What is the gospel?
It’s a fascinating and delicious question. In the first century, “the gospel” was simply a message of good news that a scout would bring back, declaring a victory in a military battle. He would come running into the town square, joyfully declaring the victory, and it would gladden people’s hearts; everyone knew it was good news when they heard it.
When good news is shared, the result is joy.
That’s what the gospel is, at it’s most basic level: when you thought all was lost and the boys who went off to war weren’t coming home, the unexpected happened. They won. They’re coming home. Good news!
So why isn’t the gospel good news for many people?
In his helpful book, Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Richard Rohr writes that for most people, their ego pattern makes them understand their sin, and how change happens, like this:
Sin –> Punishment –> Repentance –> Transformation
The flow of this pattern is that when someone sins, they must be punished, which then might lead to them finally saying they’re sorry and changing their ways. This is actually bad news, because punishment doesn’t lead to transformation. But it’s the pattern we all too often impose on ourselves and those we love. Rohr writes, “Only love effects true inner transformation, not duress, guilt, shunning, or social pressure. Love is not love unless it is totally free. Grace is not grace unless it is totally free.”
Rohr then writes about the pattern of grace:
Sin –> Unconditional love –> Transformation –> Repentance
According to Rohr, “God seduces us into the economy of grace by loving us in spite of ourselves in the very places where we cannot or will not or dare not love ourselves. God resists our evil and conquers it with good.” This is the story of the prodigal son, and it’s the story of every hero that we find in the Scriptures (Moses was a murderer, Jacob a liar, David an adulterer, you get the picture).
In her riveting book Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber defines grace this way:
“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all… instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things even out of my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace – like saying, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final world. I am a God who makes all things new.”
Don’t think of your kids, and how you punish them, and how you’re screwing that all up. Don’t think of all the times you have punished yourself or others, and how wretched you are. Yes, your failings hurt you and others and even the planet. But the gospel is good news because those failings are not the final word.
Instead, drink in the fact that the god news is the joyful announcement that in Jesus, through his death and resurrection, there is a new beginning with every breath, and it’s available for all of us, everywhere. God’s grace is the whimsical and beautiful announcement that God is making all things new, and it starts with you, right here, right now.