Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, there was a lot of things that were just swell. One was my oldest brother’s comic book collection. He had nearly all the early Marvel comics. I read and re-read all of them many, many times. My two teenage sons can’t understand how their old nerdy dad knows so much about Spiderman, Captain America and the Avengers.
I mention my early reading habits to say, I never really grew out of graphic novels – don’t you just love the fancy name for comic books? I am almost ashamed to say that through high school, I never read a book that didn’t have pictures.
When I got to college, I finally discovered real books, and became quite a reader. However, I still avoided authors and subjects I felt might be too much for a comic book fan. So, I never read a lot of books that I thought might be beyond me.
In seminary and my adult life, I picked up some authors with much fear and trepidation. Some legendary theologians such as Dietrich Bonheoffer intimidated (intimidate) me to no end. One such author was Karl Barth. I was always afraid; I just wouldn’t get what he was saying if I tried to read him.
If you sat down and named the 25 greatest theologians of all time, Barth might not be number one, but he would sure be on that list. He was the author of innumerable books, wrote maybe the single greatest commentary of the Book of Romans, single-handedly wrote and presented, in the middle of Nazi Germany, the Declaration at Barman that bravely declared that Christ is not the Head of the Church, and not Hitler or anybody else.
The story goes that as Barth was coming to the end of his long and unparalleled career, one student asked him, “What is the central theme of your work? The library has stacks of your books; you have pondered God in Christ for all your life. Can you sum up the gospel message in one sentence?”
You can just see the serious faced students sitting at the edge of their seats; pencils poised over the paper ready for, well, brilliance.
Barth didn’t hesitate; he smiled slightly and sang, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so ... ”
Wow! Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. This is the most important message ever!
We don’t need to be great readers or deep thinkers or big brains to understand that one – do we? Hopefully, you have always heard it from parents, pastors, and church school teachers.
“For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.” — John 3: 16
“A new command I give you: Love one another. I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” — John 13: 34-35
“Having loved His own who were in the world, Jesus showed them the full extent of His love.” — John 13:1
Steve Nofel is co-pastor at Montezuma Valley Presbyterian Church.