This past week, I had the chance to read Scot McKnight’s newest book, A Community Called Atonement. It is an excellent book, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in grappling with what it means to be “saved” according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The book is a theological discussion, but as he is gifted to do, Scot makes the material engaging and accessible (one of his central metaphors is golf clubs, if that gives you a sense for what I mean).
Scot is a college professor, and in the beginning of the book, he makes this claim: “This generation of students doesn’t think the ‘I’m not perfect, just forgiven’ bumper sticker is either funny or something to be proud of. They believe atonement ought to make a difference in the here and now. Christians, they say, aren’t perfect but they ought to be different—at least they ought to be if the atonement works.”
He then goes on to tell a story of a Christian woman who worked part-time as a nurse in a Chicagoland ER as an example of what he means. He describes her encounter with a “lockdown” patient, someone violent or with psychiatric disturbances, that was brought in off the streets one night. His feet were wrapped in plastic bags, barely disguising mold-covered, puss-oozing feet. She was instructed to take him to the hazmet shower, and though the man desperately needed his feet treated and tended to with a betadine scrub and antibiotic treatment, the charge nurse pleaded with this woman to simply get him into the shower as a bare minimum.
At some point, this nurse was given a deep compassion for this man and she thought to herself: “This poor shell of a man has no one to love him…No one in the ER that day really looked at him and no one wanted to touch him. They wanted to ignore him and his broken life. But as much as I tried…I could not.”
And with this conviction, she laid out all of the tools and supplies to treat his feet, prepared warm towels and a chair, and when he was finished with the shower, she led him to the chair and she knelt down to tend his broken feet: “The room was quiet as the once-mocking security guards started to help by handing me towels. As I patted the last foot dry, I looked up and for the first time N.’s eyes looked into mine. For that moment he was alert, aware and weeping as he quietly said, ‘Thank you’. In that moment, I was the one seeing Jesus. He was there all along, right where he said he would be…”
This story has stayed with me all week, and I am finding myself regularly asking the question: are we people who believe that the atonement works? Does our head knowledge of something cosmic that took place on a cross translate to lives marked by a new spirit within that causes us to see people differently; to say yes to more than the bare minimum in coming to another’s aid; to kneel and touch what is broken and offensive, and to weep over what we see?
Last weekend, a very dear friend of ours flew down to L.A. to serve our family. Such generosity and kindness consistently characterize this friend’s life, and it is not surprising, then, that it is her copy of Scot’s book that I have sat with this week It is also not surprising that one of her acts of service to me was to soak and wash and massage my feet and to give me a lovely pedicure. Anyone who has been nine months pregnant before can attest to the difficulty of merely seeing one’s toenails, let alone cutting them well, and the concept of painting them is just simply out of the question at this stage. I really can’t even describe how magnificent it felt to be treated like such a queen! And every time I catch a glimpse of my glamorous toenails (the only thing glamorous about me right now, for sure!), I smile and am warmed by her thoughtfulness and love.
And while I am nothing close to the condition of the man described in Scot’s book, I can attest to the power of having someone kneel down before you and care for this most indelicate part of the body. It is very, very humbling. It is very tender. It made me want to cry.
My friend’s offering of a pedicure is an excellent picture of the sacrificial love shown by so many to me and to our family these past weeks. As I near the finish line of bed-rest, I am so struck by how radically we have been cared for and loved, and what a testimony that is to how a bunch of people’s lives have been changed and redirected, away from self and comfort and toward sacrifice and the needs of others. In our culture today, the way we have been cared for in our community here is honestly unthinkable. Not even family members will make such sacrifices oftentimes. Yet here, in a little pocket of South Central, L.A., we have experienced deeply the life of atonement: together.
It works. Thanks be to God.