As I sat in church this morning, I have to admit I checked out a little. Given that we are in the Lenten season, the church I am attending is focusing on different aspects of the cross from now until Easter. Today’s message was on the power of the cross to free us from the chains of sin.
Its not that I don’t agree. It’s not that I don’t get it. But I sat there the entire time looking around and wondering…. for how many is this going over their head? It’s all theologically right. It’s all biblically sound. I could see heads nodding for those that believe, those that were following what the pastor was saying. She had lots of good analogies too, in the “light vs dark” battle: Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and sundry action movies. I mean, after all, it’s always what things come down to, right? Evil and darkness seem to be stronger and then the good guys come in and fight. They might look like they are losing but they win in the end.
As I sat there listening, three things came to mind:
1. The Christian faith has a ton of its own lingo that, unless you have been in church for a while, it sounds like an entirely different language, one that you can walk away and go “well that sure sounds nice but what does it MEAN?”
2. The job that I had for over 16 years an an analyst, and one that I still do from time to time, is essentially one that requires me to translate “geekspeak” to everyday language so that the business owner will know what they are getting
3. God always uses what we do (aka our jobs) in life to translate spiritual realities into everyday, understandable truth
We’re studying the whole cosmic battle stuff in my Torah class now in seminary, and it’s really actually pretty cool. We’ve been looking at all these other Ancient Near East texts and seeing how the ANE people really saw their world. They told stories of how gods and godesses built the world and fought for the right to create and give destinies. They weren’t trying to describe material creation, rather, they were trying to make sense of how the world came to be. It sets the context of Genesis and how truly *revolutionary* it must have been to hear how and why people were created in a whole new light. Yet reading these stories with 21st century ears, it’s all very mythical and easy to think “wow, how could they believe that stuff?”
I can’t help but wonder if that is sometimes how the message of the cross sounds to people today.
I know Paul addresses that in Corinthians when he says:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness [moria, also means absurdity] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18
But I am not satisfied with just quoting that verse or resting in that truth and not trying to translate it. Nor should you. For those of us who have experienced forgiveness, who know what God has done to set us free from the things that have kept us captive — whether or not you are still in church or have given up on the body of Christ — this is the work we are called to:
Yes, sometimes the message of the cross may sound absurd to people. What I find interesting though, is the word Paul uses that is translated “perishing” in the verse above also means to render useless. Think about that for a second. How often do the struggles of life, or words spoken by others, kill hopes and dreams, and make people think they are useless in the world? It doesn’t make logical sense that a cross would undo that, which is why Paul says it sounds like foolishness, absurdity. Yet it does, and once you have experienced it, you know how to explain it: The message of LOVE on the cross, the One that is light that breaks through darkness absolutely has the power to overcome!
You see, I think the translation stuff often happens only in smaller settings. When someone can honestly stay, to someone they have relationship with “I don’t get it. What exactly do I need to be set free from? What battle is being waged over my life? What if I really am doing the best I can to live a good life, where does sin fit in? What did God forgive me of? Does it really matter? How do I join God in fixing the world?”
The whole cosmic battle idea – that we have been purchased from darkness and brought into life – I believe, don’t get me wrong. I know there is a war against my soul, your soul, against my kids, against goodness in the world, against belief that there even is a God. If modern day slavery and human trafficking and racism and abuse don’t prove that to you, then I don’t know what will. The world is not as it should be for many people’s lives, both here and abroad. And I think that this side of the cosmic battle – that justice and mercy and goodness should reign in our communities and in the world – is much easier to grasp as a starting point than something that sounds like a cosmic battle being fought over our lives individually.
The cross is powerful when you take the time to look at what it really means for your life. I have been humbled to realize that in many more ways over this past year. In communicating God’s message of love and forgiveness, let us not forget that those who do not yet believe will need to hear about the message of the cross in language that makes sense to them. I’ll be honest….. in this day and age, I can’t help but wonder if communicating that Jesus suffering at the hands of people who had a political game to play makes more sense. He gets it.
But you know what?
God is fully able to show people what they need to see about Him. Chains look one way to an addict, and another to a prisoner… and another to a mom or dad in suburbia just trying to raise their kids and protect them and teach them how to grow up, a person struggling with an eating disorder or someone trying to hide their sexual orientation. Missing the mark looks one way to a wife or husband who just yelled at their spouse and immediately regrets it, to the politician who compromised on something they hold dear, to the teen who struggles with the pressures their peers place on them. Fear has all sorts of faces too, for the soldier at war, the daughter or son in an abusive or demanding home, the person who has to hold it all together because what would happen if they didn’t?
We all need to be rescued from something. Only you know what that is. Only your neighbor or co-worker does for their lives. So whether the “cosmic battle” story makes more sense to people on a big scale or small one, it never ceases to amaze me how much difference it makes when we invite God into our own stories and places. If you believe, you have done that at some point in your life.
Don’t get stuck in the language of the Christian world. Find a way to communicate the truth of what you have had to learn, of what the cross has done for you, of what battle has been fought in your life, and won. Then… share THAT. Because THAT is what people will understand first, before they ever read about it in the pages of scripture.