The Glorious Serendipity of the Gospel’s Comic Turn

Gospel
Dr. Warren A. Gage, The Alexandrian Forum President

Read the Passage: Genesis 3:20

Serendipity is a splendid word that captures the essence of the gospel’s movement from suffering to glory (Luke 24:26). Its formal definition is “an unexpected yet pleasant outcome.” It is the familiar “blessing in disguise.”

The effect of this unexpected redemption upon our guilty souls is one of deep and profound irony. It astounds us. It amazes us with wonder. When we expect “poetic justice” to be charged against us, we are shocked instead to discover God’s plan for us is “poetic mercy.” The mercy of grace is serendipitous!

In the biblical world, where resurrection is the great reality, we discover a “comic turn,” a transition from the tragedy of death to the comedy of new life. Classical Hellenistic drama, which is the imaginative background of the New Testament world, divided life into tragedy and comedy. Tragedy typically ends in social disintegration and death. However, comedy ends in social integration and the opposite of death, which is a wedding. The wedding is the opposite of death because it is the joyous promise of new life. This insight of the Greek dramatists corresponds to the trajectory of the apostles’ vision of the end times. The Gospel of John traces the suffering of Jesus that ends in his burial in the grave. But Jesus’ resurrection is the “comic turn” that changes everything! John’s Apocalypse ends in the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

 

Gospel's Comic Turn
FLORENCE, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 23, 2017 Domenico di Michelino Dante Divine Comedy Painting Duomo Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore Church Florence Italy. Painting created 1465

The Divine Comedy

Jesus is the Lamb who was slain but who rose again. It is a comedic worldview wherein all things will end in celebration. Blazing light will extinguish darkness. The Hero will triumph over evil, and life will swallow up death itself. The greatest poet ever given to the church was Dante Alighieri. His insight was that the Christian worldview is inevitably hopeful. He called his great poem “The Comedy,” but the world ever since calls it “The Divine Comedy.”

Redemption is the fundamental spiritual truth in this all too solid material world. Divine grace is as unseen, irresistible, and inexplicable as gravity itself. It is the invisible force that moves everything. It is deeply ironic and deeply astonishing at the same time. Grace is the guilty soul’s shocking discovery of the kindness of God, who calms the terrors of our dread of judgment (Romans 2:4).

We expected God to threaten us with the thunder of his just wrath against us. But instead, we see the smiling figure of a man who stands humbly at the crossroads of life. He turns us away from the broad path of destruction and points us toward the narrow way of salvation. Along our way we look back in gratitude and notice that the man who pointed out our way gestured with a nail pierced hand (Revelation 1:17).

Traditional Christian theology celebrates “amazing grace.” When condemnation is deserved and feared, mercy comes unexpectedly — amazingly — instead. When Adam was under condemnation and feared death “in the day” that he ate of the tree (Genesis 2:17), he overheard the oracle of the Lord foretell that his wife would yet be “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). The tragedy of Adam’s fall that day became the comedy of redemption. It was judgment’s “comic turn.” It was the serendipity of the hope of new life on the very day Adam was condemned to death. Adam learned what Jeremiah would much later declare out of his own perplexity, namely that God’s purposes for us are thoughts of peace and not evil, of a providence that intends a future for us filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

The irony of Adam’s redemption

The irony of Adam’s redemption was hidden in God’s just word of condemnation. The first man was reminded that he had come from dust and that now he would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). But in the ironic justice of Adam’s death there was hidden the serendipitous prospect of amazing grace, for if God had originally made Adam of dust, could he not reconstitute Adam in resurrection out of the dust of his own death? (Daniel 12:2).

Biblical judgment is most often oracular in form. It is ironic, like ancient oracles, and often contains an ambiguity, also like ancient oracles, that is the basis of its irony. The ambiguity can be a word of condemnation that can be construed in a redemptive way. For example, the people of Jerusalem brought a terrible curse upon themselves when they cried out to Pilate, “His blood be on ourselves and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). Foreseeing the judgment of condemnation that his innocent blood was to bring upon the Holy City, Jesus admonished the women of Jerusalem to “weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). But that curse also contained an ambiguity. The same blood of Jesus could be invoked to bring remission of sin to all of those who asked for Jesus’ blood to be upon them for mercy — both for themselves and for their children. The result was that the curse became the blessing promised by the apostles, that by Israel’s repentance the blood of Jesus would fall upon the people not for damnation, but for salvation. So the Apostle Peter promised Jerusalem that a bloody remission of sin could be offered “to yourselves and to your children” (Acts 2:39).

 

The serendipitous door to new life

If a man dies, asked Job, will he live again? (Job 14:14). If he can, then death is the serendipitous door to new life. After Jesus was resurrected, he came forth from the grave saying, “Fear not!” (Matthew 28:10). All of us feared the prison house of death until we heard the Savior say, “Arise! I have the keys of the grave and death!” (Revelation 1:18). Death, which swallowed up all mankind, would itself be swallowed up in the victory of life over death (1 Corinthians 15:54). The Prince of Life died for all in order that all in him might never die (John 11:25). When we hear this word of assurance, we are profoundly moved by its irony and astonished by its grace. The singularly sovereign Savior is able to take condemnation and make it mercy. It is the alchemy of divine forgiveness. The iron law of justice is transformed into a golden grace. Redemption, then, is serendipity indeed.

 

Dr. Warren A. Gage, Th.M., J.D., Ph.D. is president of The Alexandrian Form, which provides life-changing Biblical teaching. © 2020 The Alexandrian Forum  Read more by Dr. Warren A. Gage at goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-warren-gage/

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