The word challenge has a couple of meanings that I would like to consider. The first is the idea of obstacles we have to overcome. The second is being issued a task that will require intentionality and focus to accomplish. In today’s reflection, we will consider the first understanding.
The Gospel clarifies our reality
When we first hear the Gospel, we are immediately confronted with a stark reality. Specifically, we are told to accept that we are sinners. That there is something terribly wrong with how we look at the world. It is often difficult to accept this.
Part of the problem in our becoming convinced of what the Gospel assumes is that we do not really see ourselves as having insurmountable flaws. We have been taught to believe that with some hard work and creativity, we can become better versions of ourselves. And while this is not the whole truth, it has elements of truthfulness in it.
If we can identify areas of our lives where we can improve, with some effort we can increase our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. And this is part of the problem. Sin is not like the kinds of features and attributes that get better with effort. Sin is attached to the very essence of who we are. What this means is that it permeates the very world we exist in. Sin is not some localized phenomenon. It is the very atmosphere we live in.
Sin is all around us
To understand the challenge more clearly, it’s like telling a fish that the world it exists in (the water) is the very prison that confines it every moment.
Because sin is everywhere, in everything, and is the given reality of our lives, we have a difficult time understanding “what’s wrong.” This is why the Gospel is challenging. The Gospel is pointing at the only world we have ever known and says, “You have to leave this world if you want to be truly free.”
This is why one of the principal images of the Christian conversion experience is dying to sin. If we do not die to the world as it is, we are still bound by its laws and restrictions. But, if like Jesus, we die to ourselves and to this world, we can be born again with a new life. With a restored nature.
Yes, we will still be in this world, but we will no longer be of this world. We don’t fully understand all of this. I know I don’t. But I have been thinking and reflecting on the implications of these images and concepts for a long time. And the more I consider what they are saying the more I realize that God is not using these images as platitudes to make us feel better. These images are windows into the fullness of what God has been doing for us.
Do we believe what God says about sin?
The Gospel’s challenge is that points that THE problem that is keeping from having a relationship with God and tells me how God has decided to resolve it. But, in order for me to benefit from this solution, I have to accept that the problem of sin is as grave as the grace required to deal with it is. If we think that God is overreacting to our sin by sending Jesus to die on the cross, we may not fully appreciate the nature of the problem we are facing.
I learned a long time ago, the solution to a problem is a good indicator of how serious the problem is. The reason I hire plumbers, electricians, and mechanics to fix those issues when they break is that I usually don’t know what’s wrong with the system that’s broken.
These tradesmen have more experience in spotting and fixing the problems that are present. That is why I pay them. Just because the person fixing it makes it look easy doesn’t mean it is. It just means that the person has the expertise needed to get the job done in as efficient and economical a way as possible.
Sure, I could have attempted to fix it myself, but it would have taken more time than I had. And it would have cost me more aggravation than it was worth. So, I hire someone who knows what they are doing. Or at least knows more than I do.
So, if the problem I have is sin, and God is an expert in fixing that particular issue, then why do so many call into question the price tag God has put on our salvation? I think we have a hard time believing the bill when it comes due.
Sin is as bad as God says. And we know this is true because of the cost Jesus paid to address it.
This is the first challenge the Gospel makes to us. Are we willing to accept that sin is what God says it is?