Stories that speak for themselves

February 22, 2010

Recently I spent a week on retreat with my book club. It’s a smart
and kind and diverse group of people. But one of the greatest pleasures
of their company is that only two members are Christian—and very
different Christians in terms of theology and tradition. One woman, a
psychologist, laughs out loud because she can’t believe that she has a
friend who is a pastor. That would be me.

When you’re a pastor,
you’re always a bit of a pariah in groups that don’t consider themselves
terribly religious, like my book club. Yet it's through literature that
some of the most profound and articulate Christian theology is framed.
My preaching professor taught us that to stay on top of our preaching,
we need to read great literature. Though it’s important to keep up with
current trends in theology, it is in the architecture of words that we
discover theological elegance. Through literature we can speak of the
sublime, of grace, of the thank you and of the lament. Through
literature and art we find life as it exists. And here, right now, in
life, we find the life of our God—the thing of which pastors speak.

I read the texts about Abram and God and Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, I
see both the foundational stories of our faith and also the profound
stories of great literature. There is something epic and heartbreaking
about this God who appears in a vision to Abram to offer comfort. There
is something painfully exquisite in Jesus, our God, weeping over the
very place in which he is about to be betrayed. I don’t have to convince
anyone about our God; I don’t need to present God as an idea. There are
no arguments, no apologetics: the profundity and sheer beauty of these
stories speak for themselves.

I don’t have any compulsion to save
anyone; my book group is fine without my evangelism. Anyway, if God is
truly a God of grace, then I can simply trust this to be so, and the
details of this God who knows the falling of sparrow can lay themselves
out over time. But I do find the stories of our faith compelling: this
absurdly beautiful and odd God has chosen our lives to enter and so
engage with creation. I cannot reconcile this God and this divine pathos
for our world with the ordinary metrics of our life together. Yet I
believe this deeply troubling story is also deeply true.

lectionary columns by Evensen appear in the February 23 issue of the
Century—click here to subscribe.

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