Despite faith fall, Good News still very good
A new Gallup poll shows a continued decline in church attendance. “Fully 20 percent of all Americans now have no religious identity,” one writer noted grimly.
This is troubling, if not unsurprising. But I’m here with good news, because against the backdrop of a self-satiated, soul-aching age, the Good News is “gooder” than ever.
Recently, author Edward Sri, who spoke at the Fargo Diocese’s “Redeemed” conference, reminded us of this, describing the Christian journey as an experience in which “something woke up inside of us.”
In this pivotal moment, he said, we realized we were being called by name by a loving God who wants to meet us not on some lofty perch, but right where we’re at.
And what better Biblical character to help him make his point than Peter, that apostle who’s always messing up. In John 21:15, when Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter struggles with the question, Sri said.
Sri then expounds. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, but the first two times, he uses the Greek word for “agape” love, indicating a total, self-giving, sacrificial love.
Despite answering “yes” each time, Peter, having just denied Jesus thrice, knows he cannot live up to that word, Sri said, so he shows distress. Seeing this, on round three of questioning, Jesus responds with compassion, using now the Greek word for “phileo” love – an imperfect, human kind of love.
“This time,” Sri says, “Jesus ‘bends down,'” indicating, “I’m willing to accept what you can give me.”
“Once Peter comes to Jesus as he really is…humbly,” Sri continued, “now Jesus can begin to work with him.”
A friend who also heard Sri’s talk observed, “It was the real flawed Peter that was saved by the mercy of a loving God who saw him as he was.”
As it is with us, Sri said. Jesus wants to meet us in our broken humanity — to find us as we are.
Jesus knew, of course, that one day soon, Peter would love him with agape love; that he would “go where he doesn’t want to go with his arms stretched out,” Sri said, like Jesus at his death, a martyr who loved to the end.
“Religion is sometimes thought of as mankind’s search for God,” Sri writes in his book, “Love Unveiled,” “But Christianity is more about God’s search for us.”
God didn’t create us to leave us on our own to find him, he continues. “Love desires to be near the beloved, and the God who is love sought us out and entered the world.”
As writer Peter Kreeft put it, “…there is no human way up the mountain, only a divine way down.”
And so, despite the darkness of the age, we can celebrate this, the “goodest” news of all — God’s gesture not to leave us abandoned but to join us in our hurting and lead us into love.
Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org