As I work through the Book of Acts for Sunday morning Bible study, I am becoming more aware of the similarities between the pre-modern world of the first century and the post-modern world of the 21st century. For example, we have assumed certain things about the Philippian jailer that may not be justified. You know the story. Paul and Silas have been thrown into prison because of an act of generosity. This is what happened next:
We have usually jumped to the conclusion that the jailer wants to be saved from his sins. But how would he know that he needed to be forgiven? He was a pagan, perhaps a retired Roman soldier who had been rewarded for his service with a nice government job. There is no indication that he had ever heard about the God of Israel or the teaching of Paul and Silas about Jesus. So from what was he asking to be saved?
I believe he was asking to be saved from his fear of the unknown. Something unexpected had entered his life. His world had been turned upside down. There was an earthquake which threw the doors of the prison open. What had caused this? Were there hostile gods or spirits behind this? Had the prisoners escaped? If so, he feared retribution from those in the Roman government he served. His fears were rooted both in the existential and the material. His fragile sense of security was in shambles. All seemed to be conspiring against him.
This is certainly the postmodern dilemma. Bad things happen and people have no framework with which to understand them. Sometimes they cannot even give a name to those fears. They are cast adrift and need to be saved. They fear the unknown and unknowable.
There is a God who understands that bad things happen and who helps us to deal with those things, a God who provides a base for building a life of faith and hope. This is the Good News that Paul and Silas proclaim: You can be saved from your fear of the unknown.