Most of us have an appreciation for a really good story. Complex characters, a well constructed plot, action, adventure, sorrow, redemption, romance. A well told story captivates us. But don't most of us love the great stories that are actually true, not merely fiction? I know I do. That's why I love the story of God. There are so many ways to tell it, and still, language falls so short. His story must also be experienced.
Imagine with me a homeless woman on the bus. I'm being stereotypical here for a purpose. Her clothes are soiled and smell foul, like she has sat in her own urine for days. Her hair is greasy and matted to her head. On her breath is the bitter stench of alcohol. Her skin is tough and weathered and beneath her fingernails are black. She doesn't give eye contact, because it seems no one cares to look her in the eyes.
Now imagine God enters the bus. He sits down next to this woman. He doesn’t gag, hold his breath, plug his nose or look away. Instead, he looks her in the eyes and engages her in conversation. Within a few short minutes, the woman that no one ever talks to; the woman that people avoid sitting next to on the bus; the woman that no one wants to touch; feels understood for the first time in her life. Instead of pointing out her filthiness, God leans in and gives her a hug, and then he invites her over to his house. He offers her a place to take a hot shower and a new, clean pair of clothes. He discovers her favorite food, cooks her a meal, and they sit down to eat together. She pours out her heart to him, and he pours his out in return. Finally she is known. Finally she is accepted, and she is no longer ashamed. She has inexhaustible debts, and he explains that his Son has already paid them for her. God offers her a key to the house and adopts her into his family.
This is the embrace of grace.
At some point, we all are or have been this woman. And God has sought us out on the crowded bus, alone in our seat, where he has engaged us, embraced us, and invited us home with him. He has bathed us, clothed us, prepared a meal for us, and dined with us. He has offered us a new identity, so that we do not remain homeless, hungry, filthy, destitute, and alone. This is the God of grace. And this is his embrace. All he asks is that we have the faith to receive.
Still, as nice as this metaphor is, I know it falls short of an all-inclusive view of the gospel. It is, at best, perhaps a snapshot somewhere in the middle of the gospel story. The lengths to which Jesus has gone to save and redeem us from our sin, the forgiveness he offers, and the power with which his life, death and resurrection transforms us is beyond metaphor. The story of the gospel is so good, it stands alone. Sometimes metaphor simply opens the door to the full story.
I love the gospel ("good news"), and I find I've fallen more and more in love with this story - and the God who has so brilliantly crafted it - over this past year. Growing up "in the church", I think I kind of lost my awe of the gospel. Or perhaps I never really had it, because it's like it was always there. I took it for granted. For some reason this year, I've been seeing God's story through fresh eyes, and each time it blows my mind and unravels my heart. It truly is the greatest Romance ever. As we approach Easter, a holiday that culturally means little more than baskets of candy and decorated eggs and cute little bunnies, I am marveling again at the wonder of the good news of the gospel of Jesus. And without Easter - the death and resurrection of Jesus - this story would not exist.