The Best and Sweetest Thing I've Ever Heard


(system) #1

It must be close to 20 years ago now that I attended the 50th birthday party of a college friend of mine. He was a junior my freshman year at Andrews, a campus leader fully engaged in the social, intellectual and religious life of our college. I didn’t stay in touch as the years passed by and it was only because of a mutual friend and a business trip that took me to his home town that I wound up at his party. There I learned that he had become a successful writer of fiction. The evening is permanently lodged in my memory because in the fleeting exchange that a buzzing party allowed he asked me if I had “stayed in the church.” Of course I replied that I had and when he asked “Why?” I said, “Because the gospel is the best and sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I am fairly confident that a majority, perhaps only a small majority but a majority nevertheless of my college contemporaries have not “stayed in the church.” If my suspicion is correct, it might be taken to imply that there is something surprising about my uninterrupted engagement with the body of Christ. I would deny that there is. Rather what is genuinely surprising to me is that anyone ever leaves. I am convinced that leaving is only possible if one has not heard the gospel. One does not exchange the best and sweetest thing there is for anything else.

Paul says in the tenth chapter of his infinitely compelling letter to the Roman Christians that “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” I did not and do not hear the gospel because of an especially acute capacity to listen and to hear, nor because of the exceptional gifts of influential Christians in my life. I hear and have heard the gospel because, by God’s grace, the words of Christians become the Word of God.

Here is what I have heard:

There is a man named Jesus who loved and loves everyone perfectly. He was born in Bethlehem. You can go there. His birth was the second time he brought light into a world full of darkness. The first time he simply said, “let there be light.” Darkness is so dark that his second gift of light resulted in the slaughter of Bethlehem’s other babies. It is so dark that this man who loved and loves everyone perfectly was tortured to death by people who knew him. The perfection of his love expressed itself in his plea to his father to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. You see, they had not heard. They wanted to be done with him. But his love was not done with them and having submitted to the full fury of their antipathy to love he annulled their lust for his death and rose from the dead. He is alive.

His first friends were a pitiful lot, who to a man (but not the women) abandoned him in the darkness. And when the women discovered that he is alive, that the darkness had not overcome his light, his friends came out of the shadows and rejoiced in the light. From then on, filled with his living light they bore witness to his victory. Their witness provoked a futile repetition of murderous attempts by darkness to be done with light, to be done with Jesus. Having suffered with him, every witness to the light will also one day, upon the return of Jesus to this, his birthplace, leave death permanently behind to live eternally in the fullness of his light.

The people who tortured and killed Jesus were the theologians of his day, called scribes at the time. I am chagrined to recognize myself in them. The beauty of his light exposes my own inexplicable appetite to be left alone, for self-mastery, for self-satisfaction, for dominance, for darkness. My very joy in his triumph over suffering and death can be exploited by the lust for darkness that insists that it is I and not he who is the creator and redeemer of my world. So it is true of me as well that grace has taught my heart to fear. And yet even my fear reveals the beauty of his light because it lives only out of awareness of the availability of infinite glory, glory that can, even if only for “three days” be dumped into the grave.

But he is not in the grave. Death is not the truth. Life is not a charade of denial best endured in a state of intoxication with the currently relevant or the metaphysically indifferent. Life is a wedding feast. The bridegroom is on his way.

What have you heard?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6298

(Tim Lale) #2

I wish I had written this. I think it.


(jeremy) #3

what a wonderful article…it is so true that nothing can compare to the love and truth of jesus, and that leaving the church only means one hasn’t really heard the gospel…i think when we find ourselves born or in some way stuck with something we know is incompatible with jesus but we can’t seem to leave it behind no matter how hard we try, it’s best to simply let things co-exist side by side for the time being…over time, the truth of jesus becomes so self-evident and fulfilling, it becomes easier and easier to leave darkness behind…what truly is light becomes much easier to recognize, as is the case with what isn’t light…


(Stephen Roesler) #4

Beautiful. Lovely thoughts, steve


(James J Londis) #5

Dr. Ward’s lovely reflection plumbs what every person who has ever lived hopes is true: given the “groaning of the whole creation” what would be its ideal outcome, the “ending” that becomes so strong a light there is no more room for darkness? Numerous answers have been proffered by ancient sages and religious devotees throughout history, but the gospel is the ideal that cannot be transcended. Thank you for reminding us of what the Christian faith truly offers us!!


(Allen Shepherd) #6

By the way, the photo is of a total eclipse of the sun, just as the moon is about to completely cover its disc. A ray of sunlight passes through one of he valleys on the curvature of he moon creating the effect shown called the “Diamond Ring” effect. Very beautiful.

