Sometimes the Gospel bores me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced the occasional onset of slack-jawed numbness as some overly enthusiastic brother or sister prattles on and on about how, can you believe it, Jesus Christ died for our sins. If I don’t entertain myself with thoughts of tennis or food or something, I’ll probably fall asleep. I think it’s actually quite an amazing feat of the human spirit to remain so willfully unimpressed by the most mind-shattering truth that could ever be spoken.
I’ve heard this is a common occurrence for students of theology or people who have grown up in the church. Yes yes, Jesus cross death grave resurrection ascension hooray life-everlasting. Now get to the stuff that is interesting, like inverted parallelisms or etymological controversies; this is too basic. And all the saints and martyrs of the Church gape in horror.
Now, I would never verbally disparage the Gospel like that, but I’m sure I’ve come pretty close to such a sentiment in my heart. After all, I “prayed the prayer” when I was four, what do I know about the seismic upheaval Paul speaks of in Colossians 1:13? What do I know about salvation?
Consequently, I used to regularly come down with a bad case of “testimony envy.” I’d be sitting next to some guy tearfully speaking about how he was born in a slum, used to be an international crime lord, hourly smoked forty illegal substances, poached baby pandas, and watched the Bachelorette before Jesus rescued him from the pit of hell, and all I could think of was how my biggest spiritual crisis in the past month was having to eat a horizontally-cut sandwich my mom made for me (diagonal slices bring out the fair-trade, organic raspberry jelly flavor). It’s not my fault I became a Christian before I could spectacularly destroy my life like all the cool kids, growing up as a nice boy in a nice suburb with nice parents and nice things.
The Gospel bored me because my testimony bored me. The Gospel didn’t impress me because I had blinded myself to all Christ had overcome to save me. My life was so insular that I rarely observed the arresting transformation from sinner to saint, and thus I had a listless, lifeless faith for some time.
All I want to say is this: I was wrong. Dear God forgive me, I was so wrong.
This past year, God has revealed much to me about the overwhelming beauty and power of the Son’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and glorification. And not just abstractly, but played out like a mighty symphony in the lives of broken men and women – myself included.
Interning at a Christian recovery center for homeless drug addicts has afforded me countless, blessed opportunities to see this “boring” Gospel shake hardened, angry, desperate people to their cirrhosis-riddled core and draw forth something both unexpected and magnificent. I watch, daily, as dawning wonderment steals over faces unaccustomed to making such an expression, the reality that, can you believe it, Jesus Christ died for our sins slowly sinking into their souls, a megaton truth displacing the acid-pool of lies that had entirely corroded them.
And their smiles in those moments! Often toothless, usually crooked, but radiant all the same. And I find that, no matter what I am lecturing on, no matter what question they throw at the staff members, it always comes back to this:
We were once separated from God in the wild dark, adrift in the bitter sea of our sin and brokenness, when, in humble glory, Jesus Christ, the full faithfulness of God, reconciled us to himself with now-resplendent outstretched and punctured arms, catching us up into a binding embrace, filling us with life urgently abundant, and empowering us to go forth and joyfully demonstrate the healing love of our Savior to a sick and tragic world for the sake of his eternal praise.
And, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve become the overly enthusiastic prattler that I once disdained. Sure, I can’t relate to the clients’ abusive pasts, their meth addictions, or their homelessness, and I don’t think I’ll ever convince them that I made it to 22 without impregnating some poor woman, but we aren’t really so different as I might have once thought.
I may not know the weight of a father’s drunken blows, but I’ve binged on the lies of Satan and beaten myself into the mud. I may not know the head-splitting ache of a heroin withdrawal, but I have been tossed and torn by overpowering desires. I may not know what it’s like to have nowhere to sleep safely, but I have made my bed in the depths of Sheol and, unlike David, failed to sense the presence of God there.
But more importantly than any of that, they and I, we together, are in the thrilling process of discovering the endless breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us. And as I see, day by day, the very real force of the Gospel in their lives – as barriers are overcome, relationships are mended, and failures are met with grace – I become more aware of how that same Gospel is moving in me, and their testimonies become a part of my own.
I’m reminded that my testimony isn’t really about me – this isn’t a pageant in which I dress up my sins and struggles and put them on display to be judged more or less powerful than the next person’s. Rather, my testimony is all about God and how he has made himself known to me. And he has made himself known: on each page of Scripture and in each redeemed masterpiece that constitutes “the Church” he has revealed himself to be a glorious Christ who is love, who lived and died and rose to save the world from a deserved condemnation and only asks that we proclaim him as Lord and follow his perfect will, humbly serving everyone in need as we move toward the consummation of things, the everlasting feast in which all is as it should be and we finally behold the face of our Savior.
And for a dorky gay kid from the suburbs who just wants to know he isn’t alone, that is some seriously good news.