February 11, 2009

The Good News?

2009 1504 page25 capOR CENTURIES PHILOSOPHERS HAVE LAMENTED THE LIMITS OF LANGUAGE. The word “dog” isn’t a dog, the dog, or any dog, any more than the Mona Lisa was Mona Lisa. Words just kind of hover over and around things, never coming close to the things themselves. And that’s just things, objects, the tangible and the touchable; using words to capture emotions, abstractions, or complex scientific theories is like trying to staple fog to a tree.
Thus, if language has trouble with dogs, love, and quantum gravity, what about with something like the gospel? Words struggle to explain what’s known about the phenomenal, visible world; how much, then, do they sputter and flail before the supernatural, before realities “which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18, KJV)?
Think about “the gospel.” What does that six-letter, two-syllable word contain? When you crack it open, what comes out?
First, there’s the idea of God (a concept that, of itself, isn’t the easiest for finite minds, using the tools of language, to grasp). For us the word “God” means the Creator of the universe, the One who made everything made, from quarks to quasars, from quantum fluctuations to the curves of space-time. If it’s hard enough for us to comprehend creation itself (with its concepts of light-years, infinity, or time-dilation), how much more so the One who created it, who is bigger than it, who thought it up and spun it out? How do utterances, sounds, and scribbles on paper allow us to grasp that?
2009 1504 page25But there’s more. According to “the gospel,” the One who created the universe “shrank down,” became incarnated into human flesh, and took upon Himself the full brunt and punishment of our sin so that we can have the promise of eternal life.
Ellen White wrote: “It was the marvel of all the universe that Christ should humble Himself to save fallen man. That He who had passed from star to star, from world to world, superintending all, by His providence supplying the needs of every order of being in His vast creation—that He should consent to leave His glory and take upon Himself human nature, was a mystery which the sinless intelligences of other worlds desired to understand” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 69). If sinless beings still don’t grasp it, what about us?
The bottom line of “the gospel” is that the Most High God, the most exalted Being in the universe, the One who is above the universe, greater than the universe, the One who stands over it (somewhat as a painter to a painting) became the lowest of the low, dying the sinner’s second death in order that no sinner would have to. At the cross, the One who is equal with God, the One who is God, the One who is the highest and most exalted in all creation becomes the lowest, even “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Sin is the lowest thing in all creation, and at Calvary the highest took upon Himself the sin of the world and thus descended to the lowest depth possible.
The apostle Paul wrote about the Son of God: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8). The One who made everything “made himself nothing”—all for us.
And we call that good news? Good, like mother’s apple pie tastes good; good, like Joe’s a good hockey player; good, like Louie writes good music? Please! We could call it great news, fabulous news, utterly unbelievably incredibly wonderful, marvelous, awe-inspiring, fantastic, and astonishing news, and our sounds and letters would still flounder around it, like the Chinese words outside a French text.
All we can do is marvel before the little that language allows us to grasp, and then seek to live our pathetic lives in relation to it. Because if you believe it, what else matters?
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide