The caveat of ‘being saved’


“I will pray for Jesus’ intervention in rescuing those poor girls.”

That was a response to an article highlighting the prevalence of sex trafficking at major city events like the Superbowl someone posted on Facebook. It’s a sentiment that acknowledges the horror of forced prostitution, which I agree with. It offers hope, which I would love to hold on to.

But ultimately, it’s rare for men, women, and children to be rescued from trafficking. So while I believe that “Jesus Saves,” statements like these really make me wonder what, exactly, we mean when we say that.

More to the point: if one rare person is saved from this horrible fate, finds a supportive community, and goes on to become a pillar of society, does he or she have the right to say this new life came from God? What about the millions of others who weren’t so lucky? What about those who stay enslaved their whole lives? Does saying, “God spared me” somehow negate the importance of all the other human beings who were not spared?

This is one of those permanent unknowable territories for me. But how does anyone really know?

When I got offered a contract with Booktrope this week (!!!!), my first response was, “Thank you God!” But what was I thanking him for, exactly? This offer didn’t fall from the sky; I worked for it. I’ve been working on this manuscript for hours every day for the past month, sometimes deleting entire sections that didn’t read as well on the screen as they sounded in my head. It was a seemingly endless process of writing, revising, deleting, and re-writing. Lots of head banging and cursing at the coffee pot for not providing me with more muse.

But in the end, I’m the one who submitted it. I earned that contract. If I’m “blessed” for it, maybe what I mean to thank God for is my writing talent (though four years as an English major in college helped cultivate that, too). I am thankful for this opportunity that, one way or another, came across my path.

That’s a very shallow comparison to a child who is born in an illegal brothel and relentlessly abused, however. Confronted with that evil reality, I can feel my views of God’s direct involvement with humanity shift more toward Deism than Christianity: a belief that he created the world and everything in it, but is relatively inactive today. Christianity tells the story of a God who is directly involved, always – and that’s a worldview I would prefer to believe in, because I can’t accept a broken world without redemption. But when we think of grace, salvation, and blessings as tangible things – being pulled out of literal wreckage and brought to a safer place – I think that’s missing the point.

Christianity is all about bearing suffering: confronting it, braving through it. Not avoiding it. And that was one major element that attracted me as I endured the aftermath of a friend’s suicide, an abusive boyfriend, a sick father who never made it to my wedding, and the demons of depression and anxiety that plague me on a regular basis. When I prayed regularly (something I find extremely difficult to do these days), I prayed for healthier ways of enduring pain. Not avoiding it. Because I know this is a world where nothing is guaranteed to be fair. I know that I, one of many fallen beings, am not any more unique and worthy of being handpicked from a car accident or a tornado than any of my peers.

I’m sure if such a thing ever did happen to me, I would thank God. How could I not? But I would thank God in such a way that acknowledges the mystery of my survival, and pray that I could live in such a way that it isn’t wasted.


18 thoughts on “The caveat of ‘being saved’

  1. Thanks for addressing such difficult questions! I find myself asking these same questions–what exactly am I thanking God for when I thank Him for a new job or this or that? Because when I realize my words are juxtaposed against the immense pain and suffering of the world that occurs, it makes me sick to my stomach. I, too, struggle with words of well-meaning believers who say that God answered their prayers, or that God’s hand was in the situation when certain people are protected or saved from suffering, or granted life despite an often life-threatening disease. I like reading your take on it, as well as the great comments! Thanks for writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • You know, I’m still wrestling with that. I wrote a post a while back about healing and God choosing to heal some and not others, like me or my parents. But I still believe he is good. He must be. And I don’t have an answer as to why or how I still believe it. Lately I’ve been overwhelmed my the heavy tragedy that strikes the world, and again–something in me knows God is still good, and that gives me hope, but I have no idea from whence that faith and hope comes. I’m not quite at the point where I can articulate or explicate it.


  2. Congrats on the contract! That’s so exciting!!

    I hope it’s okay if I jump in here with my perspective. I totally agree with thanking God for your talent, but acknowledging that you’re the one who did the hishtadlus (effort) to actually doing the writing and submitting it.

    Praying to God is like asking a parent for something – asking helps build a relationship, but sometimes the answer is no, and, like a child, we may not always understand the reason why, especially when our request seems so reasonable. But prayer is still very potent, and it never hurts to ask. But with things like the contract, you also need to put in effort.

