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History of Salvation: Do you Believe in Love? [H1]

Updated: Feb 3


The 8th topic of the A-Z of DiscipleSHIP, “H”, is about the History of Salvation. Secondary school students attending history lessons for the first time are told that something is history not simply because it was in the past, but because it was memorable. You may have brushed your teeth yesterday. That was in the past, but it is not history. How about God visiting the earth as a Man? And dying as a condemned criminal? And rising from the dead? If that is not memorable, I don’t know what is. If you accept Christianity, then Pope St John Paul II would simply be stating the obvious when he declared in his first encyclical that “THE REDEEMER OF MAN, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history.” (Redemptor Hominis no 1).


Yet as the word “story” in “history” suggests, we are not simply talking about stuff happening “one thing after another”, but memorable events which can be shaped into a story. Theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar suggests that the Christian story is a “Theo-Drama”, evoking expectations of an epic movie production.


In this podcast, we will offer an outline of the plot (spoiler alert!) of this epic “movie production” called “Salvation History”. More than that, we also examine the significance watching this “movie” has for our own lives. And even better, we discover that we are also “actors” in this movie with our own roles. Will we decide that the Director does not know what he is doing? Or trust Him and follow the script given to us?


Listen to the podcast here:






Opening Prayer – From the Prologue of the Gospel according to John 1:1-18


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.


The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”


Opening Song


A. Introduction – Bible History and Bible Study: What’s the Difference?


Bible Study vs Bible History


My Dad is a convert to the Catholic faith. When asked what were his early influences which prompted his eventual decision, he shared “the brothers conducted Bible History classes every week when I was in St Anthony’s Primary.”


“You mean Bible classes”, I replied.


“Nope”, he insisted, “Bible History classes. There is a difference you know.”


With that, my Dad gave me an early lesson on how to read the Bible properly. Something which famous Catholic evangelist Jeff Cavins would later popularise in his “Great Adventure Bible Series.” Cavins notes that “while the Bible is truly an amazing book, many people admit that they have a difficult time reading it. While it contains all the elements of a great novel – a riveting plot, dynamic characters, fantastic settings, and a climactic conflict and resolution – the overarching “story” is not immediately apparent [1].”

Cavins then goes on to describe a familiar experience for those who decide they are going to read the Bible cover to cover


“Beginning with Genesis, then moving on to the Exodus, the reader has a sense of movement, an apparent narrative continuity, but the story is often interrupted by tangential anecdotes, lengthy genealogies, and mysterious characters and events that are difficult to understand. For many, the adventure of reading the Bible comes to an abrupt halt when they begin its third book, Leviticus. Suddenly the narrative has disappeared. In its place, the reader encounters a complex system of laws pertaining to the human body, relationships and ritual sacrifice that seem to have very little to do with anything he or she can relate to.”


The problem is of course not with the Bible per se, but with the way we approach the Bible. There is a difference between Bible classes and Bible history classes. The Bible is a library of 73 books. It’s all situated within a time period. But not all books are history in a narrative sense. A bible class may attempt to study a particular book and understand its literal and spiritual significance. A bible history class on the other hand would be interested primarily in the storyline, God’s interactions with this group of people i.e. the Jews and how their experiences with God are also universal experiences meant for the whole world.


14 Narrative Books


As such, in his “Great Adventure Bible Series”, Cavins helpfully identifies fourteen narrative books that tell the story from beginning to the end, namely:

  • Genesis

  • Exodus

  • Numbers

  • Joshua

  • Judges

  • 1 Samuel

  • 2 Samuel

  • 1 Kings

  • 2 Kings

  • Ezra

  • Nehemiah

  • 1 Maccabees

  • Luke

  • Acts

Cavins recommends that these fourteen books should be read in chronological order so as to get the overarching “story of salvation”. Having thus a firm understanding of “Bible History”, the other fifty-nine books which are not necessarily narrative, can then fit into the bigger picture.


Cavins promises that “as you become more comfortable navigating the Bible, you will be able to build a biblical foundation for yourself that will yield tremendous fruit. The knowledge and insight you gain will serve you well in every area of your life [2].”

B. The History of Salvation: The Sharing of a “Secret”


Cavins demonstrates a confidence in the power of epic stories to move people in a spiritual way. His remarks echoes what Bishop Robert Barron has noted about the spiritual dimension of acting.


In an interview with Hollywood actor Shia LaBeouf for an upcoming movie in which he plays St. Padre Pio, Bishop Baron notes that Aristotle considered theater cathartic, cleansing, especially when deep emotions like pity, fear and sorrow are acted out by the actors and the audience deals with them. Deep emotions, Bishop Barron notes, are often “suppressed” but they are “coming out when you watch a great film or a great play [3].” He then asks the actor “What’s happening when you see a really good movie beyond entertainment?” Without hesitation, LaBeouf answers “you are activated”. “When you see really good performances you go “oh wow”, this person is sharing a secret with me”. It connects with something deeper, somebody is expressing something that is in you and you are seeing it up on screen.


With careful qualifications, LaBeouf then compares the Priest saying Mass to a bit of a “performance” as he recapitulates the core of the History of Salvation, climaxing in the life death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. “When Mass is done really really well,” Labeouf continues, “you feel like a secret that is being shared with you.”


Whether consciously or not, LaBeouf’s use of the term “secret” echoes what the Catechism says when it discusses the revelation of the Holy Trinity, the climax of the history of Salvation:


“By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221).


"The Trinity" by Andrei Rublev. The three angels whom Abraham received under the Oak of Mamre is a typology, representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their seating arrangement invites the viewer to enter into their fellowship.

The term secret employed by LaBeouf and the Catechism is highly evocative. When you think of being let in on a “secret”, there has to be a sense of anticipation, a sense that you have been led to the point where you are actually curious. There is also suspense, possibly also a sense of incredulity, especially when you are also exposed to evidence to the contrary, but also a sense of “oh yes that makes sense in the light of everything I have known so far.” Every good novel or movie has that element of “secret”.

“Theo-Drama” & Typology


In this “theo-drama” called “Salvation history”, it is no different. The hint that God is Trinity can already be found in “episode 1” i.e. the book of Genesis. After creating space, time, land, plants and animals, Genesis 1:26 curiously writes, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. There is only One God. Who then is “us”?


If you are watching episode one, you may speculate, i.e. perhaps God is using the “royal plural” to describe himself. Or as the Navarre Bible comments, “Ancient Jewish interpretation (followed also by some Christian writers) saw the use of the plural “Let us make…” as meaning that God deliberated with his heavenly court, that is, with the angels (implying that God had created them at the very start, when he “created the heavens and the earth”… the use of the plural should….be taken as reflecting the greatness and power of God” [4].” That would indeed be a legitimate way of understanding this curious statement.


Yet the commentary continues, “A considerable part of Christian tradition has seen the “Let us make” as reflecting the Holy Trinity, for the New Testament revelation had made the Christian reader more aware of the unfathomable greatness of the divine mystery [5]”. In other words, once the theo-drama reaches episode 52 (i.e. the Acts of the Apostles where the Holy Spirit makes a grand entrance at Pentecost), the alert reader would go, “Oh now I realise, the Director has been hinting at this since episode 1.”


"An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments" by Hans Holbein the Younger (~1530), located at National Galleries of Scotland, licensed under CC BY-NC

This method is summed up by St. Augustine’s pithy formula when he says that: the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New'' (CCC 129).


The Catechism elaborates on this specifically when discussing the book of Genesis when it states that:


“The Old Testament suggests and the New Covenant reveals the creative action of the Son and the Spirit…He made all things by himself, that is, by his Word and by his Wisdom, ‘by the Son and the Spirit’ who, so to speak, are ‘his hands’. Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity”. (CCC 292)


The Church deploys a technical term to describe this method. Namely “typology”. Important themes are first introduced early on in the story. It is revisited later on and new light is shed on the theme when it is revisited and the reader gets new insights into the theme first introduced.


