Our world is athirst for the good news of the gospel, often without knowing it. But what is this good news and how do we pass it along? In chapter 4 of Vanishing Grace Philip Yancey looks at ways that we as God’s people can reclaim the good news and pass it on. This chapter is worth some thought and some conversation.
First we have to ask the question – What is the good news? Yancey’s take here may surprise (or even annoy) some.
It strikes me as genuinely good news that we are creations of a loving God who wants us to thrive, not random byproducts of a meaningless universe. That God entered our world and demonstrated in person that nothing – not even death – can separate us from God’s love. That the story of Jesus has this main theme: “For God so loved the world that he gave …” That human existence will not end with the imminent warming of our atmosphere or the gradual cooling of our sun, and that my particular destiny will not end with death. That God will balance the scales of human history not by karma but by grace, in such a way that no one will be able to accuse God of unfairness. (p. 71)
This central message is sometimes hard to for non-Christians to grasp – and it doesn’t appear to jive with the message that Christians seem to preach. Christians are too often characterized as cranks, hypocrites, or authoritarian busybodies (and we could expand this list). But Yancey points out that the church is also filled with humble “saints” … “What is a saint? I like Reynolds Price’s definition: someone who, however flawed, “leads us by example, almost never by words, to imagine the hardest thing of all: the seamless love of God for all creation including ourselves.”” (p. 71) The humble saints don’t get the press, and they don’t get the attention. But this is where we should focus. As Yancey puts it: “in a modern society that runs by competition, self-indulgence, and power, we should stand out by following a notably different script.” (p. 74)
God so loved the world. Dig into that phrase. Do we really believe it? The good news is that God loves the world. He desires for us to thrive in the world and for others to thrive through and in his people. The good news isn’t wrath and punishment, and a solution for wrath, but a desire for us to thrive. I am not trying to make a deep statement about a doctrine of atonement – but merely observing with Yancey that whatever view of atonement we take (and here Scot’s book A Community Called Atonement can be useful) the aim is human thriving in communion with God.
The oft-misunderstood Christian notion of sin makes many people uncomfortable. Indeed, it establishes a clear line of accountability – but to a God who loves me and has my best interests at heart. Again the parallel to a doctor applies. Coming from a strict church background, I missed this good-news aspect of God’s wisdom. I thought of God as a cosmic policeman enforcing arbitrary rules rather than as a doctor who wants me to thrive. … At the heart of sin lies a lack of trust that God intends the best for us.
Ignatius of Loyola defined sin as refusing to believe that God wants my happiness and fulfillment. Human rebellion began in the Garden of Eden when God said in effect, “Trust me. I know what is best for you.” Adam and Eve failed the test, and we’ve paid the consequences ever since. … For our own well-being we need to trust God for basic guidance about how to live. (p. 79)
This is an interesting twist on the story of Adam and Eve. Instead of Adam and Eve wanting to usurp God and become gods, they failed to trust God. They failed to trust that he knew what was best and looked on them with love, interested in their well-being and flourishing in life. If we believe this as Christians, that God is a God of love, rest in God’s love, and allow it to flow out from us, we can and will make a difference in this world – simply by being God’s people. This doesn’t mean anything goes (love, peace and promiscuity), because often sinful acts can best be described as too much of a good thing; as Tim Keller puts it: “making good things into ultimate things.” There are clear lines of accountability. But read through the New Testament (and the Old for that matter) and concentrate on the commands that come through the most often. They focus on love, peace, mutual submission, mercy, care for those who need care, humility, service, generosity. Even commands to avoid sexual immorality have human flourishing at heart. Yancey puts it well:
From time spent with God, I have a clearer picture of spiritual health too – not an anxious, furrowed-brow perfectionism or an uptight legalism, but a relaxed confidence in God’s love and a trust that God has my very best interests at heart.
Perhaps the most powerful think Christians can do to communicate to a skeptical world is to live fulfilled lives, exhibiting proof that Jesus’ way truly leads to a life most abundant and and most thirst-satisfying. The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – flow out of a healthy soul and in the process may attract those who have found such qualities elusive or unattainable. (p. 81)
The rest of the chapter looks at creative grace and the ways some Christians have found and put into practice the outflow of God’s love. The examples are inspiring, but rather than summarize them I would rather pose the question:
Where and how have you seen Christians putting into action the love of God?
What happens when the fruit of the Spirit flow out of a healthy soul?
Do you think that Yancey is on to something with emphasis on a God who desires our thriving and sin as a failure to trust God’s best for us?
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