I heard someone tell me recently that the gospel was like a huge guilt trip. What they heard was: “Since Jesus died for you, you owe Him.” I’m not really sure what they felt was owed, but I got the feeling that the idea that a potentially divine figure might care a lot about them and might do anything for them was not really at issue there.
You might be thinking one of two things right now. On the one hand, you might be thinking that a guilt trip is a very appropriate way of thinking about it and the nature of Jesus and His existence is most definitely at issue. On the other hand, you might be thinking about how you would have gently and effectively corrected this blatant misperception of the gospel.
(For better or worse, I did nothing to correct it. I have a lot of good excuses for holding my tongue, but I’m just going to pick the one where I live in such fear of the way that people think of me, that I’m not willing to take even the tiniest risk on saying something other than that which is optimal.)
Something I have begun to notice as I have set out as an “adult” is that the way I see my own faith and the way that the gospel is discussed are very different things. And I think many people, believers or not, struggle with this. I believe that when a claim like the gospel is made, in whatever form that is, it has implications that must be evaluated on many levels of ourselves.
What I mean by this is that our hearts and minds, which, as we all know, are constantly at odds to begin with, both have competing understandings within themselves. For example, in the claim that the gospel is a guilt trip, the claimant was able to entertain, for the sake of conversation, the idea that Jesus might have actually died for them. However, what became at issue then is whether or not such love in turn deserves devotion. Unrequited love is a normal part of many of our lives; many people I know, myself included, feel no obligation to reciprocate no matter what quality of love has been given them. So while his mind might have accepted the basic premise of Jesus, it also concluded that it wasn’t worth bothering over and his heart even resisted the implications of it.
It leads to a question: what sort of love does deserve devotion?
Here, an evangelical reader might object by saying that Jesus’ gift is free.
And now we have some starting points to discuss this. I think that the further we can draw out the gospel in a more complete form (an arduous process already), the more harmony we will find in our own self-consistent understanding of it. We are looking to have an understanding so complete, that our hearts and minds, while tumultuous in their whims, see it with a unified understanding of what it is. The gospel is not something that offends the heart while enticing the mind, nor is it something that satisfies the heart while failing the mind. If our understanding is one that requires us to stop thinking or to stop feeling in order to comply with it, that understanding must be wrong.
That isn’t to say that having a consistent understanding of the gospel means that devotion or belief follows necessarily. I am a person who has believed for most of my life and yet I regularly have trouble accepting that being alone and having no sex whatsoever is the best God had in mind for my life. But, I try (and fail) to devote myself to living that life the best I can. If we are to understand the gospel correctly, we would at least understand why devotion ought to follow.
I want to try and show that consistent understanding to you. I want to show you what Jesus did, the impact it had, and what the end result is. I want to show you that devotion has nothing to do with what you owe and everything to do with the complete fate of humanity.
I want to do this so that we don’t talk about the gospel in a damaging way anymore. I want the church to stop being obsessed with their “heaven-bound” status and start being obsessed with changing the world. I want to replace Facebook posts about begging Jesus to come back and end suffering in the world with a love for humanity that is so deep, that it sees the messed up world we live in and wants to stay here and make it better. Because that’s what Jesus did and what God is still doing. Because I love humanity and I want to see suffering end.