C. The History of Salvation: Covenant – Promises Made, Promises Kept


Meaning of “Covenant”


The Master Theme in this theo-drama is that of Covenant.


The Catholic Bible Dictionary describes “Covenant” at its very basic as a “kinship bond between two parties, with conditions or obligations, established by an oath or its equivalent”.

The Dictionary goes on to add that “Covenant is also the master-theme of the Bible, which records the various ways throughout history that God has drawn humanity into a familial relationship with himself through divine oaths [6].”


Promises


In any interesting drama, when promises are made between people, the audience wonders i.e. “will they keep their promises?” If they do, will it be tested? If they don’t, what will the other party do? That makes for tension, conflict and resolution. Essential to a storyline.


We learn very quickly in episode 1 that in the case of our first parents, promises were quickly broken. The Catechism summarizes the drama of sin in the following manner by stating that:


“Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart, and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command…. In that sin, man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him.” (CCC 397-398)


"Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" by Thomas Cole (1828). The contrast between the bright greenery on the right side representing Paradise and the dark wasteland Adam and Eve are walking towards is palpable.

What does God do when faced with broken promises? The Catechism states that:


“After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall.” (CCC 410).


God’s Constant Faithfulness


The entire Bible is thus driven by this master theme, i.e. God being constantly faithful. This is contrasted with humanity falling short and being unfaithful. Nevertheless there are some heroes who will rise above their inconstancy. Yet some will also have their flaws. Think for example of Abraham, Moses and King David.


Sometimes those complaining about God and him apparently abandoning “his side of the promise” seem to have a point, we as the audience sympathise with them. Job for instance is the prime example. When reading the lamentations of Jeremiah, when he describes mothers killing their children and eating their flesh because Judah was besieged by the Babylonian empire (Lamentations 4:10), you can’t help but also want to complain to God on his behalf upon seeing the destruction of the Temple and deportation of an entire people from their land.


In the Sacred Liturgy, this recurring theme of “promises made promises kept” reaches its climax in the liturgy of Holy Thursday when you refer to the readings from both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament reading for Holy Thursday, we hear of the Passover lamb which will be sacrificed for Israel’s liberation from the bonds of slavery in Egypt as God begins to strike down the first born of Egypt. The text concludes by declaring that “this day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival forever” (Exodus 12:14).


Fast forward to the New Testament when in the letter to the Corinthians, the reading explicitly describes the last supper as “the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25) portraying Jesus as the New Passover lamb establishing a New and definitive Covenant and liberating the people again, this time from the bonds of slavery to Sin.

"Agnus Dei", by Francisco de Zurbarán (1635-1640), depicting Christ as the Passover Lamb

A statement that the Creator of the Universe is “Love” and that human beings, are “destined to share in the Creator’s exchange of love” is not something that is obvious or anticipated. However, through the narrative of scripture, we begin to see how “fitting” the revelation of the Trinity is to the climax of Salvation History.


D. The Spiritual Power of Good Stories


It might be fitting to end this post/podcast not so much with reference to Jeff Cavins, whom I had earlier commended on his tremendous work in making the stories of the Bible “come alive”, but to a (at this moment), non-Christian author, Jordan Peterson.


In his conversation with Bishop Robert Barron, Peterson was praised by the Bishop for sharing the stories of the Bible in a “smart and compelling” manner “especially to young people [7]”. As a clinical psychologist, Peterson approaches the Biblical stories for deep psychological insights into the story of life. His lectures have been watched by millions of viewers.


Peterson shares that he is grateful for the fact that his work has helped to counteract “the new atheists” who “demolish… and leave people with nothing… and [feeling] so empty that it just really produces pain for people.”


Peterson goes on to say that he has talked to “many many people, including atheists, who have been vastly relived to find some deeper meaning in the archaic stories (of the Bible) that our culture is predicated on [8]”.


Peterson is careful to let his audience know that he is approaching the scripture stories strictly for its psychological truth and claims not to know if the stories themselves are historically true. In one interview when asked about the traditional Christian claim that the Resurrection of Jesus happened as an event of history, Peterson says that he needs at least “three more years to think about this” even before attempting to venture an answer [9].


