Friday, April 15, 2016
What is the prospect of life apart from God?
The Gospel is not so much the rescue from death and hell as it is a way to live a better life, to enjoy a greater comfort, and to know a deeper existence. It all sounds good. Who would not want a better life? Isn't that what we seek for our children and what we hope for ourselves? Sure it is. We want things to get better and we want progress (less work, more play, less worry, more money, less duty, and more delight). Don't we all want to enjoy life more, to enjoy a greater degree of comfort within our lives? I sure do. I expect you do as well. And surely we are not so shallow as to presume that a deeper (aka more spiritual) life is not better than a trivial life?! As Jesus said, even the grandest of pagans want to enjoy a deep, meaningful, and spiritual life (though certainly not a religious one!).
But that kind of Gospel is a hard sell. It does not play well in a world in which we really don't need religion for much of anything anymore. Charitable institutions are largely public sector and even for profit organizations. Welfare belongs to the state. Private education is too costly. Religion is still the domain of dogma and constrains our unnatural natural desires. The idea that we can sell Jesus as a bit more to enlarge a good life, a dose of comfort to enjoy more security in life, and a deeper life is an old but failed idea. If God is only good for getting what we want (happiness, success, and a sense of meaning), then when we get them, we can ditch Him, right?
Worse, this is not how the Kingdom of God is witnessed in Scripture nor is it how Jesus presents Himself and what He has come to do. Repentance more than anything else is the acknowledgement that we need God though He does not need us. We need Him because the mountain of sin has buried our purpose, stolen our identity, and cast the dark shadow of death over the whole lot of us. We need Him because we are debtors who cannot repay and whose eternal future is the debtor's prison of hell until that debt is paid in full (that is, forever). We need Him because we are lost in a world filled with dead ends and detours and only He who has forged the way in righteousness and through death can guide a lost and condemned people out of our morass.
The Gospel does not promise a little better life. The Gospel promise IS life -- life to the dying captive to death, life to the sinner under sentence of death for his sins, and life to the unrighteous and wicked who know not the good, the holy, the blessed, and the eternal. We are under a death sentence which does not end with physical death but only begins in earnest with our departure from this life into the bane of eternal death. The Gospel is about the God who chose us when we did not chose Him and instead ran from Him and His creative order. It is about the largess of grace and mercy so deep and wide that the profligate sons and daughters we are find unexpected welcome in the arms of our heavenly Father. It is about the payment of real debt with real currency of Christ's flesh for the life of the world and His blood shed. It is about this life as prelude to the great life to come when death and sin and hell will be erased from our memory so that God can fill us all in all.
Why should we and how can we convince people to be saved when we admit that they can get just about everything they need or want without God? The Gospel does not enhance this life -- it redeems it. We do not need a better life. We need a life -- one not bounded by death, defined by sin, and burdened by wickedness. We need a real life that is not measured in calendar days but in suffering that paid once for all so it does not end. Christ is not the purveyor of some hidden wisdom or secret to success that will make life better but He is the redeemer whose rescue releases us from hell's claim upon us, from death's captivity, from sin's dominion, and from the despair of it all when finally we realize the truth.
To do this, we need to begin talking about hell again -- not only about sin but also about hell. This should not be a hard sell. In a world where evil has stolen the headlines over and over again and we see atrocities on the evening news, it should not be such a stretch to believe that absent a God whose love forgives and redeems there will be an eye for any eye and a tooth for a tooth for all eternity.
BTW I timed this on purpose to be published on tax day! Ooops. . . forgot you got until the 18th. Oh well...