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If I were to take a straw poll, I have a hunch most pastor friends of mine would prefer Good Friday to Easter, Advent to Christmas Day, and officiating funerals to officiating weddings.
I am grateful to be part of a Christian tradition that leans into these spaces of lament, acknowledges darkness, and leaves room for brokenness. I am grateful for a clear-eyed assessment of our world, particularly the one given by Ira Glass this week: “I think in dark times, it does no good to pretend that you are not living in dark times.”
And yet, I wonder if we too often lead with the problem and make grace an afterthought.
We place Genesis 3 before Genesis 1. Instead of remembering that God first declared that we were “very good” (Genesis 1:31), we shout at one another, “What have you done?” (Genesis 3:13) After Adam and Eve ate that fruit and felt that shame in every inch of their body, God killed his own creation to offer them a fur coat. Grace came before, and grace came after.
Author Cole Arthur Riley nudges us toward this grace: “On the day the world began to die, God became a seamstress.”
On the left, right, and center, we are good at shouting the problem, good at declaring just who it was that plucked that fruit. We forget, though, that we too are declared good.
My pastoral counseling professor, Dr. Singleton, said he stopped assigning two separate ‘Good Friday and Easter papers.’ In the former paper, students were to write about what had gone wrong with our world, and in the latter, about the hope of a resurrected world. He said the Good Friday papers were brilliant, astute and compelling as they addressed the evils in our world. But the Easter papers were lackluster, trite, and lifeless.
Perhaps we fixate on Good Friday, on wrath, on a blockaded Eden, because it is too astounding to believe that the Creator still delights in us. Grace defies our worldly creeds: that we reap what we sow, that we get what we deserve. “I am convinced that if we are to survive the weight of justice and liberation,” Cole Arthur Riley says, “we must become people capable of delight. And people who have been delighted in.”
Much of our theology that leaves grace an afterthought is born of our own shame and baptized by our own fear, and so we judge with the measure that we have been judged. But what if we began instead with God’s declaration of goodness? What if we recalled the grace of Jesus as he looked ahead toward his own rejection: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end?” (John 13:1b)
We are wise to remember that “our hope can only be as deep as our lament,” but how deep might we hope if we were people who knew “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ?” (Ephesians 3:18).
If we knew this, I think we might begin to dream God-sized dreams. We would spend less time gesturing at problems and spend more time welcoming people into the work. We wouldn’t just envision a shift to clean renewable energy, we would reimagine our cities in their entirety, with bike lanes replacing interstates, guns bent into pruning shears, and neighbors loving neighbors.
When Israel realized that—despite one failure after another—they would be brought out of captivity, their despair was transformed into hopeful imagination: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream” (Psalm 126:1).
Given the size of God’s grace, we hold such small imaginations for God’s goodness. When we begin with grace, we become people who extend open-armed invitations, people who work knowing that our burden is carried. We become people who dream.