“It’s the question that drives us.”
While talking with my good friend, Berry, the other day, I think I found a great way to express some of what I’ve been thinking about the importance of which questions, which prayers, we routinely ask. Point #2 in Scot’s post today reminded me of it. I hope this will help evangelicals such as myself shift our focus. I’m of the opinion that the question that has shaped evangelicalism more than any other (on the basis of how often and emphatically it is asked relative to others) is “if you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or something very similar. I base that on the number of repititions and on the climactic positioning of the question.
Now imagine a married couple. Imagine further that one of the two people — the husband or the wife — were routinely asking the question of themselves and maybe of their spouse as well, “How can I keep my spouse from divorcing me or be sure they won’t?” If this question was constantly or even routinely in this person’s mind so that it became the lens through which that person viewed their interactions with their spouse, what kind of marriage, what kind of relationship will the couple have? Take a moment think about it.
I personally don’t think the marriage will be very good or healthy or nearly as enjoyable as it should be. Unfortunately, I believe that the constant asking of “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or its equivalent has exactly the same effect. Our most often repeated question concerns our legal status with God, and it has shaped our paradigm for all that we do and all that we think about.
We would hope that spouses would be dominated by the questions of how they can serve their spouse, love their spouse, join with their spouse in their worthy goals. We would hope the same of children regarding their parents or friends regarding friends. Not surprisingly, the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray has this kind of focus regarding God, asking above all that God’s noble dreams would become reality and his desires be fulfilled. Now of course, admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness is necessary for any good relationship, and it is also a component in the Lord’s prayer. But mere forgiveness, mere justification, cannot remain the central focus over time; it cannot be our driving question, our most common prayer, to ask that we not be thrown out. At least for me, the perrenial question of my legal status with God created in me a near constant sense of a relationship in crisis. What’s more, the gospel I was given that focused only on the same issue of justification (whether from a free grace or more exacting perspective) reinforced this focus on my legal status. Others’ experience with this may be different. Mine, though, was marked by a backdrop of paranoia, denial, and the idea that God’s will and gospel basically equalled people getting justified before God.
Again, it is no surprise, that Jesus announced and embodied a gospel that concerned God’s larger intentions regarding the world and not just our legal status being repaired. It appears from the gospels that Jesus didn’t just want to forgive the world, but also include people in the work of healing one another and the larger creation as his apprentices and co-workers. God’s government was coming through him not just to forgive, but to restore shalom on the earth, to do “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” This is our husband’s vision. This is his good news. This is what we are to seek, to think about, to trust, to announce, and to pray for. Our driving question should not be about our forgiveness or minimum legal status, necessary as that will be in our life together with him. Our most often repeated question and prayer–the one that should most mark our individual and corporate lives–should be for his dreams for earth to become reality, for his will (the will revealed by Jesus’ actions and ideas) to be done more through us and others. This is more like the prayer he taught us to pray, the question he taught us to ask, the good news he announced and embodied. That focus will lead to a more fruitful and more joyful and healthy relationship as well as a better world. Asking for God’s dream, his will, is to ask for our forgiveness and so much more as well.