during this pandemic. But in fact, some have been safer because of the way their communities have worked together.
A story in the New York Times (April 30) makes this point using the example of the Ebola crisis that was averted in Nigeria in 2014. It wasn’t technology, money, or luck that quickly brought it to a halt. The speedy resolution to that crisis was due to “good governance and organizational competence.” This example supports my reading of the passage in the Secret Revelation of John—namely that when we feel loved and loving, we are able to act wisely and safely. This is how we welcome the “spirit of life” and allow for our own transformation.
We participate in the common good, and we’re simply in a safer place.
1 The Meyer translation is from “The Secret Book of John,” The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, ed. Marvin Meyer, pp.107–132. (back to article)