Skip to content

Log Out


Good Letters

Kintsugi-bowl-honurushi-number-32Continuing a little bit what I started with my essay “What Is a Christian?,” I’ve been thinking about how I might articulate the good news of the gospel to myself and perhaps begin to comprehend it.

Theologically, I know basically what the gospel is. And if you ask Google, it returns a Wikipedia page that describes the Christian gospel as “the news of the coming of the Kingdom of God…, and of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection to restore people’s relationship with God. It may also include the descent of the Holy Spirit upon believers and the second coming of Jesus.”

That seems pretty straightforward and would fly in any church I’ve been a part of. But sometimes for a lifelong Christian, this can feel more like old news than good news. Occasionally, it even feels like bad news when I’m overwhelmed with questions.

I grew up believing and believed for a long time that a Christian should have an unassailable apologetic for every point of doctrine. I’m not blaming my childhood church or saying this was explicitly taught, but that’s how I perceived sermons and conversations and our way of talking about “witnessing.” Somehow, as far as I observed it, being “prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within you” got easily turned into “be prepared to win arguments, and start them if there’s an opportunity.”

That’s what I believed a solid faith and a true understanding of the gospel was: a clear apologetic arrived at by flawless logic. And with that, a correct position to hold on every social issue or life circumstance—the assurance of being right.

When this way of having religion no longer held up for me in the light of experience and real relationships with people who believed differently, I worried I was losing faith and maybe needed to leave the faith. Did I believe in enough of the right things in the right way to stay in the church? It’s tiring to try to keep up your perfect positions in light of every new question and issue that arises. I gave up.

It used to be that when I read the gospels, whenever Jesus deals with “teachers of the law” I identified with Jesus and the disciples. The Pharisees were Them and I was Us. Now I’m pretty sure I should be identifying much more with the Pharisees.

I don’t know how I missed that Jesus didn’t come to tidy my moral positions or give me talking points on complicated social and theological questions. Any decent public speaker can do that. Instead, Jesus comes into a messy world in a messy way and seems to make it messier. He is not about the fine art of de-cluttering and doesn’t leave a pristine coffee table with a tiny vase holding a single perfect orchid.

No, there is stuff everywhere.

That’s the kind of good news that can sometimes feel like bad news, because the last thing I want is someone or something coming into my cocoon of control and messing stuff up. As tiring as it is to keep beliefs orderly, there can be some comfort in it, too. If there weren’t comfort, religion would not be as popular as it is.

And religion is popular. Even if people are leaving churches, religion is still desired in the form of perfect diet and nutrition, perfect application of technology, perfect correctness in the vocabulary used to talk about culture, perfect simplicity, perfect money management, perfect et cetera.

But the apparent comfort that comes with perfectionism quickly turns on us and can become anxiety and depression and despair—or self-loathing or self-righteousness or self-judgment. That is definitely bad news.

Yet, as I get used to letting my faith be in an ever-greater state of disarray, the sense of it being good news has unexpectedly grown. Here comes Jesus. He, God incarnate, stands at the door and knocks. Or just kind of lets himself in. He sits down in the middle of all the clutter and asks a bunch of questions:

Who do you say I am?

Will you follow?

Will you love this person, this place, this work?

What are you afraid of?

It’s not a neat interaction and the questions aren’t easily answered—except for the last one. The good news is that the answer to that last question becomes, “Nothing,” once I start letting Jesus be the perfect one.

Ironically, I don’t think this way of thinking about it would have gone over well with the Good News Club teachers who were trying to teach eight-year-old me how to witness to my friends with the Wordless Book Song, but a living faith at forty-four is a lot different from one at eight. I want to grow with my faith, not out of it. Letting go of my answers and the anxiety of no longer having them is feeling more and more like good news every day.


Image depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

+ Click here to make a donation.

+ Click here to subscribe to Image.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr is the author of five novels for young adults, most recently The Lucy Variations, which the New York Times called “an elegant novel.” Her sixth, a collaborative novel with Tara Altebrando, came out December 2013. She’s a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner. Her books have been variously named to annual best books lists of the American Library Association, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, The Guardian, the International Reading Association, the New York Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library, and have been translated into many languages. In 2010, she served as a judge for the National Book Award. In fall 2014, she received a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at

Receive ImageUpdate, our free weekly newsletter featuring the best from Image and the world of arts & faith

* indicates required