(Note: I write an article each week that gets published in my church bulletin, and I usually post those articles here, making some changes to make them appropriate to the blog format and the fact that they get posted online before anyone reads them on Sunday. This one is an Easter post, and so I'm going to post it as written. To change it to a pre-Easter, non-bulletin post would significantly alter the whole thing. Either that or I'm just too lazy to do anymore editing.)
I recently bought a book—and by recently, I mean just now, as in a minute ago, while sitting at my desk, and it was delivered wirelessly and I’ve already read the Introduction, because, well, doesn’t everybody read the Introduction to books, but the point is that I shouldn’t be reading the Introduction because I’m supposed to be writing this article so Erin can get the bulletin printed—no, actually the point is that this new electronic book thing is really cool!
Um, what was I talking about?
Oh yeah, I recently bought a book by a guy, John Shore, who after spending 38 years of his life as an atheist became a Christian. Since he was a writer, the first thing he did was write a book to non-Christians dealing with all the objections he had previously had to Christianity and how he overcame them. But that’s not the book I bought; it’s his second book that caught my interest. His second book took the opposite approach to his first: instead of explaining Christians to non-Christians, his second book sought to explain how non-Christians view Christians, hoping that Christians would learn to be, if not more effective in their evangelism efforts, at least less offensive in their evangelism efforts.
Less offensive would seem to be more effective if we’re trying to convince someone to change their whole life.
Now, Shore isn’t talking about the kind of offensive we’ve seen recently where a minister publicly burns the Koran or where a church (really, just a family) protests outside the funerals of fallen soldiers. Any sane person is offended by these actions, and Christians in particular ought to be offended by people who take on the name of the one who commanded us to love our neighbors, including our enemies.
No, Shore is talking about the subtle put-downs and perhaps not-so-subtle attitude of superiority that Christians unknowingly and inadvertently send in our evangelistic messages. Hence his title: I’m OK—You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Non-Believers, and Why We Should Stop. Now, I had to stop reading after the Introduction to, you know, write this article—Erin is a cruel and heartless taskmaster—so I can’t speak about what Shore says in the rest of the book, but the title says enough, doesn’t it? And while we may think or hope that we aren’t really sending that message, we probably ought to take his word for it. After all, he knows what it’s like to be a non-believer, and he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of evangelistic efforts. What do I know? I’ve never been a non-believer, and I gently yet firmly shoo Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses away from my front door, along with those young people who try to get me to buy magazine subscriptions so they can travel Europe. (Although they are the friendliest, most personable people I’ve ever met—the magazine sellers, not the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.) And I’m sure that, as a self-proclaimed atheist he received a lot of attention from personal-evangelism types. Especially the really dedicated (i.e. aggressive) ones, for whom the word “atheist” is code for “fresh meat.”
I bring this up—and by now you are surely wondering if there is a point in all this—because this is Easter. It’s Resurrection Day, which is three days after Good Friday, a name which is as full of irony as any. Another name for Good Friday is The-Day-We-All-Were-So-Screwed-Up-That-We-Nailed-God-To-A-Cross-And-Watched-Him-Die Day. Good Friday is pithier so we go with that, but that’s what it means.
The message of the cross is that, while none of us are completely and irredeemably evil, all of us are pretty screwed up.
None of us are really OK.
But all of us are worth dying for.
None of us, not even Christians, are really OK. Being saved doesn’t make us OK, it just means that we look our not-OK-ness in the eye and stop making excuses. I mean, that’s one of the things we are saved from, the need to make excuses, to try to convince others and ourselves that we’re really not that screwed up. If you have a lot of excuses, you really don’t need a savior. When you have a savior, you no longer need excuses. You are able to face reality, which is always the first step toward true healing. (Step 1 in AA: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”) We are saved from the tiring effort of having to constantly create and maintain a separate unreality.
But all of us, including non-Christians, are worth dying for. And that’s because all of us, including non-Christians, are created in the image and likeness of God. We’re his children, and he doesn’t love any of his children any more than the others. Even the really rebellious ones. There’s a soft spot in his heart for them. He sweeps the entire floor looking for the one lost coin, he leaves the 99 sheep to go looking for the 1 wanderer, and he casts an anxious if hopeful eye down the end of the lane waiting for the inheritance-squandering son to come home.
If the message of the cross is “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, but we’re all worth dying for,” then the message of Easter is “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, but it’s OK. Our Father has taken care of it. And all that is left is to just come home. Oh, and stop fighting with your brother.”1
11st Commandment: Love God; 2nd Commandment: Love Others. These summarize the entire message; cf. Matt. 22:37-40.