Saturday, September 9, 2006

Above all, Gospels tell of God’s love

I really liked this article, and hope the Dispatch doesn't mind that I've saved it...

Above all, Gospels tell of God’s love
Friday, September 08, 2006

I remember once asking a parishioner about his vision of God. "Who or what do you envision God to be?" I asked.
He replied by telling me that he thought of God as the one who keeps track of our rights and wrongs. We are punished for our wrongs by the consequences of our actions, and rewarded for our goodness. And God is always trying to steer us toward the good.
I agreed with his last statement but challenged the rest, saying: "You make God sound like a giant traffic cop in the sky. Where’s the good news in that? "
What happened to the Gospel, which is literally translated "Good News?" I always thought Christianity was meant to be defined by the Gospel. And what is that good news? That God loved the world so much he sent his only Son so that all who trust in him may have eternal life (John 3:16).
I do not remember the New Testament telling me that God sent his Son in order to be sure we always did right, or to keep track of all our deeds. In fact, much of Christian theology assumes that God sent his message of love through his Son because we humans were so often incapable of doing the right and the good.
In recent years, Christianity seems obsessed with right and wrong. As the religion injects itself into the public debate, it does so around hot-button issues like abortion and sexuality, and around party politics.
Increasingly, Christianity seems to be identified with being "right" on the issues or voting for the "right" party. As Christian leaders join the political discourse, they often sound just like politicians: attacking the other side (rather than loving our enemies as Jesus commanded) and giving the spin to a position (rather than speaking the truth in love).
Such public discourse divides people into groups of those who are right and those who are wrong. It also influences the way we envision God, turning the Deity into a bean counter. Where’s the Good News in that?
Early Christianity grew because of its strong message of love. In the dehumanizing world of the Roman Empire, the outcasts heard good news. Slaves heard that God loved them, even if they had no power or standing in society. In the church, slaves became brothers and sisters with those who were not slaves, and were called children of the God of the universe. A woman, living in a maledominated culture, where a husband or boyfriend could legally demand that she have an abortion, found herself treated as an equal to a man. The poor found dignity because they realized they were loved by God just as much as the rich. It was good news.
Christianity was not obsessed in those days with being "right." Rather, it was obsessed with sharing the love of God with all who needed it. And then, the church watched in awe and wonder as that love transformed lives. It was good news.
We live in a modern, dehumanizing world, where we allow ourselves to be defined more and more by our productivity, consumerism and accomplishments. I have found very few people who get up each morning fully aware of Christianity’s great proclamation that God loves them and each and every one us very much. And now the Christian Church fails to proclaim this, its own, most basic message, and instead joins in political bickering. Where’s the love? Whatever happened to the Gospel?
The Rev. Stephen Smith is rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Dublin, and a member of We Believe Ohio, a group that unites diverse religious voices for social justice.
Copyright © 2006, The Columbus Dispatch

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