“Location, Location, Location.”
Like an ancient statue wrapped and lined with green, twisting vines, this mantra has remained steadfast and true throughout the years. Even as the landscape of business has shifted, with the old oaks of advertising falling and the saplings of social media slowly growing into middle-aged trees, this one word, location, repeated three times over, has stayed stoic, echoing a seemingly ageless wisdom for every new sojourner who seeks success.
Yet if we move from business to spirituality, location’s staying power is suddenly rendered in a different light. Does my location – where I am – matter when it comes to knowing God? I often hear students and friends ask, “Am I only saved because I grew up in a Christian home?” The corollary question comes soon after: “Would I still believe in Jesus if I lived in a remote island or happened to grow up in another country?” These questions, and questions like them, are legitimate. They need to be asked because they unearth our curiosity about this God who is love and justice, mercy and grace.
Does location determine salvation?
Dallas and Rochester are very different. 110 degree summers scorch the flat, concrete roads of the South while those living in the North enjoy the fresh blooms of lilacs and outdoor concerts at Central Park. Texas cultivates a culture that thrives on religiosity; New York finds its religiosity in business, success and a restless ennui. Having grown up in the Bible belt and later experiencing the cultural dynamics of New York and the East Coast in college, I’ve tasted the flavors of religion and spirituality available to us in both places. Nuances abound, but generally, Christianity is fairly accepted in one place (you can guess which one) and more opposed and questioned in the other.
Given the stark contrasts between Texas and New York, I can’t help but wonder whether my location growing up ultimately affected my salvation. Of course, environment and culture cannot be ignored. They do influence, and quite substantially, too. But do they corner my spirituality to reflect my surroundings?
At first glance, God’s Word doesn’t directly reveal much clarity to our question. There are no verses that address hypotheticals like ours. But we’re not left completely in the dark either. Acts 17 says, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
In these verses, my questions are relativized before a wise God, who has determined when and where I should live, so that I might seek him and perhaps reach out to him. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that beautiful? God ordains our specific circumstances and specially designates them for us, that we might know him. And he does that for all us – the one surrounded by Christian culture, the remote islander, the seeker and the outcast!
“‘For in him, we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”