13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
Believe it or not, before I became a pastor, I was a scientist. I studied organic chemistry and biochemistry and all the other requirements for medical school. I worked in a neurobiology laboratory where I would do grotesque things to rats all day, like sticking needles into their still-beating hearts. I even took the MCAT, the standardized test for medical school, and did quite well. Actually, “quite well” is something of a relative term. And whenever I read this well-known passage, that hidden scientist side of me comes out for a moment.
In the passage, Jesus says that non-salty salt is good for nothing but to thrown out and trampled by men. But really, that would do nothing to it. Salt is comprised of some powerful molecular bonds (ionic ones, if I remember correctly), and when bonded into a solid form, create a very stable crystal with a cubic lattice structure. As a result, salt is pretty hard to destroy. If rock salt is smashed, it merely becomes smaller and smaller crystals of salt. It is hard to melt, with a melting point of nearly 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Trampling salt would not destroy it.
You know the simplest practical way of getting rid of salt? You dilute it.
Although difficult to shatter or melt, it is very easy to dissolve salt into water. So if you want to get rid of salt, you dissolve it into a measure of water, and then pour half of that water out, dilute the remainder with more pure water, pour half out, dilute and pour, dilute and pour. And after enough dilutions, the concentration of salt in your volume of water becomes so small as to be virtually undetectable. You haven’t really destroyed the salt, but watered it down to the point where it is no longer noticeable any longer.
And so it is with faith.
Faith can withstand incredible pressure of the worst kinds. Faith will often remain intact in the face of the terrible tragedy and loss and sickness and death, as evidenced in the lives of countless saints, across centuries, around the world. In fact, according to the book of Hebrews, suffering actually refines and strengthens faith, rather than the opposite! Just like salt, faith is strong and stable and enduring.
But just like salt, the easiest way to get rid of faith is to water it down. You dilute faith with worldly priority and concerns, getting ahead at work, saving up a bit of money so that you can get that car you don’t need, chasing that skirt or those broad shoulders, climbing this or that ladder for a better view and greener lawn. Nothing serious, nothing criminal, just a little bit of the world and its values in small quantities. More often than not, this is not a conscious action on behalf of Christians, but an osmosis of sorts, the subtle and unfiltered imbibing of the world’s priorities and point of view through countless sources: friends, family, movies, magazines, internet, internet, internet. And if you do this repeatedly, over the course of years, faith becomes diluted, its concentration and influence dwarfed by other concerns and values that seeped into our lives undetected. In time, our faith, so strong and potent, becomes virtually undetectable, watered down into non-existence.
Most likely, your faith will endure through trials of the worst kinds. But be very careful that your faith is not in the process of destruction through dilution.
There is a very important note that I want to make in all of this: all Believers walk a delicate line between being separated from the world for the purpose of holiness, and being engaged with that same world for the purpose of mission. It is a difficult balance that is important for all Believers to strike. But in the end, I have to say that it is more dangerous for us to walk too close to the world than to be too separated from it. I say this not as a person who has lived as an ascetic monk his whole life, but as a person who listens to the unholiest of rock music and plays the goriest of video games, one who has always cheated far more towards the principle of engagement than separation. We always strive for balance, but must remember that separating ourselves from the world may destroy our mission, but engaging too closely with it will destroy our faith.
And what good is it if we are more able to relate to the world, but forget the message that we were meant to bear in the first place?