As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples at the foot of the cross. The man you saw heal the sick and raise the dead now seems unable to help himself. The teacher you thought was the son of God is now suffering the curse of hanging on a tree. His life, miracles, and even his entrance into Jerusalem all aligned with the Law and Prophets as the promised Messiah who would reign forever. As his life ebbs away, you wait for angels to burst on the scene for some miraculous deliverance. The seconds tick away as he struggles for his every breath. With loss of blood and hours hanging by nails, he is getting weaker. Suddenly, your hero screams out that he is forsaken by God. Then he breathes out for the last time.
At that moment, everything you thought you knew about God would shatter. Here is a man who was attested by God with mighty works and miracles. Now God has abandoned him suddenly. The teaching and powerful signs that pointed to Jesus as the Messiah now end with him abandoned as an imposter. The Law and Prophets constantly speak of rewards for obedience and punishments for disobedience. Yet Jesus was the perfectly obedient servant of God suffering the ultimate punishment. As his lifeless body now hangs from the tree, you cannot help but wonder, “What happened?”
The cross is the black hole of theology. It is a darkness from which no light can escape. It sucks in all mortal expectations of God into a singularity where all our ways of making sense of the world, the rules of logic and reason no longer apply. It’s no exaggeration that Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).
Even for us today, the darkness of Christ crucified remains mystifying. In the cross, God no longer makes sense to us. His loving kindness, goodness, mercy, promises, and justice are all upended in allowing his own Son meet such a horrific end. The conundrum of the cross struck me once while reading Romans 3:25-26:
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Most translations will use “righteousness” instead of “justice,” but this translation better reflects the repetitive use in the original Greek. Four times in two verses the cross is “justice” that “justifies” so God would be “just.” At this point, the gravitational pull of Christ crucified began to swallow all my mortal conceptions. How is “justice” served by the righteous dying for the unrighteous, the sinless for the sinner, the innocent for the guilty? By what stretch of the imagination is “justice” defined by him who knew no sin to be sin for us?
Beyond justice, the challenge of the cross extends into God’s other attributes. We know that God is love. But what sort of love would stand by and watch Jesus suffer and die in the worst way? More than once during Jesus’ ministry the heavens opened and declared Jesus to be the “beloved” son. What sort of father would allow such an atrocity to befall his beloved son?
We know that God is powerful, but the cross appeared to be a display of powerlessness. God never leaves nor forsakes his people, but his own son appeared to be forsaken at his most desperate moment. God rewards righteousness, but the perfectly righteous Christ received the accursed punishment. God is for life, but the cross is death. God leads goodness to victory, but the cross is the triumph of evil.
The cross is where all common notions of God become spaghettified by the incredible gravity of God’s only beloved son dying the death of cursed sinners. Who in their right mind would follow Jesus? Why would anyone believe he is the way to God when he died apparently forsaken by God? Who would want this God as their father when this is how he treats his children? How can we possibly trust the God whose love and justice includes this atrocity?
The Christian faith’s most pivotal doctrine is how the cross is not the end of the story. Jesus rose again on the third day.
If the cross is a black hole, the resurrection is a supernova of light. He not only succumbed to death but defeated death forever. He not only submitted to injustice but won justice for sinners. He was not abandoned indefinitely but only for a moment.
Those who follow Jesus, taking up their crosses after him will share his victory. Our crosses will not be the end of our stories either. If you follow Jesus, you will carry the weight of the world’s opposition, the devil’s oppression and your own flesh raging. You will have moments of wondering, “What happened?” There will be doubts and moments of weakness, but persevering with Jesus means a glorious victory at the end of your story.
The cross and resurrection show God’s love and justice are aiming for greater ends than what we ourselves can see in the moment. We will have many Fridays in life where God does not make sense, his love and justice are nowhere to be seen. When a young mother suddenly dies or mental illness robs a wonderful person of humanity, when a loving relationship crumbles into spite or a child is caught in the grip of substance abuse, weeping and lamenting are the natural response. Yet even as the tears fall, we know as followers of Christ that an empty tomb is on the other side of every cross.
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Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight