Devotion - April 30

[Psalms 146-150, Proverbs 30, Romans 5:1-6]

For a few years before coming to West Side, I taught the Christian Scriptures course at Seattle Pacific University. The midterm exam every quarter ended with an essay question –

The Creation stories describe a world that is ordered by God to be “very good”, and also ordered for intimacy and life. The story moves forward after the tragic loss of this order, intimacy and life (Genesis 3). It is the drama of God’s mission to renew and restore creation –to bless all the nations through covenant partnership with God’s people, Israel. As you have read the Bible so far, would you argue that the Old Testament is a comedy or a tragedy? Stated another way, is the story of Israel one of hope & renewal or a story of loss?

Students were usually evenly divided in their answers. Some saw the faithfulness of God, praised in the Psalms we read today, and claimed comedy because God’s faithfulness prevailed despite all failure on the part of God’s people. Others argued tragedy, because no matter the valiant efforts of the great heroes of the faith, or the stubborn love of God, the people constantly turned aside and all was lost in the exile. Honestly, the arguments in the tragedy essays at midterm were more compelling. Those who argued comedy could only support their conclusion if the return from exile was not the final act…

Are you and I living in a comedy or a tragedy? It’s a good question for this time of COVID-19, with all of the losses and unknowns. We have to know what kind of story we are living. I wonder if you have been experiencing these past number of weeks as comedy or tragedy? If this story is the whole story, wouldn’t we have to argue tragedy, despite the flashes of good news and beauty? Honestly, we can only argue comedy if this season of isolation – this inverse exile – is not the final act.

And this is where the gospel is apocalyptic. You can’t get to a comedy out of this tragedy by the natural unfolding of events, in the same way that we can’t get to a comedy from the tragic repetition of God’s people rebelling, needing rescue, being rescued and then rebelling again. Something needs to interrupt that story from the outside. Someone needs to intervene. Jesus’ birth – the tragedy of his demonstrable power over all nature ending in his inexplicable destruction on the cross – transformed into a comedy of hope in his resurrection and promise to do the same not only for those who believe in him but all for all of creation – this is the interruption. “The gospel,” writes Francis Watson, “announces a definitive, unsurpassable divine incursion into the world.”

Why does this matter? Well, let me ask you this – where have you been looking for hope these days? We naturally watch the unfolding of events to see if they are headed in a hopeful or hopeless direction. The gospel of the cross and resurrection says, “Um – that isn’t going to work.” The ancient wisdom of the Hebrew people knew the same – stories don’t unfold the way they should (Prov. 30:21-23). The good news is that God intervenes – surprises – disrupts. At the right time, Jesus dies for the ungodly (Romans 5:7), and that death changes everything, not just once in history. This is why we can’t merely reason people into faith in Jesus. The cross was not reasonable – but it is true. Jesus has taken on the worst of every situation, the sin of every person, and interrupted the reasonable outcome. We are given life for death. Our hope is based in that event. This is not the final act...

I’m going to end what has become a fairly long devotional with a fairly long quote – because it is a very good reminder from Frederick Buechner in his book, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale:

It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name... That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.

Hoping, alongside you, in the happy ending secure in the incursion of Jesus on the cross,
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