We sometimes describe the members of the Trinity by their best known actions as God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer. This is also a way for us to refer to the Trinity without using words that can limit our image of the Trinity to only one gender. When we speak of God as our creator we are referring to much more than the physical universe. We are referring to the one who made all that is and who deserves our respect, love, and honor. Recognizing God as our creator and giving God as creator our respect, love, and honor is an important part of our beginning to enjoy salvation.
The word "respect" comes from a Latin word meaning "to look back at." Respect is a kind of knowledge we have from experience. We look back at our experience and choose to act in a certain way. Respect is not the same thing as enjoying or liking something. Respect is a way of understanding something's (or someone's) nature.
Respect is related to but different from love. Respect is always a part of appropriate love but you may not love each of the things you respect. I respect and value fire but I do not love it. A major and difficult part of becoming a mature Christian is connecting respect and romantic love. This connection between respect and love is also a part of our learning to honor God.
Honor is different from respect and love but is also entwined with them. To honor someone or something, you must first respect it and we hope you would have affection for it or even love it and then you act in a way that expresses that respect and affection. Honoring our country means understanding what it's strengths and weaknesses are and expressing that respect by standing for the pledge of allegiance and being willing to work hard to correct it's weaknesses. To honor someone you have romantic feelings toward means to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and protect, defend, and praise appropriately.
- Respect is the knowledge that results from knowing something's nature.
- Love is the feeling caused by mutuality, familiarity, or desire.
- Honor is the expression of admiration, or esteem we offer because of our respect.
Honoring God then requires that we know God. This can be difficult because we are always learning more about God. Our knowledge of God is always partial and we hope always growing. In an older time the phrase often used instead of "honoring God" was "fearing God." This phrase indicated that the individual had a knowledge of the power of God, but this phrase seems to minimize the believer's love for God. It is true that it may be possible to honor someone without loving them. (For instance, people who live under a vicious dictatorship may respect the power of the tyrant and may say and do many things to honor that dictator to save their lives, but still detest the dictator at the same time.) However, just as we are working to unite respect, love, and honor in our romantic relationships, we are always hoping to unite respect, love, and honor in our relationship with God.
Different Ways of Honoring God
In the ancient Middle East, honor was shown to rulers by touching one's head to the ground when in their presence. This was an ancient way of showing honor. In ancient Rome and feudal Europe, a whole form of address developed for a person to use when speaking to a superior. Terms like "Lord," "Lady," and "Sir" came to be a shorthand for reference to someone who had rank over you. Our use of "Lord" in reference to God is an outgrowth of this way of understanding the world.
Part of the Reformation was the Protestants' rejection of the hierarchy of priests and bishops which stood between the average believer and God. This concept of equality before God is a direct ancestor of the concept of equality before the law and equality within a democracy. This is a movement that has plowed through our denomination as we recognized the public ministries of women and addressed problems of racism, and it is still churning within our denomination over the qualifications for clergy and elders. We are still discovering what it means to be equal before God.
But the rethinking of relationships caused by the rejection of feudalism in our religious thinking challenges more than just our relationships with other persons. In our individual prayers an overuse of the terms "Lord" and "Father" for God may be a way of reinforcing an image of patriarchal hierarchy—an image of God as bullying war lord. Today in some churches, parishioners kneel during certain parts of the service just as they would kneel when in the presence of a monarch. Is Jesus our monarch or our brother? In our tradition, we usually do not kneel in submission during worship but sit as at a feast with God as the host. These questions about posture are part of our continuing struggle to develop appropriate ways of honoring God.
Salvation: God's Goal
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:16-17
Salvation is the result of God's love, and God's work. It is the goal of all the actions of God in history and the reason for all the gifts and blessings you have ever received. God created you for salvation and all creation yearns for that salvation.
We do not believe we receive salvation because of anything we do. Our hardest work as Christians is learning to accept, depend, and rest on God's love. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were for our salvation. The Holy Spirit's ministry draws us toward salvation, We accept salvation when we give up trying to earn God's love and begin to enjoy it. We trust God's gift of salvation in all the circumstances of life and know that not even death can separate us from the love of God.
As Presbyterians, we usually think about salvation in individualistic and personal terms. We greatly value the experience of God's love in our own lives, and in a sense we never get over our excitement at that gift, however, we also recognize that personal redemption is only one way to understand salvation. Salvation is also something we believe God is fomenting in society as unjust and oppressive systems are reformed and in cultures when ancient prejudices and hatreds are abandoned.
Many of us also think the work of scientists, nurses, engineers, and artists can be redemptive. As these professionals cure diseases, ease suffering, nurture creativity and discover beauty they redeem a part of our world. Restoration of the broken world is a work of redemption and of reshaping the world in positive ways. Presbyterian's believe that struggling for justice and alleviating suffering are works of God that we are invited to join and commit to just as we might work for the personal conversion of a loved one. Part of the joy of life within our personal salvation is the opportunity to join with God in the work of redeeming all creation.