"This story is, in all its funky flawed humanity, claiming that God hasn’t abandoned us but is present, that we can be a part of. In this story, confession and repentance and honesty and humility unleash tidal waves of grace that can bring about actual transformation."
I've struggled since graduating to articulate all that shifted for me, particularly within my theology and spiritual life, and what it was that I stumbled upon at SPU that changed everything for me. It's a tall order, to summarize such a complex and personal (and on-going) journey.
And yet--if I was forced to boil it all down, I would say that during the university season of my life, I was introduced to a different story, and this new story rang more true and more beautiful than the story I was taught growing up.
Briefly: the old story was about failure and sin and God needing to punish someone for all that. It was a story about God being separated from us by our inherent wickedness, and our need for a bridge to cross over that gaping chasm so we could be with God again. It was a story that asked me to really feel how bad I was, to dwell on it, in order to feel grateful I was saved anyway, although I deserved punishment. It was a story about escaping the bad earth, about needing to agree with the right ideas in order to be allowed into the place of evacuation (heaven). It was a story about needing to convince people to agree with me. It was a story about defending the faith with facts to resist the attacks of modern culture and science, about apologetics and anti-evolution speeches and this world is not my home.
This is not the full picture of what I was taught--I am undoubtedly leaving out the beautiful parts, regarding love and mercy and forgiveness, because that was there, too, it absolutely was. But I see in hindsight that the bare bones of the narrative I was given, the story about humanity and God and where we're headed, was essentially what I just wrote out: distance and sin and not deserving it and more than a little gnostic in its attitude toward bodies and the earth.
It was at SPU (and also the wonderful Bethany Community Church) that I began to hear snippets of a different story, and I believe whole-heartedly it was this new story that saved my faith, because the old one was beginning to crumble in light of the questions that arose from simply living, questions about death and pain and the poor and how to read the Bible.
This new story is about the Kingdom of God coming to earth, here and now, declaring that God is interested in seeing things being set right in our real and actual history (and that the earth is worth caring for). The new story involves looking at the whole idea of living through a different lens and realizing it is not the powerful and violent who are blessed, but the poor and the peacemakers. It is about the unfolding story written across the centuries of God wanting to bless and save all of humanity, about a God who is shockingly inclusive, even from the beginning with good old Abraham. It is a story about God being intimately with humanity, even in our darkest hour, about coming to us instead of remaining far away. Most of all, this new story is about redemption, about an ongoing movement of God in the world to constantly renew and heal us, with an intention to reconcile everything and everyone in the end. And this is really, really good news.
Naturally, Rob Bell says it better than I (and inspired this post with his own):
"In this story, God is a trinitarian dance of love and generosity, endlessly encircling us, bringing new mercy every morning, reminding us that in our smallness and lostness we’re redeemed and found, insisting that when you give you life away for the healing of the world you’ll get it back in ways you’d never imagined. The story rings true to me, even--or I should say especially--the awkward parts.
...The problem with the Bible--and it is a problem--is that the people in it and the people who wrote it are a lot like us. Actual human beings, moving through space and time, with world views and biases and struggles and hopes and dreams. In these books their perspectives are exposed to us, we see their finiteness, we see their hangups, we see their assumptions about God, life, and everything else.
They need help. And so do we. This library called the Bible is a story about that help.
It’s rough and messy and a bit dodgy in places but then in others it soars, it absolutely throws it down, it reaches for the stars, it insists that the last word hasn’t been spoken, that the tomb is empty, that all things are ours and they’re being reconciled, restored repaired, and renewed. This story moves me, it opens me up, it gives me hope, it helps me become a better person."
I am grateful for this story I have embraced, because it inspires hope and joy and transformation in my life in a way the old story did not, or could not do in sustainable ways. However, and this is crucial: I am learning to be grateful for the old story, as well, for sixteen-year old Sarah and her understanding of God at that time in her life, because all of that was included in the journey that brought me here, now. I may think about God and the Bible and science and eschatology in dramatically different ways now, but God was speaking to me and calling me to new places then, as he is now, as he will continue to do.
But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise."