Recently our church began a series on the idea of thriving instead of just merely surviving. This concept resonates with me because so often I feel like I am just keeping my head above water in many aspects of my life. Life can feel overwhelming and there are days I feel good just getting through what is needed of me.
When I think of thriving, I think of my father-in-law’s garden. Over many years of trial and error, he has figured out how to create an environment for plants to not only grow, but thrive. His garden is massive and sometimes produces so much they can’t get things off the vine fast enough. I am facinated by this garden and how, when tended well, a small spot of land can produce so much.
Which really gets me thinking about the gospel and what God is up to in this world. Over the last week, Allen and Trevor have introduced their thoughts on the gospel in the contexts of evangelism and what we call news. When Trevor suggested we work through this idea, I was thrilled to see what my friends would write, but really didn’t know what I wanted to bring to the conversation. I have never been much of an evangelist and am weary of the concept of “good news” as gospel. Most of the ways the gospel is presented follow this kind of formula:
People (including you) are worthless piles of garbage. Only because of the grace of God can we be anything or find any kind of self worth. So, because you are inherently bad, you need Jesus to not only make you clean, but as a way to keep you clean.
This assessment is probably a little brash in tone, but I feel like this is the general idea of good news. You are bad, God is good, because you are bad God hates you until you agree to his terms.
In general terms this way of thinking about humanity falls under the idea of total depravity. It gets its roots in Calvinism, and is widespread through modern Christendom.
But, is it true? Are people just bad and horrible at their core?
This brings me to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. The story is told of a sower planting seeds in four types of soil: rocky, shallow, thorny, and good. Jesus uses this parable to explain why some do not thrive. For a seed, the soil is everything. If the soil is bad, the seed won’t survive.
This parable has been presented to me for years as an exercise in pre-destination. That is, some people just won’t survive in the faith because of where they are planted. So, if someone comes from a bad background, comes to faith in a certain faith community, or is pre-disposed so a certain sin, likely they will not take root.
But in thinking about the gospel, depravity, and thriving in relation to this parable – something hit me. Jesus never said anything about the seed. The parable talked a lot about the conditions of the soil, but never said the seed was bad. In the story, the seed is something ready to grow and produce fruit.
The seed is good.
When I think about those who espouse depravity and original sin, I wonder how those folks reconcile this theology when they look at their children. When I look at my boys, I see hope, joy, wonder, and excitement. I see love and passion. They are mine. It is my perfect privilege to be their father. Nothing will ever separate my love for them.
What if one day my oldest son came in and said – “Dad, I am a bad boy. I never do anything right. I don’t think I am good.” My heart would break into a million pieces. To think my son would ever think he was inherently bad or worthless would be an affront to my pride as a father.
I think God looks favorably on his creation. He made us good. The seed is good. The gospel is about finding that good so the the world can see. Because of the gospel, we thrive. The gospel is the good news that makes the ground fertile for us to grow. The gospel fertilizes the soil, pulls the weeds, waters the seed, and shines the light.
We grow and thrive because of the gospel.