"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."It is presently popular in our culture to construe the Christian religion as a system of spirituality designed to make bad lives better and good lives great.* Here's the problem: Christian theology finds its genesis in stories about persons and relationships, beginning with the Trinitarian God. Christian truth does not begin with the stories we tell about our own lives or our assessment of our own problems, but rather the story that God tells about Himself, and about us. It's not a story about affirming our desires or giving us the lives we always wanted, but giving us the good things that we were never capable of desiring, and the life with God that we never believed possible. God's stories about us have a plotline. All of the stories - God's hopes and dreams for us - find their climax in the Cross.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Jesus is unlike any other man, and unlike any other God. He is the God/Man, and at just the right time he showed up to bring Israel's story to its climax and to enable our lives to flow into that great Reality. As a man always obedient to the Father, he walked into the place of Damnation for us. Abandoned by his own people and subject to the power of Roman justice and Roman control, he was executed as the Godforsaken and damned. Those of us who never knew the name of the True God were loved by that God so creatively so strongly by Him that he absorbed into himself the full force of our alienation and rebellion - bore our sins in his own Body.
Our problem is not that we have poor self-esteem, or that we don't know the 5, 7, 12, 14 or 21 habits, laws, practices, or secrets for a better life. We do not need a spirituality that will make us highly successful versions of the people we already are. We do not need "our best life now." Indeed, the very last thing we need is a magician god who will make all of our most selfish fantasies come true. Some Christian thinkers have defined Hell in just that fashion. I know that some of my desires lead me away from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and I would bet that some of yours do as well. Our problem is that we find ourselves cut off from the life of God, and are often so mired in our selfishness that we cannot see the way he's made to bring us back to himself.
We give thanks for the Cross of Christ, because we realize that we are a people of disordered loves. Our motives are mixed, and not always clear to ourselves. We treasure attitudes that kill the life of God in us. We nurture habits that lead us further way from the People we were created to be. The bitter joy comes when we realize that while there is much in us that needs to die, the God of Jesus Christ is out of his great love ready to kill the habits and attitudes and stories that are killing us. This is good news, because the love of God is not a love that abandons us to the darker aspects of our personalities. It is a love that brings healing and new life, but for new life to flourish, there must be a death.
May God save us from a religion that seeks only to affirm us, and not to change us.
Check out Josh's work on the theme: "United in Repentance."
*The most spectacular and egregious offenses, of course, are committed by Joel Osteen, a popular self-help guru who preaches a version of the Christian religion that removes its power and purpose by denying the reality of the Cross. You can read more on him from the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer.