The Wonder of “What If?” — A Photo Essay

What if we’ve got it wrong?

What if we’ve told it backwards?

What if the old pictures of God need re-printing,
editing, another look-see?

What if we are not ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God?’
What if, instead, we are invited partners in a dance of love,
creatures formed from dust, to be sure,
but creatures breathed into existence because of love, first, last and always?

I am knee-deep in Lenten texts right now,
reading and re-reading familiar passages,
reminded and remembering the Story,
the wild, wooly, wacky Story.

And I am seeing things anew, asking different questions,
surprised — again! — by the intricate beauty of it all.

It was a weekend perfect for beach-walking and I did a lot of it.
And as I walked, I pondered and prayed.

Then, on Sunday I worshiped and led in worship.
And I wrestled with some powerful ideas,
some poignant truths.

“How many of you,” our pastor asked us, “grew up hearing about an angry God?”
“How many of you heard someone tell you that Jesus took your place on the cross?”
“How many of you have heard that Jesus’ death paid your debt to God
or satisfied God’s wrath?”

My hand shot up. For each and every question.
Because that’s the primary understanding of Christ’s death on the cross that
most conservative, evangelical churches of the past 150 years have
faithfully taught, week in and week out.

But there is so much more to the cross,
so much more to the Incarnation,
so much more to the Story.
The easy-out response – and the truth, as well – is that it is a mystery,
a complex series of ideas and actions that we cannot fully comprehend.

But.

There are lots of images, word pictures and acted parables
in the New Testament which speak to the breadth of it all,
the beauty of it all,
the truth of it all.

Jon quoted N.T. Wright:
“Jesus did not give his disciples a theory of what happened on the cross;
he gave them a meal.”

YES.
He gave us a meal,
a picture of nourishment,
replenishment,
life.

Exactly nowhere did Jesus say he came to save us from God.
Exactly nowhere did Jesus say he was taking our place on that cross.
Exactly nowhere did he whisper that God hated us.

NOWHERE.

What if. . .

What if the truth is both simpler and more complicated.
What if the fullest picture of the whole shebang —
creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection,
the whole nine yards —
what if it is the natural outflowing of God’s amazing grace,
the potent, beautiful overflow of God’s goodness?

What if this Franciscan nun I’ve been reading,
a scholar and a thinker and a deep believer,
what if this is what it’s really all about:

“The doctrine of the primacy of Christ means that Jesus did not come because of human sin;
rather, from all eternity God willed to love
a finite other as a more perfect expression of his love.
Jesus would have come, therefore, even if there had been no sin.
The meaning of the Incarnation is not about sin but about the love of God.”

— Ilia Delio in The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective

What if our sin is not the most important thing about us?
What if love is the reason. . .
for everything??

If that is true, then this must be true:

GOD DID NOT PUT JESUS ON THE CROSS IN OUR PLACE.
It is sin on that cross — all that cuts us off from the God who loves us.
Jesus cries out, “ENOUGH!”
And the God who bends low dies so that we might live.
So that we might live in love.
So that we might live in God.
So that might be reconciled to God and to one another.

What if. . .

My deep thanks to my current partner in ministry, Dr. Jon Lemmond, for tackling this huge topic in a 20 minute sermon. And thanks to our community of faith who welcomed his words and wrestled right along with him as we kneaded our thinking muscles on Sunday morning. I am also grateful to Fr. Steve Coffey for his teaching on Dr. Delio’s work and to the good nun herself for this exquisite and thought-provoking book.

Joining this tonight with the ‘usual suspects: Michelle, Jennifer, Jen, Laura, and Ann –
and also with Heather because I did decide to ‘just write’ about the impact
of this process on  me over the last few days and with Jenn, because
there is no greater picture of mercy than the Incarnation of Jesus.
If I remember to do so, I’ll also link this with Emily W.
Pray for me, friends! I’m preaching next Sunday for the first time in a long time,
on a gospel text that I love – the anointing in Bethany.
And remarkably, it fits in well with the thrust of this week’s message, too. 