There will be a total eclipse of the sun on Aug 21 of 2017 able to be seen here in America, through the midwest. There is a narrow band of totality that one must be in to see such effects as that above. I have viewed a couple of them, and it is one of the most beautiful sights in nature and worth a trip to see. The greatest length of totality is in southern IL, 2 min, 43 sec, but places further west might be in less danger of cloud cover. Of course one must not look at the sun directly before totality, as retinal damage may ensue.


(Sirje) #7

… and why is that?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #8

sirje. Did the idea of an ego centric, dogmatic, perfectionistic, exclusiveness, with a purgefetish have lasting appeal? Tom Z


(Sirje) #9

Ouch, tj!

My question is on two fronts - If the “best and sweetest” comes from staying in the church, as the writer indicates, why does he assume (is confident) that the majority of his buds didn’t stay? AND - if they didn’t stay, why not?

We all have been to reunions of all kinds - what percentage of our contemporaries are still in the church? With Christian education up the ying-yang, what happened?

My own situation tells me “the best and the sweetest” comes from personal growth and has little to do with staying or not staying in any church. Having said that, I am grateful for the path I took. Perhaps the church is a jumping off place that gives us a direction. How far down that path we choose to go is another matter. Obviously the message we get from our educational institutions is no guarantee it doesn’t lead out the church door.

… so what are we doing about it? The testimonies here (@Spectrum) seem to indicate that the generation to which we are being called back to by the church administration, didn’t work very well. Why are we set to repeat the same mistakes?

This article is lovely testimonial to one person’s spiritual journey; but I doubt the church had much to do with it, based on his own observations. Individual experiences determine the outcome. It’s too bad so many of them don’t pan out for the church.


(Daryll Ward) #10

First allow me to thank you for taking the time to read my few thoughts. I must, however, call your attention to something that did not come through clearly enough. The “best and sweetest thing” about which I speak is something that I have heard. “Staying in the church” is not something one hears. It is something one does, or does not do as the case may be.

So the “best and sweetest thing” that I have heard is the gospel. The church lives or dies to the extent that it is able to communicate the gospel. I suggested, and I think it a pretty good possibility, that people do not stay in the church because they do not hear the gospel communicated there. If they did, I suspect they would stay. Why my fellow Adventists did not hear the gospel is a complex question about which people other than myself seem eager to talk.

But I do want you to notice that it is the gospel that I commend as the best and sweetest thing there is. What part of the Body of Christ that anyone finds suitable is another and far less important matter.


(Elmer Cupino) #11

Boy am I glad this isn’t true in our time.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #12

The Gospel was imported from Luther/Wesley., It predated. Adventism. The best contemporary expression is found in the book entitled The Cross by John Stott. Heppenstall was the clearest among Adventist scholars to teach and preach a pure Gospel. Tom Z


(Drhoads) #14

Daryll, I think what you mean by “hear the gospel” is something beyond hearing it in the literal sense–hearing the words spoken and understanding them intellectually; it also means taking them to heart and internalizing them, and entering into community with others who also have heard the gospel.

Even if the gospel is clearly articulated in words, there are all sorts of things in a community (church) which can interfere with “hearing” the gospel in the sense I’ve described. Intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and conflict in a church can prevent one from “hearing” the gospel even if it is preached clearly.

Am I right about this? Don


(Daryll Ward) #15

Wow, I should have seen this four months ago. Don, you will probably not look back to see a reply but since I have no other way of responding I will do so. Yes, my use of the word “hear” assumes what you say regarding its meaning and even more. The more I intended with the word “hear” is “to comprehend and recognize the truth” of what is comprehended. I suspect my spiritual biography is very much like a great many of the followers of Jesus in that my first “hearing” received it as a presentation of what is wonderfully so. Over time the plausibility of the Gospel grew profoundly questionable to me and over still more time and with the benefit of what intellectual love I was able to bring to bear on the matter I came once again to trust the truth of it.

I understand Paul’s claim about witness to the Gospel in Romans 10 to imply that when people become faithful, that is when they develop faith, their faith comes from hearing. Then he makes clear where hearing comes from, namely the “Word of God” which of course means Jesus Christ and not his letter or any other part of Scripture. So to hear the Gospel is to recognize one’s self as being acted upon by the resurrected Jesus. It just so happens that Jesus acts on people by the witness of others to his activity in their lives, Paul being quite likely the most influential such witness.

And sadly it is also a fact that human frailty drowns out the Gospel, as you note.

With my apologies for my ludicrously tardy response to your query! Daryll