Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Ragman... the Rest of the Story

I know it's been one depressing post after another, but since this blog is an outlet for my angst, frustration, and discouragement... well, here comes another one.

I was really looking forward to Easter, the greatest day of the Christian year. The one day where we really should drink champagne for breakfast and party late into the night-- He is risen, death is conquered, we have hope! Of course, I wasn't expecting hors d'oeuvres at church or anything, but I was hoping to have a time of celebration and unmitigated joy.

What we got was one rather depressing, emotional show. And I was part of it, so I don't feel bad criticizing it. We emphasized Christ's suffering and gave the resurrection only passing note. We presented a dramatized version of "The Ragman" (if you are not familiar with it, you can read one version here). Now, I will say that story is helpful in understanding just what it means for Christ to take our sins upon himself and to be a substitutionary sacrifice. But the story is misleading in many ways. First, it makes it seem as if Jesus' healing is physical, tangible, and instantaneous. The woman stops crying, the girl stops bleeding, the man gets a new arm and goes to work. Forgiveness of sin and the regeneration of one's spirit is instantaneous, but nowhere does the gospel promise immediate healing of all your ailments and troubles. Just because we are healed and whole in our spirit does not mean we will be healed and whole physically, emotionally, or mentally.

The second problem is that it seems to insinuate that after Jesus heals you, you launch out on a new life that will be free from those old problems and pain. No more tears, no more suffering, no more tribulation--hasn't he taken that all upon Himself? What a misleading thing to tell a person about Christ. What will they cling to when 2, 5, 15, 50 years down the road their world falls completely apart? When their body decays, their marriage fails, they lose their job and their house, a child rebels, and so forth? Where is the Rag Man then, to take on their pain and exchange it for joy?

The crucifixion and the resurrection was a one-time, once-for-all event, but the gospel is something we need continuously, every day, every minute, with every breath. In this moment, His grace is sufficient for me. In this moment, my sins need cleansing and my mind renewing. In this moment, He may not heal me or take away my tears, but because I believe the gospel, I have hope that He is somehow working out all these things for His glory, my good, and for the future redemption of all creation.

So I propose we add "The Rest of the Story" to the Rag Man. Perhaps the woman continues to cry because of unexplained depression that won't go away, but the Rag Man comes and sits with her while she weeps. Perhaps the little girl, whose bandaged head has been healed, now gets shuffled from foster home to foster home, and sometime in her teens the Rag Man comes back to visit her. She remembers him from her childhood and decides to get to know him better. The man who regains his arm has a hard time finding a job, and after a few years working in a factory, he is diagnosed with cancer. The Rag Man comes and sits with him in the hospital room until he breathes his last. I don't know. I'm just too cynical to get the warm fuzzies with the original story. Give me a glimpse of the hope I can have in the midst of my pain. Show me a slice of real life, of real struggles that we cry out for Jesus to heal but He doesn't seem to.

This is the hope of Easter--Jesus is King and His Kingdom is here and is coming. "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."


Laurie M. said...

Amen and beautifully said! When I came to Christ I had ideas at first that if I could be obedient at all times He would make things go my way...and in a sense He has, but not in the ways I thought. He works all things together for my good, all the bad things too. Which means, a lot of bad has come my way, all of which God uses for good. Sometimes He lets me see some of the good he's doing. Other times, well, it's like with Job, we won't understand it until eternity. (Oh, by the way, I've never succeeded in being only obedient. And that's why I need His grace every moment of every day.)

Anonymous said...

It's important to have an outlet, a safe place to wrestle with these issues.

I love the "rest of the story" that you wrote. Truth is, sometimes healing makes us outcasts ~ from family, from church, from friends. The man born blind, whom Jesus healed, was cast out.

Keep wrestling and asking the hard questions. {{Hugs}}

Dan Martin said...

Yeah, I hate how churches manage to turn the party of Resurrection Sunday into another lesson on penal-substitutionary atonement. It's "The Passion of the Christ" all over again...two hours of blood and gore with a tiny little coda that looks hopeful if you already know the story. BLECH!!!

I didn't have the stomach to go see the Ragman based on your description (I don't need any more religious inspiration right now!) but I can say this: if we were living like the church, it would be us as believers giving that encouragement, that handholding, that weeping & rejoicing together, that you crave. What sucks is how the church has become a place you have to look "victorious" on your own steam or else you're suspect.

Keep asking the questions...maybe some day someone who's actually close enough to look you in the eye, will hear them too! Till then, some of us distant friends hear you loud & clear!