Having taken a detour through CEF/DIL-land, it’s time to get back to the 2019 National Youth Gathering’s theme and announcement. (My prior blog post is here.)
This is the logo they’ve chosen:
My first reaction was disbelief – was Synod really putting something in front of it’s young people that – on initial reading – appeared to be telling them “you have no worth”? I had to read the explanation multiple times before I finally “got” what the real message was – namely that the lower text “There is nothing you are worth less than” was in fact a double negative – which means what looks like a ‘no’ actually means a ‘yes’.
In other words, a logo that initially looks like “you’re worth less than everything else” is actually saying “you’re more valuable than anything else in creation.”
Wouldn’t it be better to just say that instead of coming at it the hard way and risking that your message would be lost or misinterpreted by a casual reader?
Overall the style of the logo reminded me of gothic lettering and coloring I’ve seen used for rock bands and in certain gothic forms of expression. From an artsy perspective the stylized dagger in the middle with the contrasting black & red lettering gave it a visually appealing look.
Now compare that impression to what the author’s intent was:
In the logo, you see the cross within the word “worthless,” and we’re reminded of the blood He shed for us with the use of red lettering.
I’ve learned over the years that if there’s a way for the reader to misunderstand what I’m writing or saying – they will. If I want my message to get from my head into their mind then it’s my responsibility to compose and express my message in a way that will maximize the chances that what I’m saying and what the listener hears and comprehends will be one and the same.
I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to evaluate how the NYG style of messaging performs.
Next up for consideration is the explanation – I’ve bolded all references to the reader, and underlined all references to God.
- Are we actually worthless?
- Well, that depends on your perspective.
- If you look at it from your own perspective, there are two questions to ponder:
- What do you have to offer God? and
- What you can do to make yourself worthy before God?
- The answer is nothing.
- There is nothing you can do to make yourself worthy before God, and
- nothing you have to offer God that makes you valuable.
- The only thing you bring to the table is your sin.
- You cannot save yourself from that sin.
- So, from that perspective, you could see that, in fact, you are worthless in God’s presence as you stand before him a poor, miserable sinner (1 Timothy 1:15).
Reading this text I counted seventeen (17) references to the reader, and only six (6) references to God. All these references are of the “you don’t measure up” type of message and – to me – felt something like this.
I would also argue that this paragraph attempts to equate a person’s inability to redeem themselves with not having any value in God’s sight does not logically follow.
How so? Consider that “value is in the eye of the beholder.” For example, a newborn infant is one of the most troublesome creatures on the face of the earth – they’re demanding, inconsiderate, can’t do a thing for themselves, require constant attention and maintenance, have no manners, continually make a mess of things, can’t clean up after themselves, make inappropriate noises at inopportune times, are extremely self-centered, and provide little of value beyond filling their diapers on regular basis.
And yet the parents of such children willingly put up with this behavior and more. Were someone were to threaten one of these littles ones they’d find themselves on the receiving end of both papa and momma bears and their extended family. Why? Because that child is the fruit of its parent’s love, it is part of their family, and is their heritage from the Lord. Many parents will value their infant’s care, protection, and provisioning above their own lives. All an infant needs to bring to the table is to exist.
So it is with Christ when He accepted the Father’s assignment to save mankind from their collective sin. He didn’t do this because humanity had no value. He did this because humanity has profound value in His sight. And much like a newborn infant – humanity can’t take care of itself and continually needs someone else to do what it cannot and pay the penalty for their collective sin.
As such, it is correct to state that we are “lost and condemned sinners.”
It is also correct to state that there’s nothing we can do which will make us pure and holy in God’s sight.
It is not correct to state or even imply that we have no value in God’s sight.
As can be seen, the NYG line of reasoning mixes the lack of value our good deeds with the intrinsic value we have to God as His created people. This is no small issue because it’s one thing to tell a person “nothing you can do will ever atone for the crimes you’ve committed” and quite another to even risk implying “you have no worth as a person.”
