Come in close with me for a moment? I’m in a gentle, whispering sort of mood and I have some thoughts to give and questions I would ask all you feelers and thinkers and lovers. My questions are the coffeehouse or fire pit variety, the kind that get asked when we can look through the steam or across the flames and find, above all things, the value-code writ into each other’s faces.
1. Do you think God knew we would interpret the gospel 7 billion different ways before sunrise on Sunday? (My sense is that God knew this was inevitable and They still didn’t build parameters to make sure it didn’t happen.)
2. Do you think They are concerned about interpretation nuances?
3. And do you ever wonder if we were even meant to believe the same things regarding doctrine, theology and the like?
Sometimes I lay in bed during the night watch and imagine all kinds of people standing behind my eyes. I place them there just so I can look real long into their soul-windows and speak these words over them in the dark: “I see you”. Because what if nobody ever tried to see them before and my looking at them with love is like a prayer going out to cover this essential human need?
So I lay with my physical eyes shut and my spirit-eyes wide open and I see the panorama of skin colors and heights, sizes and shapes. But more importantly I see that everyone is carrying the weight of their own history; an entire world riding piggy on their backs and everyone is fighting their own battles, wearing their own scars, bleeding from their own wounds, pushing through their own struggles. I see we’re all haunted by standard red devils and white ghosts and it’s not just when these eyes are closed. I see that you and you and all of you are bent with your own heaviness, just like I’m doubled over with mine. I see humanity has 7 billion different molecular codes informing their responses, reactions; persuading the spectrum of their emotions. On my left I see the guy who seems whole on the outside, but his soul limps like a zombie, diseased and mostly dead. I see the one in the shadows who perpetuates unspeakable evil and I look at him extra long so I have time to trace his life backward in my mind’s eye and hopefully understand what happened to him, “Who hurt you?” I will always ask. I see the girl who thinks she’s got it all figured out, but she actually don’t know shit. (Sometimes that girl is me.) I see the religious, non-religious; educated, uneducated; rich man, poor man; young man, old man. I see the preposterous, vulgar, timid, boisterous, abused, broken, numb, bloodshot, drunk, diseased, depressed, drugged and dumb. I see sinners, saints, successes, eccentrics, bullies, bullied, straights, gays, clowns, misfits, fools and thieves.
I see a mysterious cocktail of a thousand different characteristics inside the mix of each person.
All this seeing and all these stories and there is one thing I am very certain of: every single one of us still needs saving from something and saving for something. And I believe that Jesus carries within himself the keys to get all the saving done. But here’s the nagging truth: The Spirit only has us humans to work with and the real kicker of it is that we can be a pretty sad lot, even on our best given days. Hallelujah.
So this is what I would love for you to do.
Close your eyes with me a minute and imagine the scope and breadth and depth of humanity – all 7 billion of us with our own history and codes and so forth. And do you imagine when you’re looking at these people standing behind your eyes, that one way of communicating the Gospel message is going to be enough to universally fill the holes inside all humanity? [Don’t read: the Gospel isn’t enough.] Sometimes I wonder if the difference between how one wo[man] delivers the Gospel vs. how another wo[man] might, could be the difference between a hatchet to the heart, or just a pinprick – depending on all the things informing the hearer.
The Gospel can meet everyone, anytime and anywhere in the midst of whatever their trenched-down mess might be, but I need to allow for the possibility that my gospel might minister to a specific audience that carries certain life narratives. In the same way, John Piper’s nuanced gospel won’t be heard by certain demographics, but will be vastly celebrated by others. On the opposite end of the doctrinal range Rob Bell’s nuanced gospel certainly turns the masses off, but for some it is pure living water and beckons them right to the fountain of Jesus for a drink.
If we’re all living out and carrying the gospel story of how Jesus came into our specific messes and saved our wretched arses, then no matter how differently that gospel comes, our central message is still about this Jesus who came to save us from all the crosses we bear—the crosses within and the crosses without. The broken vehicle by which that central message is expressed will look as wide and varied and clumsy and glorious as each of our stories, eh?
Bearing this in mind, I would ask again: are we even designed to believe and agree on all the nuances of theology and doctrine and so forth? Can God hold within himself each and every one of our contradictions and weave them into harmony [don’t read: absence of conflict or controversy] rather then having them be a hindrance to our ministry together? Isn’t that part of the paradox of who God is? That he’s neither this wo[man]-view or that wo[man]-view, but he might squeeze himself into both/and just so he can be near you and you and you because above everything and with all his eyes he sees you? And desires you? And could care less about how you got to him, just so long as you came. In other words: more power to the [nuanced] gospel way that allows him to get close to your heart and you to his because he has already shown you by his birth in a stable and his death between crooks that he will go to any ridiculous length and humiliating measure in his wild pursuit of your heart. Amen.
So, approach life or come to the internet with your ideas and your stories; your pulling and push-backs. We can tango our minds till Kingdom come and it can be so good, but I wonder if we could leave room for the possibility that our gospel convictions aren’t the sum total of any reality or even the exact message someone needs to hear.
Note: I am not endorsing the ways in which the Gospel is interpreted and used to validate abuse, manipulation or any other form of human devaluing and degradation.
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