One of the challenging tasks of being a healthcare and a US Army chaplain is being able to support people of all faith traditions. At my military unit of assignment, the Soldiers don’t see me as a priest, they see me as a fellow Soldier and their chaplain. They come to me with their emotional and spiritual concerns in hopes that they can find help. They come to me because as a Staff officer and personal adviser to the brigade Commander, I am what the Army calls the (SME) “subject matter expert” on Religion. And one of my job requirements is to enforce Title 10, of the US Code, free exercise of religion for all Soldiers within the brigade. But the challenge is that there are many Soldiers that have no religious preference, and some who claim they are not religious.
Part of my clinical pastoral education is learning how to support people in their religion, faith tradition or lack thereof. It used to be a struggle for me, because as a Christian, I know what the Bible teaches as the instrument of salvation. I know that if anyone confesses with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, that person shall be saved. I know that in God’s eyes there is no Jew nor Gentile, for the same God is the Lord of all. And so how can I minister to the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists and people from other religious group? Then I read Paul Tillich, an American theologian and philosopher, who describes religion as the essence of ultimate concern. That which concerns us the most. For me, it is faith in the risen Lord expressed through Christianity, seconded by my family. For other people, it could be something different, and it is incumbent on me to find out what ‘that ultimate concern’ is for the people to whom I minister, and support them in whatever that is, but at the same time not endorsing, and also not compromising my faith conviction.
In the 10th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul goes into a very dense theological discourse, and concludes with this declaration: everyone that calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). In order words, anyone who does not call on the name of the Lord shall not be saved. But what are people saved from? Why do we have to be saved? I am not a slave. I am my own person? What do you mean saved?
Historical background: Paul is working with Deuteronomy 30. This passage is full of promises and life. It was well studied by the Jews of Paul’s era. They studied it carefully to find out what God is going to do for them after all the years they have suffered under the Gentile yoke or the pagan nations. Why would they study this passage to find out what God has for them? Chapters 28-30 are the closing remarks of Moses’ charge to the Israelites before they enter into the Promised Land. These chapters highlight what will happen to Israel in the days to come. If they keep the covenants, God will bless them. If they don’t, the curses will come upon them. Moses had premonition that Israel will disobey God’s word and then be taken into exile. That is what chapters 28 and 29 of Deuteronomy are all about. But chapter 30 has a fresh word. A word of hope. God promises that even when Israel has gone into Exile and suffer affliction in the hands of their oppressor, if they turn from their wicked ways and turn to Him, He will rescue them.
God promises not only to rescue them, but also to transform them, change their hearts so that they can keep His laws. The exile will be over, the curse will be broken; and Israel will be saved. But there are conditions to be met before God rescues them. They have to return to Him. They have to embrace his laws and do them. God had made it easier for them to return to Him by giving them the gift of grace, which will be like the original law. This gift of grace is found in the person of Christ! And anyone who believes in Him, calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is exactly what Paul is saying in this passage. The Messiah has already come down to you. You don’t have to go down into the depths to find Him. He is God’s gift of grace to you like the original law but in a new way.
When the word grace is referenced, a common understanding is that grace is ‘unmerited favor.’ It seems to me from my shallow understanding of biblical languages, in this case the Hebrew language that there is another meaning to grace. Will you be interested in learning about this other meaning? Stay tuned!