Now that I'm an adult I'm starting to reflect on the experiences of our youth. I'm ready to admit I'm old now at my early twenties.
On Friday was a youth summit here in Omaha. It was oriented toward youth at-risk for gang involvement; we brought in local service agencies and speakers as well as a representative for an organization in LA which helps gang members leave gangs and build a bright future.
Leaving behind a moment all the struggles and petty squabbles that plagued the process, it was good to see a community come together for the youth. There is a growing gang problem here in Omaha, and it's becoming racially charged. Bringing together the middle schoolers, the social service agencies and the speakers I think was helpful.
But then there's the nagging feeling that the youth didn't take anything away from it. I know some kids were excited that it was a day away from schoolwork (Hey, I thought the same thing in school sometimes). Did we reach them? The saying I heard some of the planning committee members share was "If we reached one of them, it was worth it."
I wonder whether it would have been worth it. Would the local university have been so generous? Would we have worked so hard? Would the keynote speaker have flown in? Would the social agencies have been present?
At its best, humanity will do a lot for the individual. But just one person? If only one person took away from that meeting a feeling of hope for the future and a greater respect for him or herself, then some might not be so generous. Their resources could've been spent in a different way, given to someone more open to it. Given to someone it might have actually helped.
Can we think of God in the same way? I've often wondered whether the crucifixion was worth it. Think about it: God died on the cross that fateful day. God. The divine incarnation called Christ Jesus was nailed to a piece of wood and died. And it was all for us!
Now, I'm not arguing a specific theology of the cross or doctrine of salvation here (though a strict Calvinist notion is not what I have in mind). I'm not exactly sure how Christ's death on the cross brings us our salvation, but I know it does.
If only one person were saved by the blood shed on the cross, would it have been worth it? If only one person truly turned to God through the witness of God's love for humanity as made present on the cross, should God have died for that one person? Certainly the indignity of it, the pain and suffering of the cross, certainly it was too much for God to have to suffer for one person?
Yes. I can't imagine how any number of people could make up for the indignities cast upon God during his ministry, his trial, and his crucifixion. We're talking about God here!
What is telling, though, is that God suffered and died for less than one person. Christ died for the hope that someone would turn and be saved. God works through us and our free will. God does not seize slaves but calls us to be children and servants.
God's grace is so, well, gratuitous! God would give up so much to be with us, to suffer with us, to die for us. Christ's blood was shed freely on the cross for us to receive. We can't "make it up" to God by being good folk, by giving to the church or to a charity, by being upstanding moral people; we could never make it up to God for the indignities in the sense of satisfying an obligation, but we can live in that abundant and excessive grace by trying to live as a redeemed and redeeming people. God's love should animate us, should make us whole and should become known to all the world. May people all over the world give thanks to God for the love which comes from God and is known through us.
In this way the suffering of God on the cross is preserved and brings us to a greater appreciation of God's grace. It should not be used as a way to shame or guilt us into 'being better people.' Appreciation of grace isn't like feigning thanks for that sweater your nearly blind, arthritic aunt knit for you that's two sizes too big and in a style that was last seen when Airplane! was in theaters. No, appreciating God's grace is more like wearing that sweater. Taking God's grace into ourselves and realizing that we can't pay God back for it but we can live it.
It's in those moments in life when I'd like to think God smiles and says, "It was worth it."
The Long Apprenticeship
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