 

 



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Comments

  1. Oh yes, I’ll pray for you as he tenderly speaks what you will be re-uttering next Sunday. Glad to have read this, Diana. In some form, it has been rolling around in my heart for a while without words. One son wanting to let go of rules, another son evangelizing on the beach over spring break with Campus Crusade… and me in the middle loving them both fiercely regardless of their choices… all the while having been steeped in my own (CGS) Catholic Guilt Syndrome for everything I’ve ever done… = /
    I praise God for who he is in not hating me… and allowing me to recognize the real enemy… on that cross.
    So interesting to read Dr. Delio’s words.

    • Thanks for you prayers, Pat. Praying with you for all our sons and grandsons – and for ourselves. . . that we might shuck off the cloak of guilt and put on the love of God, day after day.

  2. Beautiful and true! Thank you.

  3. Oh, I am so glad that I landed behind you at the Wellspring-what a blessing your words and your pictures were to my soul. I spend a good bit of time in wonder…
    I understand that you’re speaking at Jumping Tandem, and now I understand why…
    Thank you. Bless you.
    Peace and good to you.

    • I’m glad you did, too! I hope to be out and about later today to read yours and others. Looking forward to meeting you in Nebraska next month!

  4. ro elliott says:

    I love this…and I love the quote…I have journeyed from the hands of an angry God…into the arms of a loving Abba…their if no comparison…and I know there is so much more for me to unpack…and I am so thankful He doesn’t tire of teaching of His Love….you words and pictures are just beautiful…thanks~

  5. Diana, I LOVE this. Every. Single. Word. For if God IS love, the GREATEST of these, the Love that covers a multitude of sins, and if we are created in His image, and His spirit lives in us then…yes!…He LOVES and we ARE LOVED beyond our wildest imaginings. And oh, what if? What if we’ve gotten it wrong and the cross wasn’t meant for US, but for SIN? Oh…thinking on these words long and deep today. Thank you, Friend!

    • EXACTLY, Cindee – the cross is meant for our sin, not for us. Such amazing love. And such overwhelming humility on God’s part. Maybe that’s the model for us — one that sort of goes against an awful lot of triumphalist Christianity. I’ll be thinking about all of this until I’m free to enjoy it in heaven. Thanks for stopping by, for leaving a comment and for plugging it on FB. Appreciate it.

  6. I’ll be chewing on this all day, Diana. I love your questions–how often I’ve heard that we are “sinners in the hand of an angry God.” I wonder if we can embrace both the anger and the love.

    • I think we have to embrace them both – and we often have to re-define anger, too. God’s love is intrinsic to who God is. God’s wrath? I don’t know about that – unless we can take away from the word our human understanding and experience of anger. The ‘indignation’ of Jesus in the gospels at the effects of sin and brokenness is clear (if the translators have done their job). He was saddened by disease and death – and he was angry about it, too. Now that view of anger seems to fit, doesn’t it?

  7. Beautiful “What if’s” calling us deeper into the truths of God!

  8. Diana, this is powerful and rich. I’ve got some thinking to do. I’ve been thinking about the fig tree Jesus cursed. I wonder if…

    • I think it takes a LOT of thinking, Jen! I’m grateful to be part of a denomination which ‘grew’ a theologian of the last century who began writing about this then. His name was P.P. Waldenstrom and his beautiful description of the atonement is one of the things that drew me this direction.

  9. “love, first, last and always”

    Yes…this let’s my soul breathe deep, Diana. So grateful for these wise words today.

  10. He gave them a meal. oh YES. I have written on that so many times. He did not thrust theology on them, but He fed them and tended to their broken hearts.

    beautiful.

