One of the books on the suggested reading list I received with my acceptance packet to the 'unseminary' Regent College last century (take that to mean 1997) was Frederick Buechner's Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. Being the bibliophile that I am, I instantly turned the word 'suggested' into 'required' and set tracking down and reading every book on the lengthy and comprehensive list. These were the days before the web was nearly what it is today, so finding them was more arduous. However, with a bit of help from my parents who were in Portland, I (meaning my mom) found Buechner's book to Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and place of such riches and treasures, it's near enough to paradise to one like me. So Mom picked it up for me (along with about 4 other 'required' books on my list). They glanced through the books, then glanced again at Buechner's, then Mom and Dad took turns reading it as they drove up I-5, and out to the Olympic Peninsula where we were living back then. They loved it. Raved about it to me. Couldn't get over the twists and turns they encountered in Buechner who is always, always worth the price of admission. I don't have the book in front of me now; in fact, am wondering if I've let someone borrow it in the 15 1/2 years since that spring, but the title itself serves well enough for these thought today (with my sincere apologies to Mr. Buechner if I'm off the mark).
I think Buechner makes a grand and beautiful point in the notion of the Good News as comedy. Just as King Lear (the play from which he bases his observations) could be perceived as such, so the gospel. The central action is so absurd, so ridiculous one can only look at it with a mouth so slack-jawed that a host of flies could set up shop. Think of all the claims: a virgin mother, a child born in a cave or stable or barn, yet worshiped by such a variety of the cosmos's strata as shepherds, kings and the heavenly host itself. AND feared enough by a king to cause the deaths of every child in the whole region--except the One that king was trying to kill. Teaching teachers, Walking on water, feeding crowds, doing miracles, teaching incomprehensible truths to people who'd left their very lives--their LIVES!!!--to follow this unlearned man from a back-hills town.
Supposedly forsaking that mother but even in His last, barely-able-to-breathe moments caring for her welfare. Telling of His death--over and over. And going to that death without complaint or defense or anything but love--even while bleeding all over the ground.
Doesn't this sound a little ridiculous if you think about it in those terms? Like a dark comedy, I'll grant you, but a comedy just the same, with the protagonist something of a fool and those around him a group of bumblers half the time? If I came across such a movie with so many far-fetched notions, I'd be walking out of the room before the first kerfuffle. I'm like that.
But it's also a tragedy, as Buechner says. Lear is more often seen as a tragedy, of course. And in our story, we have a protagonist who never loses sight of the tragedy of the past and the one He'll face in the not-very-distant future, who always knows where He's going, not only where He's going but why. No matter what else He's doing, He has His face set toward that, His whole being poised for the one great act of His life. And if all the prior actions seem incomprehensible to the naked (or doubting) eye, it's no more than He expected...even depended on. He's run out of town, knows He's a wanted man, and tells His followers they can count on the same if they take up their lot with Him. In fact, that lack of understanding (belief!) would be the vehicle by which His life's mission would be accomplished. That the authorities didn't believe and felt threatened by this man who claimed to be the One their very religion was basing their ultimate hopes, was EXACTLY what He already knew would happen. And it was the instrument of what we might call the Gospel tragedy.
Oddly, when you think about it, both these things are true. But both are so far off the mark that if we stop there--as the majority of humans have through-out history, you get it wrong. Just plain, dead to rights wrong, and dead for eternity, if you don't mind me saying. Because that's the bottom line of leaving with the notion of either seeing Him as a comic fool or a tragic hero and only that.
Buechner says that ultimately we must see the gospel as Fairy Tale--but a true one. A great case can be made for this. I would venture to make such a case--a hero riding in on a white stallion to save the heroine (us) from the enemy (our own sin and evil incarnate!)...but
I think a better word would be Romance. The Gospel as Romance. The great story of Creation as Romance--Love Story. Everything about the Good news is about One loving another (or a Whole world of others). His love story, one might say, and should. Not a hero out of nowhere, but one who conceived and planned and was always in love with us. From the beginning.
Yes, the Gospel starts (and ends, I think) with the words from John, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." For God so loved...This is the story of the Gospel. It's the story of Creation--"For God so loved..." that He created humans. "For God so loved," calling Abram from Ur, and protecting a remnant in the ark, saving Joseph in that pit, and bringing his family to Egypt. "God so loved," when He called Moses, told him His Name, led the people out of bondage, led them across the Jordan (eventually) gave them a king after His own heart. "For God so loved," when He always and repeatedly kept the covenant that humans sinfully broke time after time. Even when He got angry, called us stiff-necked, turned His back,destroyed the people of the earth and started over, kept a whole generation from the Promised land, watched evil over and over and over, "God so loved" that He promised a way out. He promised His Incarnate was coming. "God so Loved," that He had it all in place from the moment that apple was taken and eaten to the moment He watched in silence as nails were driven in His 'Only Begotten Son's' flesh and hear the words, "My God, My God, why have You foresaken me?"
Even in that one great shuddering moment, when the Only Sinless one in all of Creation, past and future, cried out, He loved the world. He loved so much He watched in silence. Knowing what it was all about. Knowing that He'd taken ALL the sin--from the apple to this moment when you are reading this blog to the very end of all days--of humankind onto Himself and that, more than the cross was crucifying Him. And was separating Him from God. Right then, God so loved--even with all that sin on His dying body. Knowing that our Salvation was at stake.
Then, in the cosmos-shattering silence of the next three days, God so loved the world that the Incarnate One went down to the gates of hell for our lives.
And God allowed it.
God meant it.
And God so loved...
that winning our salvation meant resurrection.
First for the One whom had taken our sins,
And then for us.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosover believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."