Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Jesus Train... God is Good... All the Time?
The church found itself to be the target of sporadic, but yet intense and debilitating persecution by the Roman empire. In response, when their "faith met life," the second and third century church developed a discipleship theology that one could call "martyr theology." In this context, they understood the world in general to be a place of suffering, turmoil and trouble, but that in the church, one could "get on the Jesus train" and move from this Lost World toward the New World where Jesus was king. But, the "purchase" of one's ticket on the Jesus train (which occurred when one enrolled for baptism, and which meant that you "bought into" the christian worldview and its proclamation about Jesus of Nazareth) did not rescue one from suffering, but rather entailed a new kind of suffering. The generic suffering of all humanity in the Lost World was transformed into the imitative suffering of Christ. In fact, for these Christians, the highest call on the Jesus train would have been the call to martyrdom; that is, to suffer like Christ as one confesses Christ to be Lord and Master. For them, Jesus' call to "take up your cross," or to "drink of the cup from which I drink" was not some spiritualized process of self-denial. Jesus meant it literally.
This discipleship theology strikes at the very heart of a comfortable, affluent and "fat" American culture and church. We often tell ourselves, "God is good, all the time." But what if things are not good at all? We seem to have lost the insight of our foremothers and fathers, namely, that this is not a statement to describe the situation, but a statement of our hope in the God who transcends the situation. In other words, we don't say it as a talisman against bad fortune, a mantra of self-deception, or an incantation to magically remove difficulties and dangers. We proclaim it as our expectation that Jesus, when he returns, will make all suffering-- of both the Lost World and the Christians on the "train"-- go away. Yet, while suffering will not be able to survive at his coming, until he comes, christians look through their suffering to the One who himself suffered. So, Christians say, "God is good, all the time" even when things are not good; and this is why we have to say, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." For, when things are bad, and remain so, such that it looks as if God has abandoned us, the world and/or the church, we still confess, "God is good," and it is this confession that makes us the fools of the world and despised of all peoples. For any healing, any reprive, any liberation is a signpost of that day, when all will be healed, all will receive reprive, and all will be free. These are not "ends in themselves," but hints and clues of the truth that is in Christ; the truth that God wins and we overcome in Christ.