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The Story of Soteria
Every Story of Healing Begins with a Story of Suffering
Four years ago, I experienced complications from a surgery that resulted in multiple pulmonary embolisms. With blood clots lodged in my lungs, I fought for every breath. My heart rate was perilously high as my heart struggled to pump blood through clotted veins, and my oxygen levels were dangerously low as my body refused to take in air. I spent a week in the hospital and another seven months recovering at home.
I am okay now, but I am not the same.
That first night in the hospital marked the beginning of a new journey. A journey I didn’t expect. A journey I didn’t ask for. And a journey I for sure didn’t want. I didn’t know where it would lead or how long it would take. I just knew it would require more than I had, and I’d need help to get through it.
Chances are good you’ve been on a similar journey. If not in a hospital, then somewhere. A journey that took you where you never planned on going and cost you more than you ever planned on giving. A journey that at times you weren’t sure you’d survive.
Perhaps you’re on such a journey now or you know someone who is.
If you have experienced the kind of unexpected turn that has turned your life upside down. If you have found yourself on a path you never would have chosen for yourself. If you have endured circumstances you never could have previously imagined. These words are for you. They’re less about my journey and more about the journey toward healing and wholeness we can all take when life leads us down unexpected paths.
The Soteria We All Need
The journey to healing is best captured in the Greek word soteria.
In its simplest definition, it means restoration to a state of health or deliverance from danger of destruction. [i] In classical Greek, soteria is also used to indicate a person’s safe return to his or her home after an absence or a journey, like Homer’s Odyssey. [ii] That is what I wanted most when I was in the hospital — a safe return home and the restoration of my health.
But this little word soteria means more than mere physical health and safety. It’s a multilayered word that expands to mean our inner healing as well. Sometimes it’s translated to mean peace and well-being. [iii]
At the core of our being, soteria is what every human wants, what every human needs. Peace. Well-being. Safety. Both physically and spiritually.
The theme of soteria is woven throughout all of Scripture. [iv]
In the Old Testament, soteria appears 158 times. [v] Beginning in Genesis, soteria is translated as “peace” or “safety” (Genesis 26:31, 28:21, 44:17). But then soteria takes on its fuller meaning — the salvation of the Lord — when God’s people are standing at the edge of the Red Sea with an Egyptian army pursuing them. They can’t move forward without drowning, and they can’t move backward without a hostile army overtaking them. So, Moses says to the people:
Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation [soteria] of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. (Exodus 14:13-14, emphasis mine)
This, of course, is when God parts the Red Sea through Moses’s staff and God’s people walk across the sea on dry land. But notice what God does right before the sea miraculously divides. The pillar of cloud, representing the presence of God going before the host of Israel, “moved and went behind them . . . coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20).
God’s people experienced soteria — they were saved from physical death and delivered to safety — because God put himself between his people and the army chasing them.
This is the kind of story we want when we’re suffering. We want God’s awesome, majestic power to swoop down and save us, to give us soteria! Then we want to dance like Miriam in response.
The story of the exodus was a physical deliverance that foreshadowed the spiritual deliverance that is now ours through Christ. For God, once again, placed himself between us and certain death when he hung on a cross. Jesus delivered us from the sin that ensnares our hearts.
More often than not, soteria in the Bible is translated as “salvation” and is used to describe a spiritual deliverance. This is the kind of salvation Paul refers to in Romans 1:16 when he says the gospel is the power of God for salvation — for soteria.
This is the story of soteria, the story of how God came to earth and wrote salvation into human history.
So, whether or not you’ve lain in a hospital bed wondering if or when you might return home, we’ve all dealt with unexpected crises. And the journey to healing both begins and ends with soteria — more specifically, the soteria we find in Scripture.
But within this grand scriptural narrative are countless individual narratives. And it’s here, subsumed within the larger biblical narrative, we can find our own stories of soteria, with God moving time and orchestrating events for a larger purpose that isn’t always visible to the human eye.
And every story of healing begins with a story of suffering.
In most church circles today, it’s common for people to gather and tell their testimony — their personal soteria story of how God met them and changed their lives.
