The Weak Bridegroom and His Disreputable Bride


In terms of how the physical world works, Christianity is absurd. The world is hell-bent on accomplishing anything and everything by the exertion of power, force, and violence. But, Christianity asserts that God declares the whole power game won by losing. Instead of sending a preacher to declare that with enough exertion the kingdom of heaven can be realized on earth, the Father sends Jesus to reconcile the world to Himself. God simply drops dead to the whole subject of direct force producing eternal results, and stretched on the cross, He shuts up once for all about how the world can be saved from sin and death.

God does not strong-arm anyone into the Resurrection. He gave up on that method as far back as the Flood. He even put up a rainbow for Noah and his descendants as a reminder of His promise never to do anything like that again. Why? Because forcing someone to repent and believe is no way to maintain a relationship. Threats of judgment and death, although possibly effective in the short-term, cannot compel a person to cooperate. God can drown us, open the earth up to swallow us, send an army to execute us, but it cannot cause a single person at the core of their being to stop sinning and right their wrongs. And yes, Jesus does on occasion lash out in anger, but God's final word on the whole matter of how He will reconcile the world to Himself is settled passively at Golgotha.

This is why, when Christianity is tuned-up to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that the world rejects Christianity. God invites the world to believe that bare-knuckled force never had and never will convert anyone to our cause. During the Middle Ages, whole villages were baptized and converted at the point of a spear. And yet, people still worshipped their gods, they just made sure to do it when the local priest was not looking. The Church has also done many, many good things through the exploitation of state power too, but at the end of the day, the truth of history is that when it has acted with force and violence to carry out its mission, the results have been less than productive for winning sinners for the kingdom. The pews may be full and the coffers clanking with coin, but sore butts and bloated budgets do not make a Christian.

The Church is sent to proclaim the foolishness of a God who died for us and who directs us (in His ultimate work of divine passivity) to consume Him so that we may live forever. We are not sent into the world to erect cathedrals, hold potlucks, or fill out the budget by way of twice a year youth carwashes no matter how productive they may be to the overall physical health of the congregation. The Church is sent into the world to preach the foolishness of God that is wiser than all human understanding (1 Corinthians 1:25). A message which, we are assured, is foolishness to Jews and idiocy to Greeks.

When the Church seeks then to follow the way of the world, employing her resources to force growth, well-being, and sufficiency "in the Name of God", she becomes just one more earthly institution more concerned about respectability and influence than the truth of the Gospel; that the weakness of God is stronger than any human being. That passivity, not power, is the Way into the wedding feast of the Lamb. In this proclamation the Church is then free to be faithful, to embrace the absurdity of its message, to cherish her absurdity and lack of respectability. She is set free in Christ, in short, to revel in her irrelevance to the ways of the world's power and wisdom.

She [Church] is set free in Christ, in short, to revel in her irrelevance to the ways of the world’s power and wisdom.
— Donavon Riley

When she operates at the margins of society Church is free to pursue her God-breathed mission. She announces the scandalous Good News that in Christ Jesus all sinners have a place at God's table. All people in all places are found, not lost, so far as our Savior is concerned. The whole rag-tag mass of humanity, ghettoized and written off by the power-brokers and deal-makers of this world, are home free in Savior Jesus. The Church embraces this cosmic, timeless absurdity. She pursues her mission like a young lover pursues her beloved. She latches onto her Bridegroom's promises, egged on by His selfless love for her, and runs headlong through the world in all her bedecked absurdity and irrelevance inviting everyone she meets to the party.

In the end, the Church embraces her weakness, the impracticality of her Lord's patience with sinners, letting their wrongs be—even if it costs her the respect of others who advertise the Church as a kind of ad-hoc rehab center for morally compromised people—so that all those who are considered infidels by the wise and powerful of the world may join her in her mission, looking forward in hope to the day when every tear will be stopped and all mourning is turned into joy at the trumpet sound, in the blink of an eye, when our Bridegroom comes to carry us home.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'.



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