The End of Salvation, A Lost Summa

Fairly regularly, I will hear from my Christian students at UCO that the goal of the Christian life is to get one’s soul to heaven, and perhaps take a couple of more with you. I’m fairly regularly, puzzled by this claim. Thankfully, I’ve come across a long lost section from St. Thomas Aquinas’ masterpiece, Summa Theologica. In it, he challenges a common Christian understanding of the end of salvation. I present here, for the first time ever, the Angelic Doctor’s masterful treatment of the end of salvation.

Jesus don't want you for a sunbeam

 Question: If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what shall I do?

 Objection 1: It would appear that heaven is our home; for, we will fly away to that mansion just over the hilltop. As Jesus, Himself, says, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ (John xiv.2-3). That house is heaven itself. Therefore, heaven is our home.

Objection 2: Furthermore, I am bound (I am bound) for the promised land. The promised land is heaven; ergo, I am bound for heaven.

Objection 3: Moreover, our purpose on earth, as Jesus has said in his Great Commission, is to evangelize so that more might go to heaven.

Sed Contra, as NT Wright has proclaimed, ‘Heaven is great, but it’s not the end of the world.’ It would appear, then, that heaven is but an in-between until heaven and earth are united.

Respondeo, Heaven is not your home. But, then, what shall I do? You shall inherit the earth.

As Joshua W. Seachris has made manifest (in his Death, Futility and the Proleptic Power of Narrative Ending), we interpret the meaning and purpose of the whole of a story on the basis of its ending. Therefore, our understanding of the end shapes our understanding of what we do in the meantime. Consequently, the church’s understanding of her end will shape her understanding of her mission.

The end of the world is earth, indeed a new, glorified, perfected, cleansed earth. An earth free of sin and brokenness. An earth of the fullness of the kingdom. Further, there is a continuation of ‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable…any excellence…anything worthy of praise’ (Philippians iv.8) from this earth to that new earth. As St. Paul has said, ‘Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones…each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward’ (I Corinthians iii.12-14) and again ‘Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (I Corinthians xv.58).’ The kingdom isn’t primarily about the ‘sweet by and by’ but the ‘here and now’. As one of their own has said, ‘Jesus don’t want you for a sunbeam.’  Accordingly, our purpose is to work, to build and to welcome the coming kingdom—in both personal and corporate ways—for whatever is built and founded upon the kingdom in its beginnings will continue into its fullness. This vision infuses each moment here and now with glory and meaning. Those acts of forgiveness, acts of repentance, acts of mercy, loads of laundry, midnight feedings, notes of encouragement. Those scars of suffering and their redemption. Those fights for truth, justice and the kingdom way. Labor is not in vain, when it is kingdom labor. This manner of believing is profitable; for, it encourages faith, hope and love. Faith that Christ will turn the ‘not yet’ into the ‘already’; hope that this work is not to be destroyed but kept for that day; love for Christ and neighbor, seeking the good of the latter because of the grace of the former.

Reply to Objection 1: Jesus is building that house, his kingdom, in our midst (Luke 17.21). We pray that the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, that house will be the physical new earth rather than an ethereal heaven.

Reply to Objection 2: The minor premise of the syllogism fails to find truth. For, the promised land is indeed earth, as St. Paul has shown, ‘For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith’ (Romans iv.13) and Jesus has said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew v.5). Therefore, that place where there reaches no more poisonous breath will be the consummated earth.

Reply to Objection 3: As has been argued, our purpose is to build lasting kingdom works, among which is evangelism. However, Jesus’ Commission is to make disciples of nations constitutes much more than evangelism, to wit, teaching and worshiping, working to bring about just laws, provide protection to the unprotected, visit prisoners, take in foster children and so much more. Therefore, the purpose of this earthly life is to build for the next.

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Josh Spears has a wife,
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