This piece was originally written for Humanity Magazine’s “Context” edition.
I have seen the gospel smash violently into a human being like the Titanic into the ice. How sweet is the song of that message: The declaration that “you are loved” has a way of plowing into those who have never before heard it. Can you hear it again for the first time?
God gave Himself for you.
The God-man Yeshua was robbed of His skin and dangled like pulp from a tree. Because He loves you.
This message is global and requires little context for the thrust to overtake someone. For millennia this simple yet planet-shattering news has moved people to every extreme of love and sacrifice imaginable, offering themselves up to torture and death for the name of Christ.
So why do so many of us get bored with the church and drift away like a summer cloud? Why did my cousin decide that he wasn’t necessarily angry at God; he was just bored of doing Christian stuff, and hasn’t returned to church since high school?
We were born to pastors—great ones at that—so the words ‘Jesus loves you’ basically were our second, third, and fourth words after ‘mama.’ The jarring and beautiful message which is the gospel of Jesus Christ never moved us because we were born with an understanding of this love. It wasn’t foreign to us, therefore it was not monumental.
When loving parents constantly communicate the love of God, it can easily become nothing more than recited words in the mouths of our mothers. We are like babies born in velvet sheets when someone tells us the wonders of what it’s like to sleep comfortably—we already know. We have already experienced it.
Last night at youth group, I held one of my freshmen boys as he wept violently, his tears puffing out his eyelids and painting pink spiderwebs across his cheeks. I had just finished a message on dying to our old selves so that we may live again with Christ; there can be no resurrection if there is no death. Most of the youth group was in tears, but this one boy wept especially bitterly.
“I—I just can never be good enough,” he sniffled into his sleeve. “My older brother is so much smarter than me and my mom likes him more. The only person who actually likes me is my dad’s girlfriend, but they live 45 minutes away…”
Over the past weeks, I have been getting peripheral insight into Chris’ family layout. In addition to the weed- and alcohol-fueled parties his parents throw weekly, they seem to care very little about their children, as if the kids came into existence and started living in the same house as them like a stray cat—they’re around but they’re not paramount.
As a result of Chris’ background, I have seen the declaration of the love of Jesus wash over him. He is beginning to toe the waters of this love and slowly wade into the shallows.
I’m praying for a tsunami.
To Chris, love is a foreign object. It’s something to be strived for rather than freely given. It’s something you earn with good behavior and better grades. The context he has known for 15 years has set him up for a concussive shift when he collides with Jesus.
He is about to enter a world where love is freely granted, especially to the undeserving. It’s a paradigm where the prostitutes are praised and the holy men are reprimanded. Chris is entering the gates of a kingdom that wraps the beggars in fine linens and puts the wealthy outside its walls; those who think they deserve entrance are the very ones who are shunned.
So then the question arises: How does someone like me enter this kingdom? Someone who grew up so familiar with the Bible I could recite the book of Lamentations backwards, making it a Shakespearean comedy instead of a tragedy? Where is there room for the proud and comfortable in this upside down kingdom?
And the solution I’ve arrived at is this: Humiliation.
It’s easy to ask for humility. All virtuous people strive to be humble. But what we don’t realize, what we are not brave enough to ask for, is humiliation. It’s the deconstruction of our individualistic contexts and it is the only sure path to humility.
If we truly want to be like Christ, we must be humiliated.
We must join Him in His kenosis, His self-emptying, to such a degree that we no longer seek to impress others. We no longer seek to impress God. We no longer try to earn our way into the kingdom because, as empty cups, we have nothing to offer. Our knowledge of facts and Bible verses earn us no credit in this paradoxical kingdom. We have no tokens with which to pay the gatekeeper and gain passage into this high country.
Only those who acknowledge their own wretchedness, their own unloveableness and undeservedness can gain entry. Only those who empty themselves of all their hard-earned merit badges and participation trophies can enter. The only requirement is brokenness and a desire to be healed; dirtiness and a willingness to be washed.
So examine your context. Are you someone who expects to be ushered into the kingdom because you’re a pretty good person and you’re accustomed to being loved? Or do you realize your own filth and come to God begging to be made clean?
In many ways, we should assume the mindset of Chris the Freshman. We should be surprised that God would shower His love on worms like us and even make time for us in His busy schedule. It should catch us off guard when he drapes His finest linens over us and calls us Son and Daughter.
I think this spirit of surprise and excitement is what He loves. This is the childlike context with which we enter the kingdom.
So may we too replace our pretense with curiosity and our comfort with humiliation. May we be people who examine our context, that the gospel may smash into and topple us. May we enter into the mysterious paradox which is the kingdom of God.