And in point of fact the remainder of the NYG explanation actually supports that thesis:
- If you look at it from God’s point of view, you will see that
- He created you (Psalm 139:13-14), and
- He redeemed you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus paid the price for your sins on the cross, that price being His life.
- In the logo,
- you see the cross within the word “worthless,” and
- we’re reminded of the blood He shed for us with the use of red lettering.
- Our theme verse is Romans 5:8 because it tells you that you are not worthless “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- The King of Kings died for you, while you stood there in your sin, proving that “there is NOTHING you are worth less than!”
Reading this text, there’s a repeat of the double-negative “not worthless” text leading up to that single final line of gospel delivered with another double-negative that translates into “you are worth more than anything in creation!”
If one put this text in front of some random young people of varying degrees of exposure to Scriptures, how many of them would clearly understand the message the author is trying to communicate?
Having said all these things about the NYG explanation I can almost hear the response – do I have a better idea? And in fact I do – the Apostles’ Creed provides an excellent template for writing about the relationship of the sinner to the Creator and what Christ has and is doing for us during this time on earth. As before I’ve bolded references to the reader and underlined references to the Godhead to provide greater emphasis on who is being referred to.
The First Article:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
Q: What does this mean?
A: I believe that
- God has made me and all creatures;
- that He has given me body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
- He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have.
- He richly and daily provides me with all I need to support this body and life.
- He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.
- All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.
In short, everything that we have gotten, currently possess, or ever will get is from our Lord and belongs to Him. Why does He do this? Because He is good and not because of any supposed merit or worthiness on my part. What isn’t explicitly stated but I think is implicitly clear is that if God provides and does everything for me that excludes anything I might try to do on my own behalf – much like an newborn infant child.
This text also takes advantage of repetition – every single bullet point hammers home what God has and is doing for all mankind.
And what does He ask in return?
For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
The Second Article:
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Plate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
This is Christ’s history – where He came from, who tormented Him, how He died, and what He did after He died. This text continues the repetition of who is and has been doing all the work and who will eventually judge the living and the dead – and it isn’t us.
What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.
This establishes Christ’s credentials and the relationship of Christ to the reader as Lord and master.
Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This re-emphasises who is doing all the work and that the reader has done nothing to accomplish his own salvation. It also provides an accurate description of the reader as being “a lost and condemned person.”
But – have you noticed yet – there’s hardly a word about the supposed “worthlessness” of the believer?
This is most certainly true.
The Third Article wraps things up:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
Once again the Apostle’s Creed repeatedly focuses on God’s comprehensive care, provision, and redemption, while there’s only one mention of the reader’s inability to even believe in Christ.
This is most certainly true.
There’s no much one can add to that beyond a hearty “Amen!”
Compare the way the Apostle’s Creed describes the relationship of the sinner to his Maker with that of the the NYG text. I believe the end message of both the NYG explanation and the Apostle’s Creed are remarkably similar – you can’t even begin to pay the price demanded by your sin.
The big difference is that the Apostle’s Creed repeatedly points the reader to an all-powerful, all-creating, all-providing Lord and Savior who is all and does all things that a sinful humanity needs. In this way it relates that everything we have gotten and ever will get comes from a God that redeems us lost and condemned sinners and in so doing earns all who believe eternal life and bliss with Him!
By focussing on Christ and repeatedly emphasizing the comprehensive nature of Christ’s atoning work as opposed to the inability of the sinner to save themselves, the Apostle’s Creed communicates a considerably more positive message.
One last thing before I close – God has wired people to be more attuned to negative information than to positive information. In order to balance content that mixes these two types of messages science has learned that people need a 5 to 1 ratio of positive messaging to negative messaging in order to maintain a healthy balance. Looking at the Apostle’s Creed I think I see a message that follows that standard – lots of focus on Christ and what He has, is, and will do in a manner the implicitly excludes our works, and all that He accomplishes all that in spite of our sinful nature.
Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. Ecclesiastes 12:9-10