    One way that I understand the horrible things that go on in the world is through the context of reincarnation (yes, that’s part of Judaism). Every soul has a mission to fulfill, and some souls need to undergo certain hardships, potentially as a tikkun, repair, for something in a previous life. This kind of removes the problem of someone being “blessed” or “cursed.” It’s not a matter of someone deserving redemption, but more a matter of needing to undergo certain experiences to develop on a spiritual level.

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  3. This is one of my biggest issues with God and religion. I just don’t understand when people say that it’s God’s will or if you pray to God, he will help. I just don’t get how God is going to help someone get a promotion but not help sick children. If God is really overseeing and controlling everything, how do you explain things like sex trafficking or babies being born with incurable diseases. Doesn’t add up to me.

    I remember watching the news a few years back. They were showing coverage of a town that was hit really hard from tornado. They were interviewing one person who survived and she actually said, “I guess I prayed harder than other people.” That totally rubbed me the wrong way. As if God was up there picking and choosing who would survive and who wouldn’t.

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    • I would have reacted the same way to that interview. I’ve seen Facebook posts where people praise God for healing them of the exact same cancer that killed my dad, and it’s so tempting to respond, “Why you and not him?”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Perfectnumber628– You’re right that thinking someone is suffering because they didn’t “pray hard enough” is dangerous. It, in fact, verges on magic– the idea that God can be manipulated into doing what we want. Christians should guard themselves against that attitude, although I see variations of it all over the place.

    After 9-11, in the some Christian circles stories circulated about people who narrowly escaped getting caught in the towers’ collapse, and a narrative started about how this was God’s providence– until someone pointed out that such a straight-line assumption implied that anyone who died in the towers was cursed by God. This is not where most people want to go, and I don’t think it reflects how God works in the world.

    There is no easy formula for understanding why and when God intervenes in the mundane world. That is, for instance, the whole point of Job– there is no system of natural justice, and the good don’t always get what they deserve. Hundreds of thousands of believers lived and died in the American South as slaves before 1865– didn’t they deserve to be free? What did they do to deserve to be born and die under a system that denied them the liberty of their own selves? It’s not a question any human can easily answer.

    One thing is clear to me, though– one of the chief agencies through which God does work in the world is through people, believers and non-believers. Because when someone does good, whatever they think of God, they are doing God’s work. And, in the end, everything good comes from God.


    • It’s been a while since I read his work, but Rabbi Harold Kushner talked about the idea of “empty prayer,” wishing your suffering on someone else, which I think we’ve all subconsciously done at one point or another. Example: seeing a fire truck in your neighborhood and thinking, “Not my house!” So…send the fire to someone else’s home, is essentially what you’re saying. No one can fault a person for thinking that, but there’s still the idea that suffering is only a character-building event as long as it happens to someone else.


  5. Wow. This is powerful dialogue. I believe God is working in the world today, but He is not the only spiritual force at work. I can’t explain suffering and why some people “get saved” and some don’t from trials and tribulations. I do know that being worthy has absolutely nothing to do with it because NO ONE is worthy of the sacrifice of a perfect, just and holy God. But when we realize that we don’t even breathe without the breath He gives us, then everything we do, every ability we have, every smidgen of intelligence, comes from God.
    I believe in a God who knows everything, from beginning to end, because He is not bound by time. He sees all of eternity at once. I believe people suffer (like Job in the Bible) to give God opportunity to show His love, grace, mercy, and power. Unfortunately, we see through our human eyes, not comprehending the spiritual battles that are raging on our behalf (Read Frank Peretti’s books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness). As deists we expect God to jump in and fix everything so there won’t be any evil in the world. Many times we won’t let Him. He chooses to work through the vehicle of prayer. But prayers don’t always get answered with a “yes”. Sometimes God says no, sometimes He says later, and sometimes He answers yes right away. Sometimes our healing only takes place in the hereafter. But just as Jesus wept at Lazarus’s grave, even though He was about to raise him up, He had compassion for the grief of His friends. So also He grieves and weeps over the horrible things that man does to mankind. It’s one of the reasons He will wipe away our tears when we meet Him face to face.
    Sorry this is so long. I hope this in some small way offers a little hope and comfort.


  6. This is pretty much what I believe too. It doesn’t make sense to believe God is involved in small things that happen in my life, when God allows tons of horrible things to happen in the world every day. And if prayer makes a difference, then when bad things happen, is it the victim’s fault because they didn’t pray enough? That’s a dangerous way of thinking- so I can’t find any way that it makes sense that prayer would have an effect on God intervening in the world.

    But like you said, Christianity is all about God being directly involved. The bible is full of stories of that. So I don’t really know what to do with that. I believe in the future Jesus will come and make everything right, but right now it seems God’s not doing anything.


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