On a drive up to Oshkosh today, I passed a church sign (I don’t know what denomination or “flavor” of church) that read “God’s Final Answer – Are You Sure You Want to Hear It?” I may be completely off base, but I was troubled by what I interpret to be a veiled threat — that somehow God’s final answer is negative. I know that for some, God’s final word is a judgment of sin, a condemnation, and a punishment, but for me God’s final word is none of those things. From year’s of reading the Bible, reflecting on our faith, deep prayer and intensive seeking after God’s Will, there is just one word that comes to my mind when I think of God’s final answer, and the word is LIFE.
There are many forces of darkness, many manifestations of sin, many weaknesses and shortcomings of the human animal, but we worship and follow a Savior — a Messiah — the Christ. God sent Jesus the Christ as redeemer of humankind — and, yes, there is a cost and a price for accepting this grand and glorious gift, but it remains a gift in the truest sense: providing something to us that we could not give ourselves, no matter how hard we try. In the face of sin, pain, disease, suffering, and even death, God’s final word is life. New life. Redemption. Forgiveness. Abundance. God’s final answer is a blessing, not a curse.
In my own simplistic and somewhat naive understanding of salvation, we have been saved for something, not merely saved from something. The sins of the past are not nearly as important as our actions in the future. The negatives we escape from are not as defining as the positives we pursue, embrace, and create as we move forward through our lives. The ways we have failed before should not prevent us from focusing on ways we can succeed in the future. The brokenness of our yesterdays is lifted from us so that we might become more the body of Christ with each new tomorrow. Yes, repentance is important, but to dwell on the sin from which we escape robs us of the blessing of immersion in the new life we have been given. We are a people called to a Promised Land; why waste time obsessing about Egypt?
I attended a funeral for a teenager a number of year’s ago — literally hundreds of young people turned out to say goodbye to their friend, and to hear some word of grace and comfort in a time of tragedy. A lovely young woman, coming home from a pre-graduation party where alcohol was served, ran off the road and flipped her car. I still get furiously angry when I remember that the pastor officiating at the funeral chose as his text, “the wages of sin is death.” He launched into an insensitive and theologically questionable diatribe on making sure that we live within the bounds of what we know God demands, not tempting God’s wrath, and seeking in all ways to meet with God’s approval. He finished with what I consider to be one of the most blatant and ignorant blasphemies of our faith — explaining to the young audience that we cannot question God’s decisions, but that we only need accept that death is “God’s will.”
Will, by definition, implies intention. The idea that God killed one young woman for drinking when thousands of people in similar conditions escape unscathed is horrendous theology. The whole “works-righteousness, God is keeping score and can’t wait to smite the next poor unsuspecting sucker, be good or you’re gonna get it” way of believing is so toxic and small-minded that I can’t quite understand its staying power. I cannot believe that judgment and condemnation is what God hopes for all us children. Ours is a God of second chances and compassion, offering grace and forgiveness. God isn’t the one who is unjust, unfair, prejudiced, hateful, petty, and mean — that’s us. That’s what God wants us NOT to be. I don’t believe the worst in human nature is what it means to be created in God’s image.
Death, violence, intolerance, condemnation, spite, punishment, revenge, war, oppression, racism — these are not a part of God’s final answer. These are the questionable and broken questions that humankind have raised. God’s answer to these things contain elements of grace, peace, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, justice, sacrifice, and love. This is why we call it gospel — good news. God sent a messenger to share God’s final answer. In the face of the world’s best shot, that answer — given to us by God’s own Son — was not death or defeat. God’s final Word was, and is, LIFE.
Categories: Devotional Reflection