The older I grow the less I’m convinced that we know anything much about God. Everybody seems to have an opinion about him, and even people grounded in theology disagree vehemently with each other about the nature and attributes of the Almighty. But one thing I do know: God despises bores.
Easter reminds us of this. Put the redemption of the world into our hands, and we’d come up with something unimaginative, uninspiring, and probably much too believable. Perhaps we’d save the world through force: a mighty sign in the heavens or some other demonstration of heavenly power. Or perhaps we’d save the world by sentiment: a kind of saccharine, spiritual digestion of God as people come to experience “joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts.” Or, I don’t know, perhaps we’d have mankind somehow saved by gin, lace, and impeccable manners.
God, of course, chose a way that’s frankly bonkers. His Son sheds all his divine potency to become one of us, to take on human sin and corruption, to be nailed to a tree and left to die, so that he can rise from the tomb three days later. And that saves the world. Madness. Frankly, I’ve never understood why we’re amazed that so many people find the story too silly to believe. That the Easter story doesn’t strike us as an idea crazier than my dogs on caffeine shows just what a bunch of bores we Christians are.
As I said, God can’t abide bores. If you want a bore, find the devil. Now, there’s someone tedious beyond endurance, which C.S. Lewis portrays so brilliantly in Perelandra. Look at his temptations in the wilderness. Utterly unimaginative — even a toddler could come up with food, angels, and worldly power. No, the devil is a bore. He’s self-obsessed, and we all know what it’s like to be stuck in the company of the self-obsessed.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote: “God has entrusted us, His Church, with the best story in the world. With great ingenuity we have managed, with the aid of much theory, to make that story boring as hell.”
When was the last time you heard the gospel recounted in a way that stressed its weirdness? Consider Mary, visited by an angel telling her she’s pregnant with the Son of God; Jesus, spending almost all his earthly ministry as a craftsman; apostles, claiming to have seen the risen Lord; creation, redeemed through sordid events on an otherwise normal day in the backwaters of a now ancient empire. None of this is exactly normal.
But we sap the weirdness from out of more than just the gospel story; we do it with every aspect of the Faith. We become obsessed with adiaphora like a wedding couple fixating on napkin rings and ribbons. Or we so breathe in the sulphurous fumes of criticism that we can’t even enjoy the sacramental presence of Christ without coming away nitpicking the sermon, music, or liturgical foibles. In short, we become a bunch of bores. And, as I said, God despises a bore.
I think one of my greatest fears about the men and women being formed in the Church today is that we’re preparing them to be just as boring, just as tedious, just as unimaginative and uninspiring as the last generation and the one before that. We so often teach new Christians to behave in a way more usually associated with either used-car salesmen or (not to put too fine a point on it) people in desperate need of laxatives. We expect Christians either to be artificially happy — and what’s more tedious than someone who fakes happiness? — or to be rule-bound, uptight, and about as much fun as a tax return. Either way, most people out there will hardly give these new Christians a moment’s notice because they’ll simply confirm stereotypes: that Christians are fake or practically corpses.
Easter explodes all the rules except the demand for us to believe in and set our lives by the craziest story ever told. Easter mocks every attempt to box it up, make it manageable, and reduce it to something comprehensible and boring. Easter offers us true joy, but a joy that escapes any human bounds and rushes headlong towards the same wild generosity from which the world was created. Paul tells us to be inebriated with such joy when he writes,
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Eph. 5:18-19)
In short, get plastered with God’s Spirit.
So, how about spending some time this season reflecting on the Easter story? Not the usual reflections like the theological import of those events or what it means to have a Savior willing to die and conquer death for us. No, how about finding the craziness in that story once again? Because until you do, you’ll probably keep conforming that story to your sense of normalcy or, worse, the world’s.
But then ask yourself: How do I respond to that craziness? If God’s redemption is also his offer of the “life abundant,” if Christ’s death and resurrection blow apart all worldly limits and boundaries, if God’s all-generous, all-consuming, all-encompassing joy, delight, pleasure, enjoyment, happiness, and gladness are the reason why you exist and are redeemed — then, by God, demonstrate that. Show others that God has saved you even from your fearful, anxious, narrow-minded, and untrusting self. Show others how crazy God is, how bonkers the Christian claim is, and how much God despises bores.
Perhaps then Christian witness will amount to something again.
This was precisely the intent behind my own Easter sermon this year: https://www.facebook.com/SaintJohnsNewport/posts/1687805647901205:0