The Kingdom of the Microscopic

When I was a kid, my Sunday school teacher used felt board to convey the stories of the Bible. She would place a felt Mary and Joseph next to a felt Jesus and tell me the Christmas story. I have wonderful memories of Sunday school. Consequently, the felt board was my first introduction to 2D Jesus.

My friends and I thought it was hilarious to put felt Jesus next to felt Jonah. You know, because Jonah was from the Old Testament and Jesus was from the New Testament. So naturally, they don’t belong together, which was the beauty of our joke. Looking back, it’s a wonder any of us ever found women willing to marry us.

2D Jesus has stayed with me throughout my lifetime. Now that I think about it, I really like felt board Jesus. 2D Jesus is a lot more manageable than a 3D Jesus. I can place a 2D Jesus wherever I want him. I have complete control over the story and the characters. I like having complete control. But sometimes I feel as if 3D Jesus doesn’t get my joke. Or maybe he does and he’s having a laugh. Because sometimes 3D Jesus treats me like 2D Travis. Placing me in the middle of random crap that makes no sense. Giving me a job that I don’t exactly enjoy, and generally making life a lot more complicated than a 2D Travis can handle.

I accepted a 3D Jesus with 2D Jesus knowledge. I was a kid when I became a Christian. If you were to ask me now, I would plead for a different solution. Why? Because the manifestations of salvation aren’t what I understood them to be as a child. Just like marriage can never be what you imagine it to be before you are married. or like fatherhood can never be what you imagine it to be before you have a child. Things are much more complicated when we start working them out. I used to think that salvation was about a simple equation. Sinner + Savior = Salvation. Turns out, it really is that simple, but only on paper. As we “work out our salvation in fear and trembling,” we realize why we need a Savior. We don’t accept Jesus for a solution. We accept Jesus for hope.

The truth is that the daily manifestations of salvation aren’t that we’ve found something, but that we now know what to look for. In one sense we have found everything, in that the Spirit has put a seal on our hearts, but the work is not yet complete. We still seek after beauty, hope and joy. But we don’t know exactly where to look for it. Salvation is like a pair of prescription glasses, allowing us to see clearly what was once a blur. Even though we know what to look for, joy and hope seem to be found on a microscopic level. They are found in our relationships, but we need to remove a few layers of cynicism and pride to find them. They are found in creation, but we need to till the earth a bit to uncover them. I’m in the middle of an essay on death and joy which will explore death, joy and hope in more detail, but for now, I’ll just tell you that my experience has been that I need to fight for joy. I need to explore the nooks and crannies of life to find things worth hoping for. But once you find even a sliver of hope, you realize that it was worth the fight. Humans need hope. Jesus shows us where to find it. Hope is like one of those posters that you have to stare at to see the image. At first it’s not visible, but if we really try, we can pull hope out of the canvas. I am trying to be more committed in asking God to show me hope in the small things of life. What gives you hope?

Worn Out Phrases

Anyone else have a problem talking with people about Jesus? Communicating the message is part of our commission as disciples, but part of the problem with the Gospel is that we are forced to use words to describe it. Sometimes we forget that phrases have a shelf life. Just think of the last license plate holder you saw. I’m sure someone thought it was brilliant at one time, but eventually phrases will become trite. The same goes for the cute words we use to describe the Gospel. Once we try and package the Gospel to make it “deliverable,” we become Ministers of the Great Cliche.

It’s important to remember that it is not words or phrases we are trying to convey, but rather, ideas. If we can get someone to understand the “idea” of fallen man and the “idea” of a Savior, it will be absorbed by the listener as much more than words. Obviously, we must use words to describe ideas, but my point is that sometimes we become focused on the semantics. Our words become shallow and meaningless. The concept or essence of grace can easily become dull if we are simply trying to define grace. We must impart grace. And therein lies the problem. Such a conveyance of grace requires lives that understand the idea of grace, and that grace be given. If you have been saved from anything, you understand the idea. The idea of grace is glorious.

The idea of the Gospel is not just a mathematical formula for achieving salvation, or a description of the process. The idea of the Gospel is everything salvation implies. You can describe a rainbow to someone, but eventually, for the person to understand both the definition and essence of a rainbow, they must see a rainbow for themselves. We will always be limited by language. Trying to express infinite ideas through finite language is a losing battle. Which is why writers like C.S. Lewis have made such an impact on the human soul. They dig deep and find new ways of expressing old truths.

Maybe that’s why Jesus spoke in parables. He didn’t say, “The kingdom of God IS x, y and z.” Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is LIKE…” It’s not only about what the parable directly expresses, but also what it implies. Ultimately, it’s not our job to talk people into the Gospel. Remember Hosea 2:14. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her.” It is God who does the calling. My point is simply that we are called to live out, express, impart and speak the idea of salvation.