And yet again in another interview, when discussing the same question, Peterson breaks down in awe-struck tears, declaring that in Christ, “the objective and narrative world touch… and I have seen that many times in my own life, and the ultimate example is supposed to be Christ. And that seems oddly plausible [10]”.

Jesus Christ is the Answer


Peterson’s poignant longing that the historical and psychological can touch in the person of Christ is a poignant example of the relationship between experiencing simultaneously, something that is beautiful, good and true at the same time. Augustine Institute scholar Joseph Pearce points out, Jesus Christ is the answer to Pilate’s perennial question: what is truth? Pearce goes on:


“It is Christ Himself who is truth. And it is Christ who is also beauty and goodness. Christ is the very incarnation of the good, the true and the beautiful. He is these three things rolled into one. Truth is, therefore, trinitarian. It is one with the good and the beautiful.


Since, properly understood, they are synonymous with Christ, it can be seen that the good, the true and the beautiful are the ends for which we strive. They are, however, also the means by which we attain the end. Christ is not merely the truth and the life, he is the way. He is not only the end, He is the means. All that is good, all that is true and all that is beautiful have their source in Christ and lead us to Him [11].”


The poet John Keats declares that that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.


The History of Salvation is the story of truth, goodness and beauty, as divinely revealed by God himself, because it culminates in the God made Man, Jesus Christ.


And that essentially captures the Christian belief.


Closing Prayer


Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. We long for your coming at the end of time. And we long for your coming into our lives today. May our contact with truth, goodness, beauty, and the history of salvation, be too for us, the fullness of Redemption. We ask this through your most Holy Name. The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the End. Amen.


* Is there anything in this session that struck you or any thoughts, experiences or ideas which come to your mind? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.


** Thank you for joining us on the A-Z of DiscipleSHIP. We look forward to having you with us again next month, as we dive into the letter “I” for Imitating the Saints.


Recommended Closing Songs


(interpreted as a song between you and God)

Recommended Resources




Reflection and Sharing Questions

Post-Confirmands/Young Adults/Working Adults/Singles/Divorced/Widowed

Married Couples

Parents

The above questions can also be downloaded in PDF form here:

H1 History of Salvation Sharing Questions
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Download PDF • 113KB

Download the slides here:

The History of Salvation [H1]
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Download PDF • 897KB


© Presented by the Catholic Theology Network (writers / contributors / sound): Nick Chui (MTS, JPII Institute for Marriage and Family, AU) (lead writer), Dominic Chan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Keenan Tan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Marcia Vanderstraaten (Diploma in Theology, CTIS); publicity & design: Chandra Nugraha.


Footnotes


1. Jeff Cavins, Forward to the Great Adventure Catholic Bible (Pennsylvania: Ascension Publishing, 2018), pg xxv.


2. Cavins, pg xxxii.


3. Bishop Barron Presents: Shia LaBeouf - Padre Pio and the Friars https://youtu.be/hjxKG4mR3U4?t=607 at 9:43.


4. Navarre Bible on the “Pentateuch” (New Jersey: Sceptre Publishing, 2003), pg 40.

5. Ibid.


6. Scott Hahn eds, Catholic Bible Dictionary, pg 168.


7. Christopher Kaczor & Matthew R. Petrusek, “Jordan Peterson, God and Christianity” (Illinois: Word on Fire Institute, 2021), pg 180.

8. Ibid, pg 184.

9. Jordan Peterson, “Is the Resurrection Historical? https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=118&v=bDd2hXZPzb4&feature=emb_title The Catechism teaches in no 639 that “The mystery of Christ's resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness.”

10. “Jordan Peterson, moved to tears talking about Jesus” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf7SO_BeRR8


11. Joseph Pearce, “Beauty is Truth: Faith and Aesthetics” https://www.faithandculture.com/home/2018/5/29/beauty-is-truth-faith-and-aesthetics

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