This is not religion as we like religion to be. We prefer a religion which delivers the kinds of success with which we are comfortable. We embrace with pleasure a Christianity which quickly roots out the evils in life we do not like (and occasionally even those we do). We covet a God of glory, supported by power, rational proofs, good common sense, and success.
But such a view of religion reflects neither the biblical description of the Christian faith and the activities of our God nor the ever harsher realities of American life at the end of the twentieth century. The theology of the cross, with its word of forgiveness and life in the midst of crushing evils, addicting sins, and personal failures of the worst sort, is just what we need.
In the past two generations, much evangelistic outreach has been successful at luring burned-out Christians back into congregations by offering nice groups of people where we could find companionship and conversation with others much like ourselves. That strategy served to bring many into a true enjoyment of life in Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Christian faith does bring genuine joy and pleasure to human beings who are experiencing sunny days!
More important, however, the faith also helps us to be honest about the storms which beset life. Such storms are now descending upon an increasing number of Americans. The Christian congregation of the future in this society will, therefore, have to function increasingly as a spiritual hospital.
As we care for others this week, we know that next week they will be our physicians and we their patients. The church of the twenty-first century in our God-forsaking society will be a haven for the homeless, a home for the helpless, a hospice for the hopeless. It will be a community of believers gathered at the foot of the cross, with a life-embracing view of the cross on which our Lord hangs.
We look to the cross because we need to focus on the defeat of the evils which afflict us. Jesus accomplished this triumph by taking our sinfulness into the body of his death and burying it in his own tomb. We look then to-and through-the empty tomb when we want to look at the life which he won for us by burying our evil.
We look through that tomb into eternity, where God is, identifying us as his children through his re-creating word of forgiveness. Then we look from his perspective back through the tomb into the daily life, and we perceive our experiences of his earthly presence among us. We see how he has used us as his instruments of love and salvation.
Adapted from Robert Kolb, “Is Anybody Home: What To Do When It Seems Like God Isn't There,” Modern Reformation, July/August 1997. Used by permission.