The Struggle with the Good News
If you are no stranger to our blog, you know we talk a lot about the gospel, aka the good news. Over the years we have broken it down, asked the big question, read many books, and yet keep coming back to the gospel because it is so foundational.
This fall semester, as we have been meeting, we again looked at the gospel. We boiled it down to God being present with us. More broadly, God is with us, so we should see rescue, redemption, justice all symbolically in the Lord's anointed, Jesus. Of course, this all sounds amazing, but ultimately what does that do for us? I feel like that is the question a lot of us are asking of all sorts of things, but also of the church specifically. If the gospel is the heart of our faith, why not ask that question: What does the gospel do for me/us?
I believe at first glance; it seems great. God is with us. It fits well with most churches and denominational theologies. But in our culture, where we recognize the pain, suffering, injustices, and anxiety of the world we live in, is that a comfort? As you are losing your job, losing a loved one, living in a world with a pandemic, being pulled in another direction, seeing the rich getting richer as you are struggling to pay your bills, or another mass shooting does, "God is with you," help? Does "God with you" change your circumstance? So many times as we go into prayer, I am sure we are going in with the expectation that God will act.
It is easy to believe, trust, and even feel like God is with you when things are going well. When life is not a struggle, it is easy to assume that God is with you. I would say the underlying theology of American Christianity is that God is with you, and you know because your #blessed. When we go through a hardship or sturggle we often seek to ease the person's suffering by reminding them that God has a plan that means your well-being (job, food, money, health, etc). Yet, I think we have to push back on that idea. How many times do we see in church history the people we most admire and hold up as virtues in the faith suffering and/or dying. How many lives are cut short or receive prolonged suffering because of their faith? Would we consider Steven one of the first deacons in the New Testament #blessed by our American understandings of faith? When Steven was suffering and dying, he seemed joyous and reassured that God was with him. That the good news was something that got him through in that moment as he was afraid, faced danger, and ultimately death.
I know personally, when I am going through something, I wish for God to come in and fix it or make it better. But that is not how God has been revealed in the scriptures. I feel the overwhelming response to prayers from God has just been his presence. Yes, that may mean victory, redemption, rescue, or it may not. When we get sick, knowing someone is there helps. Even if they are not able to help make you better. When my wife and I get sick, it is usually from our kids, and because we took care of them, we both eventually get sick. Sometimes that works out, and one can help the other, but sometimes both are sick at the same time. We can't help each other because we are both going through the same thing. Yet, knowing I am going through it with her makes the situation a little easier to bear.
When I think about those that I have had the privilege of being with at the end of their lives, its being present with them that made the difference, there is nothing to be done, no healing that is going to happen, and the most important thing you can give in that moment is your presence. There is comfort and peace knowing that in these last moments, they are not alone. Just as interesting, it is a comfort and peace to those grieving to know the person is not alone.
Presence can be everything, and maybe that is why it is good news. God does not promise to be everybody's genie and make their wishes come true. God is setting things right, rescuing, redeeming, bringing justice and peace; this we know and have a tangible sign of in Jesus. But until Jesus returns, until heaven and earth are one, God promises to be with us.
I think that is good news.