Many people today have no desire to “get back to God.” They have no sense of sin, no sense of guilt, no sense of God. They do not trust authority, or the concept of “truth,” which has too often been used to oppress people.
How can the good news about Jesus be put into terms that are meaningful to them? This article explains the gospel by focusing on interpersonal relationships, which people still find meaningful.
Fixing broken relationships
One of the biggest problems in Western society is broken relationships—friendships that have turned sour, promises that have not been kept, hopes that have been disappointed. Many of us have experienced divorce, either as a child or as an adult. We have experienced pain and turmoil from an unstable world. We have learned that authorities cannot be trusted, that people are basically looking out for themselves.
Many of us feel like we are lost in an alien world—we don’t know where we have come from, where we are now, where we are going, how we will get there, or where we really belong. We try to navigate as best we can through the hazards of life, like walking through a minefield, trying not to show the pain we feel, and not knowing whether it’s worth our while.
We feel tremendously alone, having to fend for ourselves. We are reluctant to commit to anything. We enjoy casual friendships, but anything deeper runs the risk of rejection, of betrayal, of deep hurt. We keep our options open, because the rewards of commitment are not worth the risk of pain.
Religion doesn’t seem very helpful, either. Religious people are the ones who blow up innocent bystanders, who say that people are suffering because God is angry at them, who look down their noses on people who are different. Religious people are not the sort of folks we’d pick for a friend. The God they talk about doesn’t seem very friendly, either. Their idea of God makes no sense in the world today—right and wrong are just matters of opinion, sin is an old-fashioned idea, and guilt feelings are just fodder for psychiatrists.
Jesus seems irrelevant. People read about Jesus in the Bible and sometimes conclude that he led a charmed life, healing people just by touching them, making bread out of nothing, walking on water, surrounded by protective angels, magically avoiding bodily harm. That has no connection with the world today. Even in his crucifixion Jesus seems strangely detached from the problems of life today. His resurrection is good news for him, of course, but why should I think it is good news for me?
Jesus experienced our world
But the pain we feel in an alienating world is precisely the sort of pain that Jesus knows. He was betrayed by friends, and abused by authorities. He was betrayed by a kiss from one of his closest associates. Jesus knew what it is like for people to cheer him one day and jeer the next. He suffered from the envy, jealousy, hatred and fear that other people felt toward him.
Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was murdered by the Roman-appointed ruler because John exposed the ruler’s moral failings. Jesus knew he would also be killed, too, because he challenged the teachings and the status of the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus knew that people would hate him without reason, that friends would turn against him, that he would be betrayed and killed. He didn’t have to put up with this, but he did, for our benefit. He did something good for us, even though he knew ahead of time that we human beings would beat and kill him. This sort of person, who will be loyal to us even when we are hateful, is a true friend, the opposite of a betrayer.
Jesus comes to rescue us even though we are snarling and trying our best to bite the hand that sets us free. To use another analogy, we are like people fallen into an icy river, unable to swim, and Jesus is the guy who jumps into the frigid water even though he knows we will do our best to grab him and pull him down in our desperate attempt to lift our heads above the water. Jesus came into our world, knowing full well that we would hate and kill him.
Jesus did this voluntarily, for us, to show us a better way. Maybe that’s the sort of person we can trust—if he is willing to give his life for us even when we are enemies, how much more could we trust him if we are friends? He has nothing to gain from us, and we have nothing to offer him, except being thankful. And maybe, just maybe, here is someone we can trust.
Our path in life
Jesus can tell us something about life, about where we’ve come from and where we are going and how we are to get there. He can tell us about some of the hazards in the relationship minefield we call life. We don’t have to trust him very much—we can just try a little bit to see if it works. And as we do this, I think we’ll grow in our trust. In fact, I think that we will find that he is always right.
Normally, we don’t want friends who are always right. It’s annoying. But Jesus isn’t the kind of person who is always saying “I told you so”—he just jumps into the water, fights off our efforts to drown him, hauls us up onto the bank of the river and lets us catch our breath again. And off we go, until we do something stupid and fall into the river again, and the cycle happens again. Eventually, we start learning to ask him where the trip hazards are, and where the thin ice is, so that we don’t have to be rescued quite so often.
