Today is Easter Sunday, and outside my window I can hear birds singing through the occasional rush of cars leaving the church just down the road from my house. In the church this was always one of those most important services of the year – I don’t know how true the statistics were, but the asses in seats always seemed to confirm that the Big Three services were Mothers Day, Easter, and whatever service your particular church had for Christmas. The Big Three because on these three days, moms and families would be more able to convince their adult children to go to church with them – and in the churches I attended, when you had a captive audience of people whose salvation was questionable you had all the reasons necessary for pushing the Gospel.
Easter always seemed to be the most obvious time for this sort of thing, but I’ve seen hellfire and brimstone preaching done in Mother’s Day services too. Some churches would have the sort of messages that would simply pull at your heartstrings and tell a story of sin and sacrifice – while others would focus on the dangers of hell. I’ve never seen anyone pass up the opportunity to sell to the unbelieving or unchurched on these days, and if I did in my small town I think there’d be a pastor looking for work that coming Monday. Parents want their kids saved, especially older parents who are afraid they’ll miss out on the opportunity to see to it that their adult children are given the guarantee of an afterlife that isn’t full of torment – and so these opportunities are unapologetically taken.
That’s what Easter Sunday looks like in my experience; well dressed people, uncomfortable and present by coercion as relatives look on hopeful that something the preacher says will hit them in the gut just right to get them to the alter.
By definition, the word gospel means “good news”. It’s meant to convey that Jesus himself was good news to all the world (or for your Calvinist buddies – to the Elect) by providing them with salvation by means of his sacrificial death on the cross at Calvary. The goodness in it is that all of your sin and inadequacy to meet the standard of the Law is covered by a single sacrifice of one perfect man.
Somehow, looking back, that doesn’t sound all that good to me anymore.
The prima facie belief required for the gospel to be true is actually pretty horrific. That belief is that all of mankind is wretched, from the smallest child to the kindest adult, and deserving of punishment as their creator sees fit seems like a headline from the world’s angriest newspaper. Furthermore, that you are so wondrously wretched that a perfect man must die in your place to make up for it is a horror unto itself.
Christianity posits that we are sinners. Inescapably.
This message is entirely unavoidable, so far as I can tell, within Christian tautology.
And I think you should reject it, because I think it’s a lie. You have no basis for pushing the gospel if nothing is being cured by it.
I read somewhere that, as an adult, you should try to be the person you needed but didn’t have available to you when you were younger. If you are 20 today, be who you needed for someone else at the age of 16 – so on, so forth.
When I was 16, I desperately needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t a sinner. I desperately needed to feel adequate and worthy of my own life. Somehow I never experienced anyone like that in my life, but I know the sort of value they would have had for me. I do try, and I’ve had the opportunity to fulfil that role a few times in my life. Nothing – ever – has been more fulfilling than loving people who believed themselves to be broken enough to tell them otherwise.
So – a new gospel:
You aren’t a sinner. Nothing about you is so broken that it required the death of a perfect man to fix. Nothing about you is so broken that it makes you less worthy of good things, but if you continue to believe that you aren’t worthy of good things – you may miss the opportunity to pursue them. Pursue good things for yourself. Treat yourself with kindness, treat others with kindness. Do not tolerate those who refuse to do the same. We only have an instant on this planet, try to make it the best instant you can. You don’t need to be saved – you are just fine the way you are.
I think that’s good news.