“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine . . . and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 This week’s assault on Facebook is 2 Timothy 4:3-4, with assorted memes and photos (one is a shot of the verse, in situ, […]
“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13)
A central aspect of the gospel — which means “good news” — is that the news, indeed, should be good. Believing in and following Christ is meant to be a positive thing, with positive, or good, things associated with it.
If this is not so, then why bother?
As a former Catholic who became a Protestant before finally settling upon just plain Christianity, I am well acquainted with the Evangelical answer to this question:
“Believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven after you die. Otherwise you’ll burn in hell!”
but can’t help but think that this way of looking at the good news is more threatening than encouraging. Apparently, the primary purpose to believe in God’s Son is so that we don’t suffer eternally for not doing so. With this way of looking at things, it’s no surprise that there’s not much to do down here but wait until we die when the party finally starts, and the best a Christian can expect from our years on earth is patient endurance. At least we’ve got our ticket to paradise. If others don’t, and they don’t believe our central message, then that’s their problem.
Gosh. I’ll sure miss Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Timothy throughout eternity.
Other sects of Christianity, many of whom include the You’ll-Burn-In-Hell messengers, add on the requirement that people possess a mighty faith before God will do anything decent in their lives. Those who have this faith, adherents propound, will enjoy material blessings as evidence of, and reward for, their righteousness, and those who don’t — well, even though they may be Christian because they’ve recited the right words, they’re obviously not in good standing with God, and He is displeased with them.
What Is the Good News?
None of this sounds particularly encouraging, hopeful, joyous, or good, and when John the Baptist, languishing in prison and feeling beaten, tired, and dispirited, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, in Matthew 11:3,
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus did not answer,
“I’m It, and I’m telling everyone to believe in me or die,”
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Good, positive things were happening in the lives of people whose lives were painful, sad, difficult, lonely, and wretched. Jesus did not preach doctrine but reached out in love, meeting people in their day to day existence and effecting real, tangible change.
It would be nice, 2,000 years later, if we who live today saw instantaneous miraculous change the way that many did then, just by touching the robe of our Eldest Brother, but this is not our general norm. Most of us cannot, as a few loud voices insist that we should be able to, do miracles, and it is not so much the sign of our lack of faith as it is the way things are. We are those blessed, as Jesus told Thomas, who have not seen and yet still believe.
The promises upon which we operate are that God our Father loves us unconditionally, and that He walks with us through and in our lives, even when things don’t look amazing and powerful and miraculous and incredibly cool. We remain very real humans, with very real human needs — we must eat on a regular basis, we use the bathroom, we get cold, as Paul did in the head of this essay when, during his second and presumably last imprisonment, he asked Timothy to visit him and bring a garment to keep him warm.
We Need a Loving Father
And, as humans, we get discouraged and sad — yes, even though Christ tells us not to be anxious in Matthew 6:34, and Paul himself, in Philippians, repeated the encouragement (not an order, not a command for which we will be punished if we “disobey”) in Philippians 4:6, we have our moments, and days, of feeling abandoned by our Father, alone in our pain, cold because we do not have a cloak.
It is during these times, more than any other, that we need the good news, and this news is not that we deserve to be eternally damned and/or that we ought to be materially blessed, but that Jesus’s Father, who delights in His Son, is our Father as well, and He delights in us the same way. He does not abandon us to our fate, He does not sit reading in another room while we battle cancer, or face bankruptcy, or get over a wrenching, painful breakup with the person we thought we would spend the rest of our lives with.
And neither does He — and this is important — punish us or walk away from us because we are human, and not surprisingly tend to act like it. We are human when, like Paul, we shiver in a damp place because we do not have a jacket, and we are just as human when, like Paul, we are undergoing stressful circumstances and lapse into discouragement:
“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:9-10)
“At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” (4:16)
These are not ringing words of joy but wrenching admissions of pain, complemented by Paul’s faith that he is not abandoned, although he feels like it, and, without a cloak, he is cold.
It is at these moments that God’s embrace is tightest, and it at moments like this that we truly need good news:
God, our Father, loves us unconditionally.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to not settle for a weak-tea substitute when it comes to our relationship with God, our Father, and Jesus, our Eldest Brother. He came that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Want that. Seek that.
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