The Helmet of Salvation

A police officer needs his badge. A scientist needs her lab coat. A carpenter needs his toolbelt. A farmer needs her overalls.

A soldier needs his armor.

Without the proper attire and gear, we are unfit to do the jobs we set out to do. Badges give identity and authority. Lab coats separate the lab from the outside world. Toolbelts allow for handy access to hammers, nails, squares, etc. Overalls keep mud and…other things…off a person. Armor protects and preserves a soldier as he fights the enemy. All of these examples of tools and clothing bring specific images to our minds. We can picture a cop with his badge, or a farmer in her overalls, or a soldier in his armor. Paul – author of the book of Ephesians, a letter to the people in Ephesus – was counting on such visualization with his metaphor the “armor of God:”

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17, NIV)

Ephesus was included in the Roman Empire at the time Paul wrote his letter (AD 61-63). No doubt the Ephesians were familiar with Roman soldiers bedecked in their armor and holding shields nearly three and a half feet tall. Paul compares a soldier’s belt, breastplate, properly clad feet, shield, sword, and helmet to attributes a Christian should have. Every day, when Christians wake up and exchange pajamas for whatever we plan to wear physically, we should also strap on our armor, pick up our shields and swords, and brace ourselves to wage spiritual warfare.

“The Armor of God” is a lesson I’m currently teaching fourth through sixth-graders in Sunday School. In a great attempt to make class more fun, I often incorporate games, crafts, and media such as pictures and videos. While looking for a video on the effects of brain trauma to explain the importance of wearing a helmet, I came across this video with the provocative title, “Permanent Hell: Life With a Traumatic Brain Injury.” (Step Back Think, 2012).

In this video, Professor Andrew H. Kaye, Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at Royal Melbourne Hospital, describes, in rather simple terms, what happens to the brain when it is violently jarred and injured. The consequences escalate in severity to the point of irreversible damage and a body left in a vegetative state. I will not comment one way or the other about whether death would be a more merciful outcome than an existence marked only by biological signs of life. But I will comment that an existence marked only by biological signs of a life – a “living hell,” as Professor Kaye calls it – is a glorious existence compared to one in the true Hell.

I thought this video was not entirely appropriate for little eyes and ears, but I could not pass up the analogy to be made. Paul’s description of the armor of God includes the helmet of salvation. Salvation! What a wonderful thing it is to be spared the punishment for our sins because Jesus already took it upon Himself. When we tear down the thrones we have set up for ourselves and turn instead to God as our king, and when we believe that Jesus’ resurrection for the dead means a resurrection for us one day, we attain salvation:

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NIV)

A heavenly helmet deflects the strikes of the enemy, no matter how forcefully they bring temptations and trials against us. No matter if we sometimes stumble in our soldierly march; salvation cannot be taken from us.

“The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:5, NIV)

While on this earth, Christians must strap on our armor, pick up our shields, and grip our swords tightly as we go about their daily lives as police officers, scientists, carpenters, farmers, or whatever role God has given to us because we definitely need it. Salvation gives us the hope of Heaven while we endure the realities of earth. After all, armor is meant to risk likelihood of injury on the battlefield, but it doesn’t guarantee escape from harm.

Armor of all sorts – Kevlar vests, bump caps, seatbelts, vaccinations – is meant to protect the physical body from harm. But despite the protections these innovations provide, we all still face mortality. Do you wear the helmet of salvation? Do you have the hope of eternal life? Life may seem difficult even if one is not in a permanent vegetative state, but any life is sweeter than an eternity of Hell.  On the other hand, every life – no matter if it is filled daily with chocolate-covered rainbows – is nothing compared with an eternity of Heaven!

 

Step Back Think. (August 14, 2012).  Permanent Hell: Life with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0xuJtVVK8A&list=PLQewEnIEteAKgzY_3iqee7mO9UZPjuyr4&t=0s&index=9

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God is Everywhere, Part 1: Consider the Butterfly

What is a rarer find than an albino deer munching a mouthful of four-leaf clovers that grew in a spot where lightning struck twice?  A Millenial Christian scientist.  I don’t mean a Millenial Christian Scientist – a young adult who emphasizes a connection between spiritual activity and physical healing – but a young adult who believes the orderly outlay of the universe is God’s creation.  I do not believe this only because I take the Bible, which covers the creation of the world in Genesis 1, literally, but because I see the natural world as so organized and intricate that its origins and processes could not have come about by chance.

Perhaps I exaggerated about the odds of a finding a person of my generation who believes in both a Christ and Creator.  But when I was an undergraduate in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program at a secular university, the scientific community that surrounded me dismissed all notions of Intelligent Design – the theory that a deliberate cause is behind certain aspects of nature – and especially Creationism – essentially, Intelligent Design that gives credit to an intelligent Creator – in favor of unguided evolution driven by mutation and circumstance.

But I could not swallow that.  I did as Jesus commanded: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27, KJV).  Jesus was inviting His disciples to practice the first step of the Scientific Method: to observe the natural world around them.  Jesus wants us to look at the world around us – a wonderful reminder that God is powerful enough to keep the entire universe moving, yet loving enough to care about the petals of every flower.

And so ends the preamble to a series I am starting called “Consider the lilies…and other things.”  The first “other thing” will be…butterflies.  Today is National Learn about Butterflies Day  (Seriously.  I found out on Facebook.), so it’s appropriate for me to post this today.  Butterflies are amazing for many reasons: they “taste” with their feet, some species can fly at 37 miles per hour, and the monarch butterfly can successfully migrate over a distance of 2,000 miles without the aid of Google Maps (San Diego Zoo Global, 2016).  But what I find most fascinating about butterflies is the complex metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult butterfly.

When I was younger, I would capture swallowtail caterpillars I found munching on dill plants in my parents’ garden, place them in a large plastic container lovingly furnished with sticks, grass, dill, and air holes in the container’s lid, and wait for the day the creeping caterpillar would be replaced with a conical chrysalis.  I could only imagine what was taking place inside as the ugly duckling was turning into a swan.  Thanks to modern technology, we can have a better understanding of what takes place during this transition.  Recently, the method called micro-CT was used to take cross-section images of a chrysalis at different stages of metamorphosis (Young, 2013).  These images were put together to form virtual models showing how the organs and structures of a butterfly develop (Young, 2013).

While the processes of this event can be explained, much like the formation of a baby within its mother’s womb, both still carry an aura of mystery.  For me, both are evidence of God: elements and molecules come together to make organs and membranes exactly as He designed them to, yet no one’s hands but His can touch and mold the new life.  The author of  Psalm 139:13-14 praises God for this: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  

The transition of a crawling caterpillar into an airborne butterfly is also an illustration of the rebirth a person experiences when he is saved through Christ.  Jesus told Nicodemus (a Pharisee who was interested in Jesus’ teachings) that a man must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus was puzzled by these words which probably gave him a very weird mental image.  Jesus explained He was not talking about physical birth, but spiritual birth: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8).  Spiritual transformation cannot be gained through physical, earthly means.  It can only be gained through the grace given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And once we are transformed, we are not just caterpillars wearing a new set of clothes; we are fluttering, soaring, unbounded butterflies no longer confined to the lowly world.  As Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  

Even though this front pew kid is all grown up, I still am amazed by the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies, of despairing hearts into joyous ones.  Such creations as the butterfly are wonderful reminders of the new lives God wants us to enjoy to the full.  Of course, He does not want us to forget who designed the caterpillars and butterflies in the first place, so this Christian scientist will be okay with leaving a few mysteries unexplained.

 

Photo credit: Author.

San Diego Zoo Global.  (2016).  Arthropods | Butterfly.  Retrieved from http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/butterfly.

Young, E.  (2013, May 14).  Not Exactly Rocket Science: 3-D Scans Reveal Caterpillars Turning Into Butterflies.  Retrieved from http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/14/3-d-scans-caterpillars-transforming-butterflies-metamorphosis/.

Unless noted, Bible verses are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.