Thomas Merton on ‘salvation’


What every man looks for in life is his own salvation and the salvation of the [ones] he lives with. By salvation I mean first of all the full discovery of who he himself really is. Then I mean something of the fulfillment of his own God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. I mean also the discovery that he cannot find himself in himself alone, but that he must find himself in and through others.

— Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

This is so different from what salvation meant in the Christian tradition I knew when I was young. The commonly heard phrase “are you saved?” comes to mind as a good example. That question could stand in for any of these, depending on the situation:

  • Are you going to heaven, or to hell?
  • Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?
  • Are you one of us, or one of them?
  • Are you safe for me to be around, or do you need to be saved first?

In this tradition, I was “saved” by age ten (if not before). I was one of them, safe.

But I wasn’t safe; I wasn’t one of them; I knew for sure that Jesus and heaven were primarily about doctrines I assented to and rules I lived by, but had little if anything to do with my heart. I had no clue what ‘joy’ was, the joy Jesus and Peter and John and Paul talked about. It was completely foreign to me.

Over time I had to admit to myself and others close to me that the Gospel seemed more like bad news to me than good. I didn’t want just fire insurance to save me at the very moment of my death; I wanted life, the life Jesus came to give us, and to live it every day and every moment of every day until my death and beyond. I didn’t know it then, but I wanted to “become all flame“.

  • What is your notion of salvation?
  • What is your experience with confronting the question “Are you saved?”
  • What do you think of what Merton is saying?

Grace and peace…and salvation to you…


p.s. WordPress is telling me this post is “Saved” – glad to know it 🙂

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash


2 thoughts on “Thomas Merton on ‘salvation’

  1. I consider salvation as a process, not an event, and is a matter of living toward true self – that incorporates the understanding that Merton states.

    Am I saved? I experience salvation every day I move from ego toward the image of God in which I am created – “the Bible tells me so.”


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