There’s an old story I’ve heard from my deacon (one that I will paraphrase and undoubtedly mess up) about and monk and his acolyte (follower) walking in the city and passing a prostitute. She was preparing herself for another client, putting on her makeup. As they walked on, the monk began to weep over the prostitute. The acolyte inquired as to why the monk was crying.
“Because,” the monk said. “She will go to such an effort to make herself presentable to her client, but we will not do the same for God.”
This story, in many ways, summarizes not just human life, but creation in general. There is no denying that we live in a beautiful world. While I am amazed at the pictures that come from the Mars Rover, there is little diversity on Mars. After all, it is a dead planet. Every image we capture from other moons and planets in our own solar system present to us desolate places that lack the diversity we are used to. They are paintings of one or two colors, while earth is a Rembrandt.
Yet, there is a tragedy to this planet. Though beautiful, it hides a dark secret, and that secret is death. Some may say that death is no real secret, but a part of life, and that sentiment is somewhat correct. After all, we anticipate death, we await it, we know of its inevitability. Death is a natural part of life, something that we must all endure. Yet, it is death as a natural part of life that feels so unnatural; the normalcy of death is so abnormal.
The lion we see resting in the shade, hiding from the sub-Saharan sun, is the same lion that will later hunt down and kill a weak animal (or an unfortunate human who wanders too far into the wild). The snow-capped mountain top can inspire awe, but it can also cause an avalanche that takes lives. The amazing complexity and beauty of the human body is countered by the fact that these same bodies will eventually turn against us and die.
Humans serve as the perfect icon of the tragic beauty of creation. We are capable of creating amazing operas, creating entire worlds with our stories, of aiding each other in our time of need, of protecting the innocent. At the same time, we are capable of creating great pain, of destroying huge swaths of land for a few bucks, of imprisoning others. The same culture that brought us Beethoven, Wagner, and Bach also brought us genocide, continental devastation, and atrocities that to this day we wish to ignore. We are a kind and cruel species, caring and hurtful, good and evil.
The human race, taken together, is a beautiful prostitute. We have a deep beauty about us, but we whore ourselves out to our various “Johns.” We give ourselves to politicians, to gurus, to other religions, to various passions, and to different philosophical viewpoints. We are hopefully in love with these clients, but always left destitute and in search of a lover. We let them use us for their end and then throw us away when they are finished.
We are beautiful prostitutes, looking for love, but left destitute, tending to a beautiful garden that has fallen into decay.
It is into this scenario that we look at Christ, not as a judge or a ticket to Heaven, but as a lover. The Bible never says that Christ came to save us from Hell. It never says that He came to judge our sins. It never even says that He came to be our “Lord and Savior.” While it is true that He does and is all of those things, none of those summarizes why He came or what He does. To reduce Him to just saving us from Hell would be akin to reducing a husband’s role to simply saving a wife from loneliness; while it’s part of what is done, it is not the entirety.
After all, in John 12:47 Jesus is quite adamant that He did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. But what does it mean to save the world? Does it begin and end when, “Now you get to go to Heaven?” We’ve reduced the word “saved” into something that is significantly limited in its scope, even more so than the original word. In Greek, “saved” is σώζω (sozo), which means to deliver. In fact, it’s the remnant of the contraction σαως (saos), which means “safe.” The idea of sozo also brings with it the connotation of healing, preserving, or being made whole. Thus, salvation goes well beyond “being saved,” at least in how we mean it. When Christ said that He came to save the world, He meant to deliver the world, or heal it, or make it whole.
The cosmic impact of our sin is seen everywhere through the law of entropy. That everything moves towards a state of decay only serves to remind us that death is now a necessary part of this life. We see it in the distance in supernovas, we see it in the microscopic breakdown of cells, and we see it when we lose those we are close to. Yet, the boundless reach of Christ seeks to reverse what we have done. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the entirety of creation groans for redemption. It awaits its own redemption, shortly after the “sons of God” have been revealed. That is, creation will be redeemed after we have first been redeemed. And there is the idea again of Christ making the world whole.
Christ, then, is the lover of the prostitute. He is the one who can outreach the impact of our sins, the one who is boundless, and can renew all things. He is the long-lost lover who has been here all along, the one who doesn’t just save us from a life of prostitution, but makes us His bride. He doesn’t just pull us off the streets, but takes us into His home. We are a tragedy, a people and creation that had potential, but then threw it away. Christ recovers us from that tragedy and makes us whole. We are a tragedy, but the boundless reach of Christ heals all pain.