I'm reading a book right now: "He Loves Me", by Wayne Jacobsen. Skeptical by nature, especially skeptical of anything that sounds too "lovey-dovey" about God, I approached it with some trepidation, despite a glowing recommendation from a dear friend. I'm a few chapters away from the end and. . . I feel like I might finally be getting it. I feel like the mystery and the poetry and the story of the love of God through Jesus have been given back to me.
I love to read. I love a good story. Words are like music to me. Before I became a believer, I had read a lot of books which pointed to God's love for me. Books about lost people being found. Stories about sacrificial love. The tales I love best are those where good wins and evil loses and the lovers unite and the endings are happy. There are people(many of whom I cannot give credit to by name) who believe that every good and worthwhile story is the story of God redeeming His bride, the Shepherd finding His sheep, the sacrifice of perfect love to save sinful people. Think of the stories you treasure. Why are they dear to you? For me, it's the idea that love will win. That someone would search until the lost are found. That there is love strong enough to defeat death.
I, too, believe that all redemptive tales are God whispering and calling to us. There is a mystery in faith, a poetry, something that we long for but can't understand. I owe much to the churches that I have belonged to since I became a Christian. I have learned much of love and acceptance and community that I could have discovered nowhere else. However, most of the teaching and theology that I have heard has, paired with my performance-oriented bias, tried very hard to remove the mystery and the poetry and even the love from the salvation story.
In many cases, salvation is explained like a legal transaction: Man is sinful (true). Man can never enter heaven or a relationship with God because of sin (also true). God wants us to be in heaven and in relationship with Him (true again), so He sent Jesus to pay our consequence and rescue us from His punishment (kinda true but not the whole story). Jesus died, we believe, we go to heaven and can know God (again. . . kinda yes but falling so short of profound mystery of it all).
That rendering of my salvation leaves me cold. It always has, and I always felt guilty about that. I should be grateful for Jesus paying the price for my sin (and I am, though this analogy doesn't lead me there). But this reduction of my salvation to a legal procedure fails to stir my heart.
In this book, Jacobsen explains the cross in a way that restores to me the poetry, mystery, and love of it all. Jesus' sacrifice for me, for you, for all of us was not a mere legal transaction or fulfillment of the letter of the law. It was an act imagined by a loving and creative Father determined to restore the relationship that was forfeited by Adam and Eve. Jesus didn't just pay for our sin. He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."). He didn't do it just to balance some cosmic scale, but because He loved us and wanted us to be free from the power of sin so that we could live a life glorifying to God and a life united with God.
There is no performing that I can do to make God love me more. The Lord doesn't want my obedience done to earn His favor. I have His favor, wholly unearned:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7)God doesn't want slaves or soldiers. He wants children and friends (John 15:15). As I learn to "live loved" by trusting and following the Lord's lead even as I don't understand, I will live the life that I am meant to live. Do I understand this completely? Nope. Am I excited to relate to God in the way that He meant for me to, the way, that, indeed, He sacrificed everything to make possible? Yes!