I like to consider myself some what of a coffee shop aficionado. I love a place that not only has great coffee (that is a top priority for a good coffee shop), but a great ambiance too. There are some shops that have great coffee, but the atmosphere is as sterile as a doctors office. Then there are those shops that have an incredible setting, comfortable chairs warm inviting color scheme and soft obscure acoustic music in the background and the coffee is mediocre. Of the two the best conversations happen in the latter.
I have had the great fortune of finding myself in those coffee shops that have such a great ambiance that conversations spring out of the walls because there is such a comfortable, disarming tone in the air. It’s in those conversations that I am often inspired and provoked toward various thoughts on faith and the human experience.
For about a year I had a wonderful coffee shop that I called home. there was nothing I would change about it. The folks who ran it became great friends of mine, the music was always great, the coffee excellent and the conversations stimulating. There was one conversation that has stuck in my mind from the time that I spent there, and it came out in my thoughts and reflections on Advent.
A friend of mine, who had been struggling in their faith, and I engaged in a conversation about the goodness of God. We talked for a long while about the Gospel and its sufficiency and the broken world that we live in. By the end of the conversation I could tell that all of the “wisdom” that I had tried to bestow upon my friend was unconvincing at best, and left me bewildered by how someone could question God so adamantly yet at one point or another believed so faithfully that God was in fact good.
We went on from that conversation and I didn’t think about it much, unless it was brought up in subsequent conversations we have had since then. Honestly I have thought to myself that maybe I can just simply ignore the real struggle and just believe that eventually my friend would come back to himself soon. That has not happened yet, and my friend has gone deeper down the rabbit hole.
Since that conversation I have had many like it, also reading the blogs of folks who are wrestling with the same questions as my friend did. The questioning often sounds/ reads something like this: How can a good God let people be condemned? Now you can insert a variety of different issues into this question. You might think about the people in the remote parts of the earth who have not heard of Jesus, or the person who has a natural attraction to the same sex, or the well meaning suburbanite who has lived a “good life” but never really bought into the Jesus thing, and you ask your self how can any of these folks really be condemned?
Is God some kind of cosmic bully?
Is God the ultimate jerk?
Its funny to me how impactful the different seasons in the church calendar can be. During Advent we reflect, and prepare for the celebration of the incarnation. It is a time that we consider the beauty of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.
God came down from the celestials and moved in the neighborhood.
And it is this year during Advent that I have considered a solution to the question that a lot of my friends seem to ask. I don’t presume that my solution solves all of the bigger question about the goodness of God, but I do think that it alleviates part of it.
The beauty of the Incarnation is the empowerment that it brings to humanity. The Incarnation ushers in the news that there is a new way to live, that what is broken and decaying can be made whole and restored, that the dead can be brought back to life and that we don’t have to live in darkness any more. It not only impacts our life, but gives us the opportunity to transmit the same change to others.
This leads me to the solution. Jesus came and dwelt among us, showing us a new way to live and it was not for only one type of person, it was for everyone. In John’s account of the life of Jesus he records Jesus’ words when he said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) There is this sense in Jesus’ discourse here that if anyone is hearing or seeing this happen they can have this life that Jesus brings.
We also see that just before Jesus’ ascension his last words to the disciples was to go and make disciples teaching them all that he had taught them (Matthew 28.19). The things they are teaching are both word and deed. It is those things that are spoken and those things that are done.
We have become messengers.
As followers of Jesus we transmit this message to those around us, whoever that is. See nothing has changed, the way people encounter the goodness of God is not simply by telling them, it is by living among them. We have to be with people in the good times and the bad, in times of disagreement and in times of unity. It is our duty to embrace and take on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ ourselves so that people can taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34.8).
We have to move in.
So then here is my challenge. Instead of becoming angry with God about why the people groups you care about are dying and being found condemned, because you believe that God just doesn’t care that much, Embrace the incarnational reality of faith in Jesus Christ and move into the the neighborhood. If you are concerned for the eternity of LGBT community then live among them and give your life to proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in word and deed among them. If you are concerned for the tribe of people who live in the remote parts of the earth, find them and move in proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The incredible thing about faith in Jesus is we have a part to play in the universe. We have the opportunity to see eternity change for people we care about, and I believe that those burdens we have for various people groups throughout the world are God birthed and are the push for us to do something about it. I believe that because the Gospel has been given to us from above it will not be unyielding (Isaiah 55.10-11).
So if we care as much as we say we do, then that concern should drive us into action not into blaming God for others peril. We cannot shirk our responsibility as Kingdom citizens, we have been charged to go and make disciples of all peoples. It is within us, because we have been given the Holy Spirit, to see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, even in the toughest of places and the hardest of hearts.
It could be that in the faith of so many the Gospel has really not been made that real. It may have simply been a moment when someone called for folks to walk down an isle, but lets be clear the Gospel is bigger than your ticket to heaven. It is the magnificence of life coming out of death, and brokenness being made whole. The Gospel is ushers the kingdom to be established here on earth as it is in heaven, and through it we are made citizens of that Kingdom. As in any kingdom citizens have responsibilities.