This post and its subsequent parts have been merged into a single post. You should read that instead.
There is only one story in the universe.
Occasionally I'll find a badly told story, which still attempts to convey the message of Christianity. Of such works I've said "you can't blame it for not being the universe", for that is what is required to tell that story well. God is the original storyteller, and he uses every part of the entire universe to tell us this one story, to send us his one message. All other stories are but retellings of small snippets of this very long and very great story.
We call this story the Gospel: the one story in the universe, and the central message of Christianity.
I will attempt to explain this Gospel in this post. I apologize beforehand for it not being the universe.
The Gospel is simple, as it must be if it's the one message that God has for us. I can summarize it in three words: Christ saves sinners. The Gospel is also complicated, as it must be if it's a story told with the whole universe. Fighting, torture, escapes, true love, and miracles all have a part in it. So let me begin by expanding that three word summary ("Christ saves sinners"), starting with the easiest word to understand, "sinners".
By "sinners", I mean people like me. Immortal souls bound in ephemeral constructs of flesh and blood, aware of their physicality yet knowing that they're not just a lump of matter. In our bodies we are bound to the circles of this world, yet we have an inkling of something beyond it, of something more. For we were gifted by the One Father of All - the source of all goodness - with his breath of life. We were made in his image as his children, intended to grow up to become like him. But we - that is to say, I - have abused this very gift, and have deliberately chosen to defy God and disobey his divine laws. That is sin. Its consequence is death.
Why is the consequence so serious? What harm could one small imperfection cause? Catastrophe. In an otherwise perfect system designed for infinite growth, every flaw is fatal, especially in a critical subsystem like morality. God, in his love for us, created us with unlimited potential - to become like God. His laws were decreed to help us develop into that destiny. Sin is the rejection of all that: it's violating his laws, discarding that divine destiny, and becoming alienated from God himself. And because of our unlimited potential, sin also grows without limit. For a rocket with infinite thrust, any error in its heading sends it infinitely far off course. In a boundless forest, a small fire causes an everlasting conflagration. In an organism that grows forever, cancer results in infinitely large tumors. In humans, sin causes endlessly more sin, which is endless separation from God.
We would not have this problem if we were just rocks, or cows, or even space-faring aliens who are merely fated to rule the stars then perish with the universe. But we are humans, created to be like God. We were the chosen ones. We were supposed to be the pinnacle of creation, not fallen sinners. But precisely because of that greatness, when we fall we fall deep into darkness, deeper into sin, leading to death. Like a debtor who borrows to pay the interest on his debt, like an alcoholic who drinks to deal with his alcoholism, we keep sinning, even in our attempt to do good. Sin begets sin.
Without intervention, we are thereby forever separated from God and therefore from all goodness. Sin infects us and turns us evil. It alienates us from God and makes us into his enemies, the objects of his rightful wrath. But in our folly we have attempted to convince ourselves that it's not that bad, that we're good enough, that we're not really sinners. But this attitude is actually the very symptom of our sinfulness. Sin makes us numb and blinds us to further sin. Consider the people you know. Judge them, if you think yourself qualified. Are not the worst kinds of people convinced that they're good? God is the standard of goodness, and one of the first consequences of falling away from him is that we can no longer rightly discern what is good. Oblivious to our own evil, we blindly stumble from sin into more sin.
We - that is, I - thus find myself in this pit of despair: estranged from God, and therefore also from all good things that might possibly enable me to return to him. Fixed to a doomed trajectory that I am powerless to change. Infected in my moral core with sin's ever growing evil. Even my attempts to be good are tainted with sin, and my righteous deeds are themselves like filthy rags. Who shall save me from this wretched body of death?
The next post of this series will continue from that second word in the three-word summary, "Christ saves sinners".
You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 2) (Next post of this series)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)
Science as evidence for Christianity (Summary and Conclusion)
Another post, from the table of contents