A Deep, Reconciling Embrace
It’s been one of those weeks where what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with our cultures and communities, what’s wrong with the church, what’s wrong with me has seemed much more weighty and prominent than the many things that are undoubtedly right about each of the above. I suppose we all have weeks like this—weeks when the world somehow seems less like a stage for beauty and redemption and more like just a very heavy place.
It’s times like these that I am grateful for wise, trusted voices to elevate and sharpen my gaze. One such voice that I have come to trust over the years is that of Eugene Peterson. I spent some time reading his book, The Jesus Way this morning and was struck by this passage on the sin, salvation, and the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53:
Sin is not redeemed by scrubbing it out of existence but by taking it in as a sacrifice that makes “many to be accounted righteous.” This is obviously what Jesus did. We, of course, are not Jesus; we cannot do this in and of ourselves. But we can participate in what Jesus does with the sins of the world, the sins in the church, the sins in our family, as he takes and suffers them. We can enter the way of Jesus’ cross and become participants in Jesus’ reconciliation of the world. Salvation is not escape from what is wrong but a deep, reconciling embrace of all that is wrong.
This is a radical shift from condemning sin and sinners—an ugly business at best. We no longer stand around as amused or disapproving spectators of the sins or troubles of others but become fellow-sufferers and participants in the life of Jesus as he takes the sins of our children, the sins of our presidents, the sins of our pastors, the sins of our friends, our sins—names in the newspaper, men and women in the neighborhood.
What I want to insist on is that if we want to keep company with Isaiah 53 we have to radically revise our imaginations and memories in order to take this in: to see sacrifice, offering, weakness, and suffering as essential, not an option, to salvation.
And the result of this sin-bearing participation in the way of Jesus and of his cross? Why, beauty, of course.
Beauty is the result of the formless taking on form, of God making heaven and earth from the “without form and void.” Where we once saw “darkness on the face of the deep” we now see light streaming out of those deeps: a light God called good. It names the gathering of the shards and splinters of broken lives, sin-smashed souls, the patient entering into the mess of chaos and bringing together a new creation that leaves nothing out, that “bears the sins of many” and uses them as the stuff of salvation.
“Salvation is not escape from what is wrong but a deep, reconciling embrace of all that is wrong”
This is a hard saying, who can hear it?…This is not the natural Modus Operandi for most of us. My inability to accept the wrong and flawed, especially within Christianity itself, has contributed to my bitter,cynical and resentful demeanor. The deep work involved for a transformation of this pronounced character defect is slow going for me,to say the least.
Christ have mercy