Voices: The Radical Affirmationist

By Doug Stevens

I was embarking on a long, cross-country flight, settling in for some uninterrupted study to prepare for a message I would be giving on Sunday. The plane was full, and quarters were tight. It took me a few minutes to maneuver myself and my materials into position. Not wanting to make a scene, I slipped my Bible discreetly between the pages of a popular gossip magazine on the tray-top and went to work. Finally, lots of time and no distractions.

But we were jammed into the row shoulder-to-shoulder, and it wasn’t long before my curious neighbor interrupted my train of thought. “So, what book are you reading?” he asked. In our initial small talk I’d already learned that he was a frequent flier, successful in his work, and sophisticated to the point of being cynical.

“Oh,” I said, somewhat defensively and stalling, “it’s, uh, um … I’m reading the Bible.” It sounded like a confession.

“The Bible …” he said. “You must be very religious then.” His instant conclusion sounded like an indictment, an expression of disappointment as if he had originally pegged me as a peer. As if he had hoped for an intelligent, worldly wise conversation.

“No, not really,” I protested lamely. I pictured the image he might have of a “religious” person. Otherworldly, ritual-bound, rigid in thinking, viciously self-righteous. Truth be told, that’s how I react to the term.

I wanted to correct whatever assumptions he was making, but how? Identify myself by the name of my denomination? Tell him I’m a “fundamentalist”? I do believe in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, but the term seems beyond redemption. Evangelical? No, too politically charged.

I stared at my Bible in desperation for several seconds, focused on the words of the passage that was my text for the coming weekend. The lines from the 2 Corinthians 1:18-20 suddenly seemed relevant: “As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”

“Actually,” I said to my seatmate, “I call myself a Radical Affirmationist.“

“A what?” he guffawed, looking something between shocked and amused, his body shifting towards me as much as our cramped seats would allow. “Never heard of it. What do they believe?”

“Neither have I!” I wanted to confess. I wanted to admit that I had made it up, that there was no “they.” But I figured he would think I was some kind of crackpot, and that would be the end of the conversation. So I pressed on.

“I believe that at the center of the universe there is a resounding ‘Yes!’” I stopped for a moment, then added, “I believe in the God who says, ‘Yes!’ I believe in the God who always says ‘Yes!’”

He looked at me skeptically. “Always? How can you say ‘always?’ What about the Ten Commandments? What about all those “Thall shalt nots?'”

He had a point. Perhaps I had gone too far. I wondered whether my extemporaneous outburst misrepresented God? But I was on a roll.

“I believe that God always says, ‘Yes!’ … except when he says, ‘no'”

His bewilderment transformed to smugness as he interrupted me. “But he only says ‘no’ on the way to ‘Yes’?

“Yes,” I continued. “But he only says ‘no’on the way to ‘Yes!”

The two of us spent the next forty-five minutes trying to figure out what I was talking about. We sat there,  a preacher and a skeptic in accidental pursuit of an elusive, essential, extreme truth –  “What is God up to in this world?”

The question has remained with me ever since that day, “What does it mean that God always says, ‘Yes!” and to what exactly?

It is a “Yes!”  to all the promises God has made, – promises that correspond to our deepest needs, answering our most pressing questions. The human quest is universal and so is the invitation to embrace and revel in God’s unexpected, unexceptionable “Yes!'”

Am I loved? Every celebrity and every recluse needs to know. Yes! “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Does my life have a purpose? The famous and the forgotten need to know. Yes! “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The question has remained with me ever since that day: “What does it mean that God always says, “Yes”?

Can I be forgiven? The respectable and the reprobate need to know. Yes! In excruciating pain Jesus prayed from the cross for his tormentors—the well-meaning and the mean-spirited, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Is there a reliable hope when the odds are overwhelmingly against? The optimistic and the melancholic need to know. Yes! “My hope comes from God. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6).

Can I find joy in the middle of the mess? The extroverted and the reserved need to know. Yes! “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

What about my physical needs? Yes! “Do not worry about your life—what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…your heavenly Father knows that you need these things” (Matthew 6:25-34).

Can I get direction for my everyday life? Yes! “If anyone lacks wisdom, she should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given” (James 1:5).

The impression that the privilege is for members-only provokes God like nothing else. The divine “Yes!” must be shouted not hushed; openly shared not hoarded; directly and specifically applied not simply acknowledged; actively lived not merely enshrined.

Jesus Christ is God’s “Yes!” When God sends his Son on this personal mission to a planet running on entropy, he is broadcasting a clear signal that must not be missed, to a world that is oblivious.

In the face of Jesus, we see God smile. In his voice, we hear God’s tender concern. In his arms extending to the weak and the lonely and the outcast and the cynical, we feel God’s invitation and protective power. “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

At the end of our in-flight conversation, my partner asked, “Why haven’t I ever heard this before? I would have to check out a church that looked like this, and I’m practically an atheist.”

If he crossed your path or checked out your church, would he be engaged by God’s Yes? Will we become the experienced confirmation -the “Amen” – of God’s life-giving promises in Christ?

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