Most believers I talk to wrestle with deep, unmentionable questions about their faith. They have silently and shamefully accepted massive contradictions about the culturally assumed gospel in the hopes that no one will notice, particularly themselves. They, with much effort, put on a brave face, attend their church of choice, read their devotional material of preference and soldier on, in the hopes that the so-called mysteries with which they struggle will be resolved on eternity’s white shores.
This is a great tragedy.
Not because a life of Jesus-following is meant to be easy or simple. Shudder the thought. In fact, it is the exact presence of struggle in the New Testament narrative which gives these modern-day believers excuse for their subterranean conflict. The tragedy lies in where we place the struggle of faith and what that placement does for a lifetime of following Jesus.
Most modern day Christians, if honest, struggle because the gospel as they know it either doesn’t sound good or doesn’t work good, either way forcing a degree of self-delusion in order to continue down the path. The gospel, as presented in our day, is too bad to be true. Too trapped in “get to heaven” techniques and quick fixes to what are obviously heart-wrenching problems in our world. It is well-documented that when in great pain, one of the last groups of people one ought to seek out are Christians, lest you get the proverbial, “God wouldn’t let anything happen unless it was to teach you a lesson.” Or the more simplified: “He won’t give you more than you can handle. Everything happens for a reason.”
This lies in great contrast to Jesus who (quite obviously when you read the accounts) was the EXACT person you wanted to go to when you were in pain. Not because He bathed you in platitudes and told you how much God loved you just the way you are. No, Jesus, actively engaged suffering, unearthing it at its root, undermining its power, and liberated people to write new story lines with their pasts remade. Along the way, He enrolled a band of followers to which He empowered the exact authorities of renovation which made His ministry unique and transformational. He wrote average every day humans into the narrative and made them alive with power to revolutionize a world wrought with suffering.
The fact that a small band of wounded healers would be, by their sacrifice and their awakening, the catalysts to the rule of God made present on earth was—to say the least—revolutionary. Jesus finalized the political claim made in Genesis: people are made to be the face of God in the world. ALL PEOPLE. Not the king. Not the government. Not the religiously astute. Not those who benefit from the primary cultural narrative.
The intimate, Tuesday-morning decisions of every life speak, and the stories they tell weave the world in which God lives. When seen through this more Biblically-accurate lens, the Gospel is a difficult pill to swallow, not because it is other-worldly, irrelevant, or trite. Rather, it is too GOOD to be true. How could it be that every life could be filled with renovation power? How could it be that the world as we know it was not a static object, but instead waiting to be filled with presence of God? How could it be that the struggles we face, the questions we ask, the doubts we stand upon could be the fodder for a new kind of life: one infused with the life of Jesus expressed with healing, hope and liberation?
If we wish to know what it means to follow Jesus and the difficulties it entails, we have no further to look than the original band of followers. We need only look to Peter, whose confession of Jesus’ Messiahship was meant to sweep him into favor and instead draws him into new layers of contrition and exposure. We need only to look to the Sons of Thunder whose cultural narrative called them to thrones, while Jesus calls them to crosses. Look to the Twelve, trying to go back to work, and ending up in a storm they cannot face, only to find Jesus taking a nap.
Every action of Jesus in the Gospels, reframes the disciples from their assumed path of self-reliance and ascension to power and draws them into the revolution storm. A storm which led ancient Israel by cloud and fire, a storm which parted ruddy waters, a storm which held the disciples in rapped silence as a Messiah stood on the water. With every story, every narrative they are drawn deeper and deeper into a revolutionary gyre, a spinning cyclone of remaking which only ends when ALL THINGS ARE NEW. In this zephyr of life, every event of their days is a flightpath into the gale-force tempest of Gospel life. And they, with windswept faces are made into the men and women of the revolution. Their countenances ruddy and full of holy light. A light for the nations.
We, in cultural Christendom, have offered the masses a convoluted message of performance by faith which confuses as much as it liberates. An illogical “logos” which has no presence in the Gospel narratives. In its place, the first generation of Jesus followers offer us the good news of windswept faces, of lives drawn into the storm of renovation, a chance to be the down payment on a world made new.
This is the Gospel too good to be true.
Our way in is as simple as it is revolutionary: to say Yes to Him who has said His eternal Yes to all the world. Yes after Yes after Yes.
Do you feel it, the fresh mistral across your cheeks? The misty breath of heaven blowing in your mundane days? It is the Gospel of Windswept Faces. The men and women of the tempest, who by the Grace of God carry among them Ghost on the Water, the Spirit over the Sea, the stillness within the storm.