Look at the internet and see how many pictures of sunsets are posted on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere. Myriads! Sunsets have an obvious beauty that moves people. Now….ask someone how sunsets have that effect on them. What would we expect people to say most of the time? “It’s the combination of colors.” “It’s the lighting of the moment.” “It’s the peaceful aspect of it’s setting.” Several answers can come to mind. Ask a four year old for an opinion and you’ll likely hear, “Oooooooh!” That’s it. But the sunset still left a magical impression. Yet, why do the colors and lighting create that peaceful aspect and that “Ooooooh!”? Many would have difficulty providing a theory but they realize just the same they’re able to appreciate the beauty of it all. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take sunsets like this one home with us? Imagine the benefit of being able to soak one into your evening whenever you like!
Yes, yes, I know. The idea of beauty for you may not be the beach and its sunsetting power. It might be a river where the fish are biting, or the perfect snow covered mountain trail. Maybe you prefer the solace of a countryside horse ranch or the buzz of crowds flowing around Times Square, or …something entirely different and less common.
If you will for now, imagine a beautiful sunset like the one pictured. An attempt at a mature description might sound like this: “Heavenly blue on a cloudless evening warmed by the disappearing glow of daylight caressed our cheeks as the steady percussion of rolling frothy waves coated a chilling shore, and introduced us to the tranquil healing of a quieted night.” We realize we don’t need poetry to be mature. We’re still able to appreciate the beauty of a sunset without providing fluffy descriptions. However, when we realize that God created such a beautiful thing as a sunset, our souls are filled with gratitude and we understand that we’ve been touched by God’s good creation. It’s therapeutic. Naturally, we want more of it. It’s a good thing! We want to bottle it up and take it with us. Likewise, it’s therapeutic and medicinal for our hearts and minds, and especially the world, when we’ve been moved by the transformative beauty of God’s Gospel Story. God has the power to heal the world through it!
The Gospel Story on the surface can be reduced to something as common as a sunset though, thereby losing its potential. If we stick with a familiar response to such beauty “Yeah, its pretty!” when telling others what we’ve witnessed it’s likely to have little to no effect. It becomes common. However, if we explore the rich details of the fundamental elements of a sunset (water, sunlight, sky, etc.) and then communicate those details in a descriptive way, from a different perspective, it can move people to appreciate something they’d normally think of as common. The same goes for the Gospel story. It’s like a common sunset to most. “Sure, its ‘pretty’ but we’ve all seen one before. It’s just another attempt at describing religion.” The apostle Paul seems to see what was foolishness (common) to a Greek world as incredibly powerful to those who who were being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18). It was the news of Jesus’ cross. What was commonly reserved for slaves and rebels in Paul’s world was also used by God to revolutionize it. Paul seems to have spoken of the cross in elaborate ways (cf. Galatians 5:11; 6:12, 14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:8; 3:18; Colossians 1:20; 2:14).
We’ll finish for now with what N.T. Wright says in his most recent book The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion. “You don’t have to be able to answer the question “Why?” before the cross can have this effect.” He goes on, “…You don’t have to understand cooking before you can enjoy a good meal. In the same way, you don’t have to have a theory about why the cross is so powerful before you can be moved and changed, before you can know yourself loved and forgiven, because of Jesus’s death.” However, in another place he adds “To go back to the example of cooking: we can all enjoy a well-prepared meal, but unless somebody in the house knows how to cook and something about balanced diets, we risk either obesity or malnutrition— or even food poisoning. The theological equivalents of those may take longer for symptoms to appear, but unless someone in the church— in each Christian gathering, in each generation— is working on deeper understandings of foundational Christian truth, it is perilously easy for individuals and communities to drift away from the life-giving meaning of the gospel itself.” I also highlighted this, “…people can reassure one another that as long as they know God loves them, nothing else matters that much. Well, it’s certainly true that the powerful love of God is central to every aspect of Christian faith. But when that belief is challenged either by skeptics or by voices within ourselves, we need to look hard not simply at relevant biblical texts, but also at our traditional formulations of what precisely we mean by saying that Jesus “died for us.” Each generation of Christians and each church in its own way needs to do this…” and this, “The aim, as in all theological and biblical exploration, is not to replace love with knowledge. Rather, it is to keep love focused upon its true object. We must not make the overwhelming experience of God’s love revealed in the cross of Jesus an excuse for mere muddle. As in a marriage, love doesn’t stand still. A passionately devoted young couple need to learn the long-term skills of mutual understanding, not to replace love, but to deepen it. It is of course better to hold on to love (whether that of God or of a spouse), even when we are confused, than to let go because we can’t understand it. But it is far better to address the confusions. It isn’t only faith that seeks understanding. Love ought to do the same; not of course in order to stop loving, but so that love may grow, mature, and bear fruit.”
Categories: The Gospel Story