“Well, I’ve found that prophesying is one of life’s less prophet-able occupations!” – Abraham Lincoln
The trouble with prophecy is that prophesying is so misunderstood. Think: When you hear “prophet,” what do you imagine? Regardless of biblical definitions, our most common imagination for prophets is women and men who see and read the future. They predict. Foresee. Anticipate. Then they tell.
In reality, that’s not the role of the prophet. As Stanley Hauerwas reminds the church, a prophet’s job is not to announce the future as much as it is to call us back to who we are in God. That being the case, when asked to ponder the “future” of the church, my instinct is to reach for the past.
Before we do that, we need to be clear: When most folks call us to reach for the past they aren’t actually calling us to the past as much as they’re calling us to particular visions of their own childhood. Worse, we are called to the hazed, fuzzy memories of their childhood. More than the rough textures of fact and truth these remembrances are made of imprecise, Rockwellian nostalgia; life as they wished it was. What I’m suggesting is a time not remembered, yet one we are called to respond to.
Things Not Remembered (at least not by us)
In the beginning, the scriptures narrate, God created the world good.
We glance by this truth because American Christianity, for reasons not apparent to me, wants us all to embrace more of what happens in Genesis 3 than we embrace what happens in Genesis 1. Nevertheless, good writers furnish the crucial information at the outset then allow the rising action to flow from there. When you read your Bible from front to back, you can’t escape the fact that God made the world good.
The heavens and earth were good…
Light was good…
Dry land and seas and vegetation were good…
Sun, moon, and stars were good…
Living creatures were good…
Land animals were good…
And people were good…
This is the only past worth reaching for. With the force of an anvil pushed over a cliff, it should be clear to us now: The calling of the church is the recovery of goodness.
When the Bible launches, it blasts off with goodness and because of it, the world is at peace. The Hebrew for peace is “shalom.” Shalom is harmony. It’s a world correctly ordered (by which I mean all living things rightly know who they are in relation to God).
In those early pages of the Bible there is complete shalom. There is peace. Heaven and Earth are at peace. Woman and man live in peace. There is peace between Spirit and Soul. And all living creatures experience peace within themselves.
Shalom is what God meant for humankind.
The Gospel of Bad
Unfortunately, American Christianity is telling only part of the story. It’s consumed with letting everyone know just how bad they are. And for good reason. In Genesis 3 sin enters the world and man and woman and ground are cursed.
Sin is real!
If preachers never preached about sin, church would last 15-minutes. Sin is a reality. As 1 John says, “*if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves….*”
But in all the reality of sin, doesn’t it feel like maybe we’ve missed the mark about missing the mark?
Have you ever been to worship service and left feeling worse than when you went? But not because of conviction but because you were verbally bludgeoned?
There are plenty of people who’s greatest concern is convincing us that our sin is the most important part of us. Some folks will spend half a sermon yelling and write books telling everyone not that we’ve been rebellious, not that we’ve done some bad things, but that we *are *bad.
It teaches us that our story with God starts at the fall instead of the truth: Our story doesn’t start with the fall; our story with God starts at creation. It starts with shalom.
And for the church to have any meaning in the future we need to begin telling the entire story!
I have two daughters. They rebel. They lie sometimes. They don’t always follow directions. Every now and then, they do some bad things. I’m under no illusion about their disobedience, believe me.
But when the nurses at Park Plaza Hospital in Houston, Texas handed them to me, there’s not a fiber of my being that thought they were bad.
That’s not how loving parents think.
How much more would God, whose love out-spans my limited capacity, see the inherent goodness of all his children.
The church needs to recover eyes that see goodness. We need to see the goodness within those with whom we disagree. We are compelled to spot the life within the Other and the stranger.