The churchy words for this are how they got “saved” and “delivered.” When folks are new to the faith, they usually aren’t familiar with this vernacular, which is understandable, but God is real to them, and their hearts have been changed! That’s what matters. The rest comes in time as part of one’s ongoing faith journey.
I love hearing people’s stories. I love hearing how God has met them in surprising places and in surprising ways. And while every person’s story is unique, I think most testimonies tend to fall into one of the following three types of transformation.
Three Transformation Stories
1) The Paul Transformation: Dramatic and Dynamic
Paul’s journey to faith was dramatic. Spiritually speaking, he experienced a major before-and-after makeover. After one encounter with Jesus, Paul went from persecutor to preacher practically overnight (Acts 9). Then God chose Paul to take the Good News of Jesus to the world.
Perhaps like Paul, you lived a portion of your adult life apart from knowing God. Then through a course of events that only God could have orchestrated, you met God in a very real way, and it changed everything for you. Now you’re a completely different person. Praise God!
2) The Peter Transformation: Up and Down and Up Again
Peter’s transformation took a bit longer. He spent three years in the company of Jesus, learning from him and witnessing his miracles. But when Jesus stood trial, Peter denied him. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Peter’s remorse and repentance were genuine, though, and Jesus later restored Peter (John 21). Then God chose Peter to build the early church.
Perhaps like Peter, you knew God for a time. But then, through a series of events, you experienced deep failure. In the midst of this pain, you sought God’s forgiveness, and in true repentance, you turned from your sin. Now you are filled with compassion for those who are struggling, and you want your life to speak to the living truth of Christ’s power to redeem. Praise God!
3) The John Transformation: Slow and Steady
John’s faith walk was long and slow and steady. Being the youngest of all the disciples, he met Jesus fairly early in his life. John’s story doesn’t have a dramatic before-and-after makeover, and Scripture doesn’t record a major failure in his life. God chose John to be the last of the living disciples, and he eventually became a grandfatherly figure in the early church, telling God’s Story while loving God’s children (1 John).
Perhaps like John, you gave your heart to God at an early age. You don’t have a dramatic before-and-after story, and you’ve not experienced a major failure per se. But you have witnessed God’s faithfulness in your life as you have grown deeper in your faith, and you enjoy serving God’s people today. Praise God!
Let me pause here for a moment and speak to each of these soteria stories.
Today, in certain church circles, we may sometimes wish we had a different story. If our story is more like John’s, we may think our story is too boring. Or if our story is more like Paul’s, we may think our story is too scandalous and we may try to tame the telling of our story.
Whatever your story may be, I want to encourage you: God is the author of your faith, and he has a purpose for the specific story of soteria he is writing in your life.
While there are many stories of transformation in the Bible, I think most believers can identify with one of these three (Paul, Peter, and John) to some degree.
Or maybe there is someone else in the Bible you relate to?
Or maybe you’re still on the fence?
Maybe you’re still not sure if this God stuff is right for you, or if it’s even right at all. Maybe you’ve experienced so much sorrow you’re struggling with whether or not God can be trusted with your life. For a time, this was me.
There was a season in my life when I related more to Habakkuk. He’s considered a minor figure in the Old Testament simply because he recorded a very short book with just three chapters total. But what I’ve always appreciated about Habakkuk is the way he asked God questions. He never held anything back. He was very candid with God about his struggles. Most of all, he wanted to know why God would allow certain heartache to come to his people.
It’s an honest question, one we’ve probably all asked at one time or another.
Last week, I shared a few challenging verses from the Bible, and I said I would begin a series to help explain some of those passages. I’m still planning on doing this, but first it was important to set the stage. Every one of those hard verses in the Bible were spoken and written by a real person living a real story — usually a hard story. And their stories, like yours and mine, are always embedded within God’s larger story of soteria.
So, before diving into those hard verses, I want us to keep in mind this larger story of soteria that God is authoring throughout human history.
In the comments today, I’d love to hear your story of soteria. Do you relate more to Paul’s story of transformation? Or Peter’s? Or John’s? Or someone else’s?