The Gospel that saved my own soul, and that of so many others, had what might be called, An Ugly Side. In other words, it had a dimension composed of things which simply did not fit well into my initial idea of a Beautiful Gospel.
I much preferred that idyllic Beautiful Gospel, of course. It was a Gospel that I could easily appreciate, a Gospel of forgiveness, and grace, and compassion, and God's unconditional love. But nevertheless, I could not seem to escape those relentless intrusions from that Ugly Side.
For example, when I first encountered Christ through that more pleasant Gospel, the Ugly Gospel insisted that I take the time to actually survey and acknowledge the darkness of my own heart. What bitter pill to swallow.
Nevertheless, I was pressed by this more unpleasant Gospel to confront the real depths of my inner darkness. I didn't really like that process. But, as I looked, I was very humbled (the whole purpose of the exercise) to discover that, indeed, my inner darkness actually did run much deeper than I ever knew before.
It was also this Ugly Gospel which brazenly declared that I could no longer be in charge. I had interpreted the Beautiful Gospel to be merely a kind of do-over opportunity where my life schemes would now become God-blessed, and thus, much more successful.
But, the Ugly Gospel was quite insistent on a complete reinterpretation of that childish thinking. That Ugly Gospel clearly stated that the way forward was not at all about my plans, but all about God's plans for me. It presented as NON-NEGOTIABLE, the idea that I must be wholeheartedly willing to embrace, not only God's directions for my life, but also the entirety of His value system.
Now, I ask you, what human being would ever want to give up their personal sovereignty in this way? Who would ever be willing to surrender their schemes, and their dreams, and their personal destiny to someone else - even to God?
Well, wait. I guess, I would. Because, I did. And really, now, it doesn't even seem like much of a thing - especially when you consider how messed up my life was and what I got in return.
I guess it was also the Ugly Gospel which demanded that I recognize my own limitations and my very real vulnerabilities (that humbling thing again). It was the pressure of that Gospel which helped me to finally take a realistic view of life.
And, being forced to face up to my own frailties helped me to really see the overwhelming complexity of life's treacheries and just how vicious and heartless its randomness can be. And, that, in turn, helped me to see my own absolute inability to face up to and manage life's challenges without God's help.
And, in truth, I guess it was also the Ugly Gospel which helped fashion my new idea of what I wanted for an outcome to my personal story. Under the press of that Gospels larger view of things, I was able to see that what I really wanted and needed was a destiny which truly got beyond just the small, now stuff to the big, eternal stuff.
But, when you wrap it all up in a sentence, what the Ugly Gospel ultimately taught me is this: The way up is down. The way to rise is to truly bow in thorough humility before God.
But, what a wonderful surprise to find complete victory and fulfillment through that humiliation. To be sure, the process of my humiliation did seemed kind of harsh and unattractive at first - but now - not so much.
Now, after a million conversations, tender moments, and profound insights; after debating the issues, crying together, laughing together, and sorting through the complexities of life - I have now confirmed that it is true! A very durable and deeply fulfilling friendship with God does, indeed, grow out of this Ugly Gospel Process.
So, by now, you probably see my dilemma. My Ugly Gospel is all mixed up with my Beautiful Gospel. And now, I can no longer tell the difference between the two. What is a boy to do?