  11. Diana,

    This is such a good write, and you express your wrestling and genuine searching so well. I love that you admit that these things can still be wrestled with, worked through–we all need to see that example to follow. You are so right–there are layers upon layers. I believe in a sovereign God with a will and perfect design, that He is a holy and just God, and His justice demanded a sacrifice, a way to reconcile as you said. But having grabbed hold of that in my spirit, that I was as filthy rags before Him, a holy, mighty God, then I once again learned of His love for me all over again. The cycle never ends, I don’t think. We just need to remember we are loved, above all. He does not condemn us, He is not angry with us. He is for us. Love to you, dear Diana.

    • Thank you so much, Nacole. And yes, there are layers and variations and different angles from which to view the enormity of the story we are a part of. I appreciate your taking the time to comment so thoughtfully. Thank you.

  12. hi friend, i think there is a lot of truth here. i fear, i will admit, separating sin from myself because that could lead to me not being responsible at all for the wrong things i do that separate me from Christ, and it would also negate my need for grace. so i don’t mind feeling the remorse from the sins i have done because it makes the sacrifice, the gift, so much greater. yet if i separate myself from the sin, then Jesus’ gift doesn’t seem so amazing, anymore. you know? anyway, thinking on this. thank you! love you.

    • Em – I in no way mean to imply that we should not be remorseful! What I am wrestling with is this truth: it was MY sin and YOUR sin and all our sin that was put there on that cross — onto the body of our Savior. He was the one to make a way and that is exactly what he chose to do. For me it is freeing to think that Jesus did not save me from the Father – but from me, myself. That we are all first and foremost LOVED in ways beyond our imagining, and that clearing the way to experience that love more fully is what happened for us in the atonement. I think there has been way too much preaching about God’s wrathful hatred of sin over these years. Maybe you never heard that kind of preaching, but I sure did. “It shoulda been you on that cross. . . ” “Jesus saves us from the wrath of God, which is what we deserve.” What if, instead — what if . . . we look at in the way that Paul does in II Corinthians 5? That Jesus became sin for us, that God does not ‘count our sins against us?’ And that is exactly how much God loves us — enough to die for us. Wow, that just blows my mind. . . And goodness me, it feels a whole lot like grace, too. A whole lot.

  13. Well, I don’t know what to say about all except, true this: God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

    That’s a whole lot of love…especially if you consider humans to be a bunch of dirty, rotten sinners. Even (all) my righteousness is as dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6). I need the blood of the Lamb to make me clean.

    • And the next verse right after that one, Brandee? “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” That is indeed a whole lotta love. And yes, indeed, we need cleansing. It just sometimes seems like so much emphasis is put on us and our ugliness instead of on the amazing, huge love of God that brought us into being in the first place. God’s love overflows in such a way that it must be shared and we’re the ones who get to share it. Amazing. It’s another way of looking at the same wonderful truth, one that needs preaching and teaching as much as the ‘Romans Road’ picture does, I think. It’s another picture, that’s all it is.

  14. I’ve spent my life treading water, holding this heavy burden of sin, even the sins repented of, all the while trying not to drown. But what if I could just float, and know the love of my Jesus is what was holding me up. What if I could stop fighting against the current but just rest in it.

    Thank you for this. It is healing the bits of my tired heart that have forgotten and lost track of what love feels like.

  15. Late to this party, friend. But you’ve given me much to ponder. All I can think of right now is tetelestai. It is finished. Amazing grace. How great a love.

    • Honey, you can come to any party of mine as late as you like. NO problem. And yes! It is finished – and sometimes that is the hard thing for us to hold onto. If we confess, we are forgiven – let it go and live in the wild love of Jesus.

  16. Wow! This is lovely 🙂 and you’ve gotten my thoughts spinning in all directions… I’m going to have to go and find Ps Jon’s sermon and have a listen to that. I do love getting a different glimpse into something that is so familiar, and yet so much beyond my understanding

    • Do listen to Jon’s sermon, Donna. He’s a wonderful, thoughtful preacher/teacher and I highly recomment all of his preaching, this one most especially.

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