So, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ preach the everlasting gospel, that by his power the sick may be healed, the leprous cleansed, the dead raised, the blind eyes opened, and the devils cast out.
– George Fox, Epistle 114 (1656), in Works, v. 7, p. 114.
We Friends need a theology, some say: perhaps something more modern than the Apology Robert Barclay gave us in the 1670s, when the world was thought to be only thousands of years old and Moses’ history of it accurate. I agree! It would be priceless to have good information about God. For what can we understand about our own condition if we know nothing about the One responsible for our being? Only that we’re walking around in deep ignorance. Is God heartless, cruel, capricious? Then why is there suffering? Does God have a will, or care about human morality? Is there any way for creatures to know their Creator? Why do different scriptures and philosophies disagree about what God wants from us?
But information alone could not cure our ignorance, or our clearly evident bondage to sin and death. And the most perfect theological teaching could not save us from this unhappy exile from the immediately experienced presence of the Source of All Good. “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him” (Job 23:8).
Much more than good information, therefore, do we need good news: words that heal us when they say “be healed,” words that save us when they say “be saved,” words that reveal God when they say “behold your God.” That’s what a gospel does, or is expected to do. A gospel, unlike a mere theology, is a manifestation of divine power. If it doesn’t mend the broken, raise up the fallen, destroy the works of the devil and set free the captive, it’s not a gospel worthy of the name.
“The gospel of Christ,” wrote Paul (Romans 1:16), “is the power of God unto salvation.” The gospel of Christ was but an unfulfilled prophecy in Isaiah 61 until Jesus read it aloud in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), then proceeded to do deeds that showed the world He was fulfilling it. What is a gospel? A gospel would not only show me something of the glory and goodness of God, it would allow me to find a Savior and say, “Behold, I’m a corrupt tree that produces only corrupt fruit; make me into a good tree, and I’ll glorify you by producing only good fruit” – and my Savior would do it.
Every human heart yearns for a gospel, a great truth that makes possible a happy ending to our small and disappointing existences, because that’s what the heart seems to have been made to do: but most of us don’t expect such good tidings of great joy in our own time or in our own lives. But why not? Have we forgotten how to imagine the very good, or are we afraid to risk disappointment? Or are we afraid of what a Pearl of Great Price might cost us? Do we want the miracles of Jesus to exist only in a book about long ago and far away? Shall we dismiss His promise to be with us always, even to the end of the world, as something He never really said, or didn’t mean literally, because it can’t be true?
Looking into my own heart for the answer, or everyone’s heart, I find that we’re mostly content with things as they are, and don’t like leaving our comfort zone. Only when we find ourselves tormented by life, and bereft of faith in the fantasy that attacking someone else will relieve the torment, do we become like the disabled and desperate people of long ago that sought out Jesus of Nazareth for healing. Otherwise – why leave the comfort zone?
I find two other things, besides torment, that push us out of our comfort zone: one is love, which makes the torment of others as intolerable as torment to ourselves. The other is the realization that our comfort zone is maintained by illusions and lies, chief among which is that its comfort will last indefinitely. It never does. And then something – torment, love, or disillusionment – makes us feel our crying need for a gospel. One is there waiting for us.
Grant us, Lord, not merely the transforming and awakening power of Your gospel, but the faith and courage to receive it. Have we resistances? We welcome Your sweeping them away.