Hope (in response to: People just ain’t no good)
If Nick Cave (and the cast of Shrek II) are right about singing “people ain’t no good”, what hope is there? Plenty. In fact, that is the last point of the gospel I came to understand before surrendering my life to Jesus, the Christ.
I used to think: God is good, people can be good or bad, if people are good they go to be with God, if they are bad they go to hell with their rowdy friends and sing bad songs with the devil. Actually, I didn’t think that was true, I just thought it was what Christians thought was true. I thought that was silly.
What I have come to think is different. I came to think that living like you just don’t care is only exciting when you are able to feed off of the energy of other people being concerned that you live like you just don’t care. Of course, the problem with that is you have to care enough about them noticing you apparently not caring for the whole thing to work.
When you live like you just don’t care because you really don’t, so much so that you don’t even notice if anyone is concerned about your self-destructive ways, life really hurts. Its like the flu, really. You just cannot get settled, and even the medication just changes the sick feelings, it doesn’t really remove them.
I got to that point, for a while, and I knew I didn’t want it. That is when I started to hear the gospel differently. What I eventually heard was:
People, in and of themselves, well, they ain’t all that good. But, Jesus, who was in fact a ‘people’ just like us, actually was good. In him we see a life of the possible being lived actually. I think of screwed up people I have loved. To avoid embarrassment of dipping into people’s personal stories, I’ll choose a fictional character who represents people I have loved and wished their lives would have turned out better. (BTW, by ‘love’ I mean in the brotherly way, not the romantic way).
Robert Redford directed a story which propelled Brad Pitt to fame. It was called A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Part of the story is about Redford’s love of nature, and his balance of wisdom expressed in fly fishing, but that is a different issue. The part of the story that grips me is about the son of a preacher who is gloriously alive, defiant, mischievous, scandalous… he is great, but he just ain’t no good. The Pitt character is a handful for his dad, and an enigma to his brother, and fatal to himself. Eventually the Pitt character’s refusal to be tamed leads to his death at the hands of people who really don’t care that Pitt ‘just doesn’t care’ and they beat him to death. The only solace to the father is an odd one. The father asks his brother who saw the corpse, “did you see his knuckles?” He is reassured that his defiant son died in defiance. Well, at least he has that. ?!#&*@!
The story is really touching because, well, it touches truth. People may be lacking in virtue, but the glory of their defiant will is enchanting and we love them almost because of their defiance. What is that? That is the image of God; the will. The problem is that the image of God in fallen humanity is not able to lift itself up. The unfallen must lift the fallen. Jesus is the glory of the Pitt character without the fallen-ness. He is strong and decisive, nobody’s “yes-man”. He gives his life to a cause because he chooses to, not because it is chosen for him. The solace for his father? That the son did not change his character in death, but died in expression of his character. The difference, of course, is that it was his outstretched hands, not his knuckles, which represented the loving son died in love. Well, at least we have that!