I recently listened to a college student describe how so many of her former Christian friends had given up on the church because: a) it was too hypocritical and/or b) it was too condemning and damning. When she asked what could be done about this, I offered this thought: perhaps the Church, much like most of our educative institutions, is suffering from narration sickness; that is, the story we are telling is no longer relevant. If the story of the church goes something like this–you are bad, not just bad, but really bad, and God doesn’t really want anything to do with you except cast you into eternal burning and suffering, except that Jesus comes along and works really hard to change God’s mind, and then only if you know the right set of catchphrases and passwords–then I am surprised more people are not giving up on the church. This narrative (or one close to it) is, in my opinion, not a Story worth giving your life to (though it seems to be far too dominant from far too many pulpits).
Thankfully, I believe there is another deeper, richer, more beautiful narrative that does not get enough play, and it goes something like this: God, who is sacrificial Love, called forth all that is through poetic song and called it Good (whole, one, true, full of peace, fertile, flourishing with Life to the full). He created Man and breathed Himself into Man that Man might share in that wholeness. Man, in choosing to be like God rather than Godly, chose himself over God and yet still God chose Man again and again and again and again and again, calling Man to live a life in narrative difference to the numbed silence, indifference, and cold apathy that ends in cruelty, oppression and violence of all kinds. He called Man to be a blessing and to live, in the flesh, the shalom and righteousness that tends to the ones marginalized by the dominant Empires surrounding Man (Assyria, Babylon, Egypt)–the poor, the widow, the fatherless. When Man forgot this calling, God sends prophets to weep over cities teeming with riches but poor in what matters most. When blockheaded Man still didn’t get it, God put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood, doing what the kingdom has always done: breaking social, political, and economic norms to bring flourishing, value, and Life to the Full to the broken, lame, rejected, and impoverished. When Man still didn’t get it and crucified the Kingdom-made-Flesh, God forgives again and again and again and again and again. Then God does something really radical: He calls Man to be the embodiment of this Kingdom-made-Flesh! To be like the One crucified! And when the Church uses this image as its standard to advance power, conquest, and might, God moves again and again and again and again to counter the Church-as-Empire through children, former atheists, convicted criminals, single moms, reformed runaways, repentent billionaires, anyone willing to be broken, spent, used up, willing to die to be made new.
In this story, God is always at work; the first-moved mover, the Hound of Heaven, the Father to the Prodigal. He is reaching, calling, chasing, listening, speaking, weeping, acting, and moving to make all things new. He is the Man of Sorrows and the Hope of the Nations. He is the grand, beautiful, consuming, redeeming Story that wants to turn tin men into flesh, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him. He is easily pleased and never satisfied. He is The Story–the beginning, the middle, and the end; the Story worth telling, the Story worth living.
I believe this Story to still be relevant and might just possibly be the Story most needed to bring hope to the hopeless, light to the darkness, healing to the nations, and life to the dead and barren places. Perhaps in this Story lies healing for the narration sickness currently wreaking havoc on far too many people like the college student with whom I spoke. Perhaps she’s listening. If not, will you tell her when you see her?