ShePonders: Salvation Oracles


” … a salvation oracle is meant to break the power of nightmares by reminding us that all is well.”

Amid the darkest part of the night, his feet skated across the cold tile floor until he stood, teetering and breathless, by my bed: “Mama, I had a bad dream.” Even through the blackness I could see his eyes, glazed with fear and lingering tendrils of sleep.

I sat up in bed. I took his hand in mine, looked him in the eye and invited him to take a deep breath with me. In the span between our slow inhale and exhale, he came to a little.

“You’re alright, Justin, you are awake and safe at home with me. Emma’s all right, she’s sleeping in her room. Papa’s okay, too.” He nodded slowly, registering the truths I’d just spoken into the night air between us.

Then I told him he could return to bed–all is well, we’re all safe. He shuffled slowly down the hall and burrowed back under his blankets. The nightmare at an end. No waking again until morning.


Every time I hear those fast-moving feet approach, I prepare to give a salvation oracle to my son. I wake him up to the reality that he isn’t under threat anymore, but safe in my room where night terrors possess no power to hurt him. My singular goal in that midnight moment: make sure he knows he’s safe. Once he understands what’s real, the menacing phantoms in his room are unmasked, no longer real and no longer scary.

I owe this bit of wisdom to Walter Brueggemann, who wrote somewhere that a salvation oracle is meant to break the power of nightmares by reminding us that all is well. I think I took the advice a bit more literally than he intended, but salvation oracles are how we confront and dismantle nightmares in our house now.


When we hear the words “fear not” in the Bible, we’ve most likely been launched into a salvation oracle. God tells us with great regularity that we don’t need to be afraid. We don’t need to fear, because God will water our dry places, redeem us, keep us safe, help us out of troubles, both real and imagined. Do not fear, for I am with you echoes through the prophets more than once, speaking to weary and wavering captives, hungry for homecoming.

When the angelic choir burst onto the Bethlehem night sky, they interrupted the living nightmare of shepherds eking out an existence under the occupation of Rome. Do not be afraid! Your Deliverer is nearby, lying in a manger. The shepherds didn’t wait for an encore; they hurried into town to find their Savior.

When the earth shook, rattling the women on that chilled morning by the grave, the angel immediately said, Do not be afraid! But they were afraid–and confused. Was it all a bad dream–the arrest, the grotesque possession through Jerusalem, the unjust crucifixion? He is not dead, He is risen! And He’s already on the way to Galilee … They didn’t need to hear any further instructions; they were going to catch up to Jesus for a reunion.

And this is what salvation oracles speak of–safety, but also presence and proximity. We are not alone; God is with us. Emmanuel has come and you can enter into God’s presence where all nightmares meet their end.


When my husband proposed, I held off accepting for over five weeks because the idea of a future life in Burundi frightened me. Then a mentor leaned across the lunch table and at said, Don’t be afraid of what might happen, God is with you. The words obliterated the fear calcifying my heart, so I could say yes to my beloved.

Was it wrong, I wondered, to doubt the way I’d always believed about a central tenet of my faith?

You don’t have to be afraid, God is with you as you explore new ways of understanding Him, another trusted friend said one bright February afternoon. A heaviness lifted and I felt breath rush into my body again, a freedom reclaimed somehow.

When presented with the opportunity to move to Africa I feared leaving my job, my house, my world. The women gathered around me in the front room spoke, almost in unison, Don’t be afraid, God is in this, He is with you as you go. And they gave me the courage to quit and leave and go.


Salvation oracles aren’t only for captives, shepherds or forlorn women. Words that end bad dreams don’t only address small children in the dead of night. Salvations oracles speak to us as we encounter our nightmarish realities, the things that leave us breathless and teetering.

Sometimes we need someone to speak to us, to tell us Fear not–God is here. Fear not–underneath it all are the Everlasting Arms. Fear not–you are safe because Emmanuel is here.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, is our incarnate salvation oracle. Emmanuel, near to us and ever reminding us that all will be well, and life will trump death and we can live fearless in His presence.


Image credit: Cozy, by Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography, Boise, ID