When I was in high school my church youth group watched a movie about a boy who knew he should tell his best friend about his faith. He kept putting off the conversation until suddenly it was too late: the friend died in a fiery auto accident, its flames a preview of what awaited him in hell. For days afterward I would wake up sweating, thinking of my own friends and their fate, tormented by guilt because I had not “witnessed” to them about what I believed. Later came scary books like The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series, portraying in graphic detail what might someday happen to the unraptured.
Sheer adrenaline may prod a person to a point of spiritual crisis, but I wonder about the long-term effects of an appeal based on guilt, fear, and shame.
Over time these techniques may well produce a counter-reaction.
I’ve found that skeptics and post-Christians are largely immune to such an approach. They need the opposite: a dose of grace that contrasts with the harsh, unforgiving world around them (including, in some cases, their encounters with judgmental Christians).
In the movie A Beautiful Mind, Alicia Nash tells how she copes with her husband’s schizophrenia: “I look at him and I force myself to see the man that I married, and he becomes that man. He’s transformed into someone that I love. And I am transformed into someone that loves him.” In other words, she looks at him with eyes of grace. We do that intuitively with people we love, such as a parent with Alzheimer’s disease: we see behind the ravaged person they are now to the healthy person they once were.
Jesus had the uncanny ability to look at everyone with grace-filled eyes, seeing not only the beauty of who they were but also the sacred potential of what they could become.
We His followers have the same challenge: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view,” Paul told the Corinthians. Evidently we are not doing likewise since many people think of faith, especially evangelical faith, as bad news. They believe Christians view them through eyes of judgment, not eyes of grace.
Somehow we need to reclaim the “goodnewsness” of the Gospel, and the best place to start is to rediscover the good news ourselves.
Frederick Buechner writes, “Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is gooder than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all.”
It has taken me years to rediscover the good news. I have written elsewhere about the “toxic” churches of my youth that for a time poisoned my attitude toward faith. And as a writer I have met my share of cranks and hypocrites in the Church. To be fair, however, I have also encountered many humble “saints” who faithfully serve God. What is a saint?
I like Reynolds Price’s definition: someone who, however flawed, “leads us by example, almost never by words, to imagine the hardest thing of all: the seamless love of God for all creation, including ourselves.”
It strikes me as genuinely good news that we are creations of a loving God who wants us to thrive, not random byproducts of a meaningless universe.
That God entered our world and demonstrated in person that nothing — not even death — can separate us from God’s love. That the story of Jesus has this main theme: “For God so loved the world that He gave . . .” That human existence will not end with the imminent warming of our atmosphere or the gradual cooling of our sun, and my particular destiny will not end with death. That God will balance the scales of human history not by karma but by grace, in such a way that no one will be able to accuse God of unfairness.
Mark Rutland whimsically recalls a survey in which Americans were asked what words they would most like to hear. He predicted the first choice: “I love you.” Number two was “I forgive you.” The third choice took him by surprise: “Supper’s ready.” It dawned on Rutland that these three statements provide a neat summary of the gospel story. We are loved by God, forgiven by God, and invited to the banquet table. In the midst of a planet marked by brokenness — violence, natural disasters, ruptured relationships — the Gospel is truly good news. Like an iPod listener dancing in a subway station full of glum commuters, a Christian hears a different sound, of joy and laughter on the other side of pain and death.
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Excerpted with permission from Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, copyright Zondervan 2014.
Are you letting go of guilt and shame and reclaiming the good news in your life? We can experience true peace and joy when we remember we are unconditionally loved by God and covered by His grace. Now that’s good news! Come join the conversation on our blog. We would love to hear from you!