The question arises, how do we persuade people to cross over to the beautiful land of grace? How do we persuade people of the greatness and liberty and power and true virtue of the life of freedom? How can we convince someone that it is enough to believe that we are God’s beloved pearl, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son, greatly longed for and greatly rejoiced over when found? How can we convince people to finally let go of their fears and enter into the joyous universe of God’s passion and love for us? Under grace, what is evangelism?
God came to earth and clothed Himself with flesh. God spoke in simple stories, stories that anyone could understand. God became a part of the culture He was born into, while at the same time speaking and acting in a fashion so contrary to its comforts that He was killed for it. We can do no better, and we can expect that if we speak the very truth of God Himself, only for the love and benefit of all, we can expect all the more opposition. It is no shock if we are often ineffectual. Instead of responding with faith, they killed Jesus for being perfect, and we are far from perfect.
We live in a massively narcissistic society. There is very little honor for the things other people have done, that other people have said, for the deeds and successes of others. We do not read because we would rather be on FaceBook. We fashion our lives around consumption: consumption of the flickering shadows of fake entertainment people, cars and gadgets and such. Real life, real authority, real adventure, real heroism, lies with the entertainer who is far away and fake. Real people, even celebrities themselves, hold no honor for us whatsoever. We delight in the revelation of their failure. People do not want to listen to our message, to God’s message. They want to talk, they want inoffensive entertainment. Even as we talk to each other, we listen only enough to fashion our interruption. No pastor is free from the constant threat of the ire of his congregation. Even as we coexist, we only tolerate our lives until we can escape to be entertained. It is fine to offend as long as it doesn’t offend me, as long as it doesn’t challenge me personally to change.
The church has become dishonored and irrelevant, but not because it no longer speaks truth or has answers. It is because the church seeks to break into the zombie-like trance of a world enslaved by glowing rectangles, in order to speak an unwelcome message of substance and beauty. The resistance isn’t generally a thoughtful resistance, it is an irritated and distracted resistance.
This is not a phenomenon which is peculiar to our times. From the garden of Eden onward, people everywhere of all times are more interested in being their own god than in hearing from the actual living God. We are at heart self-interested, self-absorbed, and enraptured by our own cleverness and beauty. We cannot be spoken to, we are too enraptured with ourselves and with our own opinions and thoughts. We want to be our own Lord and Savior, we do not want to let another assume that role for us.
The infant is completely self-absorbed, it can only express that it needs or wants something, and it doesn’t even quite know what. That is our society, a perfect picture. How can we talk to it? You start by getting down with the baby, and meeting its needs. You start to echo its own meaningless cooing noises, mixed with words it cannot comprehend and filled with a love it does not fathom. You cannot demand a child’s rapt attention by threat; you get down and play with him with the same toys that he is interested in. Communication happens by courtship, and appeals not to reason, but to desire.
Jaques Derrida uses the Roman myth of Echo and Narcissus as a metaphor to understand the problem of communication. In the myth Echo is a wood nymph, and is a constant chatterbox who will not stop talking. She apparently is so offensively talkative that the gods curse her to speak only by repeating the last part of the utterances of others. Narcissus is a handsome youth who is infatuated with his own appearance reflected in a pond. Echo falls in love with Narcissus and tries to break through to communicate with him by repeating his own phrases back to him in subtle ways that began to make him realize there was some ‘other’ communicating.
Communication is an incredibly deep and complex event, it does no good at all to oversimplify this. We must use our present culture, however flawed we think it may be, and echo its own icons and memes and images and words in ways that cause it to wake up from its self-absorbed fog to consider that there is a great Other calling. God longs for this narcissistic world, He calls to us all across the incessant noise of our internal self-absorbed blather to enter a life of cosmic romance and adventure. He calls us all, all men and women, to stop and listen to the sound of the Grand Quiet, to step out of the universe where we seek to be our own God and savior, into the infinite timeless joy of the universe of grace. He loves us very greatly, and He calls to us to enter into this romance, this great embrace, to come away with Him to a new universe where love is all the rule, and great gifts are given without requirement or payment.