Friday, January 19, 2007

The Elephant in the Room

I wish I could simply say, “I am a Christian” and everyone would know what that meant. Given the wide diversity of Christian churches and beliefs (and the bad reputations enjoyed by most), I feel the need to immediately add “but I’m not typical. I’m not that kind of Christian.”

I find myself wanting to clarify exactly what the Christian label means. And I want to apologize for all those other Christians (legalists, hypocrites, profiteers, snake-handlers, etc) who have scandalized Christianity over the last 2000 years. I need to defend real Christianity, which, by happy coincidence, is my particular version of it. I want to vindicate Christianity. I want to justify it.

The reality is, however, I am more interested in vindicating myself - justifying myself. Some would call this self-justification. And a few (rightly) would point out that my spirit of self-justification is contrary to the spirit of the Christian Gospel, which tells me it is God who justifies - and, in fact, has already done it. I am caught in a trap. My righteous desires to defend the truth are invariably spoiled by my self-righteous spirit. The moment I think of myself as one of the “good Christians”, I am no longer. I am the Pharisee.

This dilemma is at the heart of the problem that faces all who strive to be a “good Christian”, behave as a “good Christian”, or believe as a “good Christian”. It is the elephant in the room. It stands in the middle of the church, crapping large turds all over our brave, pious talk. It makes a mess of our most reasonable theologies, turning our good works into evil deeds, our faithfulness into betrayal, our success into failure, our strength into weakness. It blocks all the exits. It allows no visible means of escape. In the end, it kills us. (One might say, it crucifies us.)

Such is the scandalous message of the cross. Jesus comes to save us and we kill him. We are then somehow crucified with him. Christ goes down, and we go down with him. The crucifixion is the end of our righteousness and the beginning of His for us. This puts to death all our failed attempts to please God, reach God, obey God, become like God. It kicks the ladder out from under us, ending our prospects of climbing into heaven.

This theology of the cross is not the birth of a new religion. It is the death of all religion. And the birth of a new us. In the rebirth of us there is hidden new life in our dieing bodies, new sanctity in our wickedness, new freedom in our captivity, new peace in our chaos, new joy in our suffering.

This (in brief) is the seldom-preached-because-it’s-too-hard-to-believe Gospel message of Christianity. It is the unequivocal announcement that God finally got sick of religion and chose to have it killed.

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