This Is My Gospel
I want to tell you a story. Telling you this story is a risky endeavor. For starters, I believe that the Gospel contained in this story must be embodied before it can be spoken. If I tell it too early, it can come off as a meaningless fairytale that seems to fit the bill of Marx’s “opiate of the masses”. On the other hand, if I fail to tell it at all, I may rob you of the choice to embrace or reject a hope and a destiny that you may never know of otherwise. All of this is further complicated by the fact that I am massively condensing an enormous amount of material. Think of the story I’m telling you as the movie version of a really great, really long book. Without question, the book is much better than my version of it. Doubtless I will blow certain aspects of it. Unquestionably, I take too much artistic license in places and gloss over parts that are extremely important. Admittedly, some parts of it are more than a little hard to believe. Even so, I believe it. I don’t mean to imply that it has been empirically proven to me. Rather, it is a story that I have confidence in, or rather, that I have “faith” in. It is a story that both requires and is characterized by… hope.
Normally, you begin with the beginning of a story. However, we are going to begin before the beginning. Before the beginning there was God. But this God is somehow a community of three; a Father, a Son, and a Spirit. This community is so unified that the only way to truly capture it is to say “God is One”, or maybe “God is love”.
This God decides to create everything that exists, and He loves everything He creates. In the middle of His creation, God creates human beings “in his image”. They are given a special commission to bear and reflect the image of God to the rest of creation. These human beings live in a state of perfect harmony: harmony with God (he actually is said to “walk” with them), harmony with each other (indeed, it is only in community that they can bear the image of this communal God), and harmony with the rest of God’s creation. Eventually, though, the human beings are persuaded to make an incredibly selfish choice that breaks this perfect harmony, and sends all of creation on a trajectory towards death, decay, and isolation.
But God doesn’t give up on his dream. He begins to enact a plan to restore the broken harmony and make all things new. Time passes and God makes contact with a man named Abram (who’s name is eventually changed to Abraham). Though Abram is old and childless, God makes a covenant with him, in which he promises to create a great nation out of his descendants. They will be God’s people and God will bless them. However, this blessing is explicitly intended to serve an equipping function for a broader mission. These people are to be a light to the world. They are blessed in order to be a blessing to the rest of the world. Abram puts his faith and confidence in this God and begins stumbling down a path toward a God who insists that this faithful stumbler is, in fact, righteous. God is true to his word, delivers on his promises, and a nation is born.
However, as time passes it becomes clear that Abram’s descendants are vulnerable to the same selfishness and self-centeredness that the rest of us are. They are very interested in being blessed, but not so interested in being a blessing. They are very good at pointing out the darkness in others, but not so good at being light. Undeterred from His dream, God takes another step that is as radical as it is unexpected.
God becomes a human being. Not only that, but virtually everything he does in this regard seems counterintuitive from our perspective. God becomes an embryo. He is born as one of us, not in a palace, but in a stable. The heavens open and announce the event first, not to people of great importance…but to shepherds, who are arguably on the lowest rung of the societal ladder of the day. He apparently doesn’t do much that’s worth recording until he’s around 30 years old, and then everything he does goes against our notions of what a respectable God should be like. He pays special attention to the outcasts; to the poor and oppressed; to those who are drowning in their shame. He proclaims something he calls “the Kingdom of God”, which is less like political upheaval, and more God’s dream of harmony that is breaking through into our dissonant reality. Eventually, “the powers that be” make an example of him with a public execution that is as humiliating as it is excruciating. It does not have the desired effect. This man-who-is-God doesn’t stay dead. Three days after they kill him, he is alive again, but he is also changed. He is somehow both physical and eternal. He commissions his followers as a community to be to the world what he was and is to the world, and that is exactly what we are stumbling towards. It is true that we are inadequate for the task, but here’s the thing: After Jesus returned to God’s reality in his new form, He sent his Spirit to live in us, changing and forming us into who we are becoming. We believe that there is a future reality where Jesus returns to us, everything is restored to God’s intention, and all things are made “new”. Our God beckons us from this future to become what we already are from his perspective, and to partner with him in his in-breaking dream for the world. He offers freedom from death, decay and shame. In short, He offers hope.