When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned... Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
In 2016 I thought a lot about the Gospel, or, the Good News. This is actually something I have only ever pretended to know for sure. When you're a pastor, even a youth pastor like I was, there is the not-so-unspoken expectation that you be an expert Gospel instructor; which, yeah, is really fare. I was able to articulate a Gospel well enough, I was just never sure that it was the Gospel, if you catch my drift. So much of this story was shrouded in mystery, and was sometimes very problematic. The more I heard about it and the more I taught other people about it, the more questions I had about it.
Why did God have to kill Jesus in order to forgive? Why couldn't God just forgive?
Is God killing Jesus in order to forgive us not some form of child sacrifice to appease a wrathful God?
Why does Jesus like me and his Dad want to send me to hell?
The more I dug, the more questions I had. Thankfully, as I have written about before, 2016 was a year of taking apart all of my God constructs, and then slowly having it put back together. Part of this deconstructing and reconstructing was being allowed the blessing of getting to re-approach this Gospel-Good-News story with a new set of eyes.
When I read Romans 5 (the above passage), I discovered that at the heart of the Gospel is a God who re-writes our stories. At the moment of our birth a narrative begins, a narrative blessed and ordained by the Designer of the cosmos. This Creator, who was capable exploding the universe into existence, also endows us with trillions of atoms that miraculously become our bodies. Within these bodies the Creator gifted us with a brain and 86 billion neurons that communicate with each other in such a way that we are given consciousness, agency, emotions, hopes and dreams. This is only the first sentence of our stories.
As we continue within our own narratives, we will, at some point, be confronted with a deep and dark brokenness that surrounds the world into which we were born. And, if we have eyes to see and a depth of insight, we will see that this dark brokenness also exists within us. This confrontation comes in many forms: Maybe a loved one becomes an addict, maybe you become an addict. Maybe your parents divorce, maybe you divorce. Maybe you know some one victimized by violence or sexual abuse, maybe you are that victim, maybe you are the abuser. No matter your role, we come to know the brokenness, we come to see that none of our stories are free of this darkness.
That's where Jesus comes in, a light that shines so bright the darkness cannot overcome it. Jesus comes, and He rewrites the human story by creating a path open to any and all, but chosen by few, that subverts the dark narratives we are immersed in.
At the end of the movie Kubo and the Two Strings, there is a climactic showdown between Kubo, and his evil grandfather the Moon King. Near the end of the fight, Kubo's armor falls apart, and it appears that he will be devoured by the dark magic of his grandfather. But just before the Moon King delivers the final blow, Kubo remembers the ones who orchestrated his DNA: His mother, powerful and masterful in magic, and his father, a courageous and skillful warrior. Only once Kubo realizes the ground-work of his existence, that he reflects the image of his parents, is he able to harness the mystical power of his lineage to disarm and defeat his grandfather.
Once deprived of his magic, the Moon King emerges from the fog to be seen as a blind, old man, with no idea where he is, or who he is, let alone who everyone else is. Rather than striking down this man who murdered his parents, Kubo chooses to love his enemy and embrace him as family. Kubo and the other villagers then essentially re-write the Moon King's story.
"You are a good man!"
"You take care of the poor!"
"You taught me how to swim!"
"You're my grandfather, and you are a wonderful man!"
I don't watch the last ten minutes of this movie without a constant stream of tears running down my face because this is the Gospel. We are Kubo and we are the Moon King:
Like Kubo, we are lost in darkness until we realize that the One who created us has endowed us with a mystical power to drive out the darkness around us, I call this mystical power Holy Spirit. We are the Imago Dei, image of the Divine, which is to say we are made with Divine DNA.
Like the Moon King: When we are embraced as family by the One we have hurt (hurt with our inner darkness, which all of us carry), our stories are re-written. We are still us in our very essence, just as Moon King was still Kubo's grandfather, but our ground of being changes, and we are changed into the person we were always destined to be.
I have so often heard people present the Gospel starting in Genesis three, the point in the story which represents sin entering the world. But if your Gospel starts there, it a incomplete, and therefore, weak Gospel. The Gospel starts in Genesis one, when God created us, a risky expression of His love, and He made us in the Divine Image, so that we could co-labor with Him in the love and care for creation. When Jesus comes, the co-laboring in the garden metaphor used by the Genesis author is now spoken of by Jesus as the Kingdom of God, the Garden Commission is now the Great Commission. I love watching my friends and family play board games, it is a genuine hoot; but it is so much more meaningful to play board games with my friends and family. In the same way, the Kingdom of God is not just us marveling at what God has done, it is also us responding to the invitation for us to participate in what He is currently doing.
With Adam, humankind was established, but lost its way.
With Jesus humankind is reminded of The Way.
With Adam, sin enters the world.
With Jesus, sin is conquered via victory on the cross.
As a result of Adams sin, the first murder in human history occurs (Genesis 4), revealing a new trend for humanity.
As a result of Jesus's death, He is resurrected, revealing a new hope for humanity.
At the moment of your birth, your narrative begins. Yes there is darkness and brokenness, and yes that dark brokenness exists within you. But Jesus comes and reminds us of our origins, and by defeating sin on the cross, He shines light on a path that leads to a new way to be human. On the the cross our darkness is exchanged for light, and our brokenness is exchanged for wholeness; and now humanity is invited again to the Garden Comission. If all a Christian life looks like is meeting in churches once a weak, clearly articulating proper doctrines, protesting Planned Parenthood, trying to get your beliefs legislated and managing ours (and others) sin, we have completely embraced an incomplete Gospel. In our day and age, Christians must look to our origins, to our genesis in that Garden, and we must see how the example, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus is a form of reinstating our status as co-laborers with God in the human project.
God is in the business of restoring creation, and I believe there will be a final healing of all whom God loves, but we are now to co-labor in that restorative work; this is the Gospel.