Jesus is patient. He lets us make mistakes, and even lets us suffer from those mistakes. He lets us learn—but he never runs away. We might betray him, but he will never betray us. We might not even be sure that he exists, but we can be sure that patience and forgiveness work a lot better than anger and alienation when it comes to relationships. Jesus is not bothered by our doubts and distrust. He knows we’ve been burned before; he understands why we are so reluctant to trust. He’s been burned himself, and he can let it pass. He can wait for us to come around.
His purpose in being patient is that he wants us to finally come to him and accept his free invitation to a hilariously joyful party. Jesus is talking about fun, about joy, about real and lasting personal fulfillment that doesn’t fade away, about people who really love you even after they know what you’re like. We were created for relationships (that’s why we want them so much), and this is what Jesus offers.
Think about living for a long time—an eternity—with people who really like you, who are fun to be with, people who will share your journey in life without ever pulling the rug out from under you. They’ll never ignore you, complain about you, or put you down. Isn’t that the kind of friends you want?
There is a life ahead of us that’s worth living for. That’s why Jesus willingly endured the pain of this world, in order to point us to a better one ahead. It’s like we are trudging through a million-mile desert, not knowing which way to go, and Jesus leaves the comfort and safety of his tropical paradise to brave the sandstorms and tell us there is everything we ever wanted, if we just change direction and follow him. We can say, Thanks, but I’d rather take my chances in the desert—or we can, lacking anything better to do, take his advice, knowing quite well that he didn’t have to come into the desert to tell us that.
Jesus tells us where we are right now, too. We are not in paradise, are we? Life hurts. We know that, and he knows that. He experienced it. That’s why he wants to get us out of this mess into the kind of abundant life that he meant for us to have from the beginning.
Jesus tells us that there are some relationship hazards in the world today (we knew that, didn’t we?). Family ties and friendships are two of the happiest and most fulfilling relationships in life, if they work well—but they don’t always work well, and that is one of the greatest pains in life. But we know that love is better than hate, patience is better than anger, and forgiveness is better than condemnation.
There are ways that cause pain, and there are ways that promote pleasure. Unfortunately, sometimes people seek pleasure in ways that end up causing pain for other people. Sometimes in our effort to avoid pain we end up avoiding joy as well. So we need some guidance as we struggle through the trackless desert. (Wait a minute—there are some tracks there—the tracks of Jesus, showing a different way of life. Maybe if we follow them we’ll end up where he is.)
One of the big problems in relationships today is loyalty. People are used to having their feelings hurt, of having their friends turn away, of having no one to trust but themselves. We’ll never know the joy of a loyal friendship if we always hold back—but is that joy worth the risk of pain, when we’ve given our heart before, only to have it crushed by someone who wants to move on?
The Creator wants a relationship with us, a friendship of love and joy, but we stand aloof, fearful. We have betrayed our Creator, hidden ourselves, refused to open the letters he sent. So God came in the flesh, in Jesus, into our world to tell us that we don’t need to be afraid. He has forgiven us, he has provided something better for us than what we have, he wants us to come back home where it’s safe and comfortable.
The Messenger was killed, but that doesn’t make the message go away. Jesus still offers us friendship and forgiveness. He is alive again, offering not just to show us the way, but also to travel with us, and to fish us out of the icy waters whenever we fall into them. He’ll stick with us through thick and thin. He’s persistent, and patient. We can count on him, even when everyone else disappoints us.
Good news for us
With a friend like Jesus, we don’t need to fear our enemies. It’s good to have friends in high places, and Jesus is about as high as you can get. His resurrection is good news for us because he is in a position to give favors to his friends—and we can all become his friends, if we are willing. He has all the power in the universe, he says, and he has already promised to use it for us. Can we trust him in that? We should. Our other options aren’t very promising, are they? This doesn’t mean instant health and wealth, but it means meaning and purpose in a life that does not end.
Jesus invites us to his party, at his expense, in paradise. He went to a lot of trouble to deliver the invitation. He was killed for his trouble, but that doesn’t stop him from loving us. He still invites everyone to the party.
What about you? Maybe you aren’t ready to believe that anyone can be so faithful, or that life can really be fun forever. That’s OK—he knows that your experience makes you pretty skeptical of such claims.
I think you can trust Jesus, but don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself—a little at a time. To use yet another metaphor, climb into his boat. You can jump out later if you want to, but I think you’ll want to stay, and eventually start working the oars and inviting other drowning people in. You have nothing to lose but your lostness, and everything to gain.