Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Cross

Is there anything more central to Christianity than the cross of Christ?  On churches, on jewelery, on tattoos, on clothing--the cross is the symbol that is known everywhere to represent Jesus and what it means to follow him.  But what does it mean, really?  I'm certainly not the only one who is rethinking how the cross has been traditionally understood.  It seems odd though, doesn't it, that all of a sudden there is all this debate about it.  But I have to think that maybe there was always debate about it--I mean, it's such a deep subject.  Because I come from a religious background of such black and whites, (where you were told what was true, and that was that) I assumed that nobody ever questioned these 'truths'...especially this central belief that Jesus was punished in our place.

It's been a shock for me to find that a very clear "Substitutionary Atonement" theology has never really been agreed upon.  I understand why it makes people so uncomfortable to even think about it...there's a fear the meaning of the cross will be diminished or even discounted if you pick at it too much.  In no way do I want to do that.  For me, seeing the cross as a punishment for sin is what diminishes it, and that's why I'm so certain it cannot be it's true and fullest meaning.  And so, I'm going to try my best to present a deeper way of seeing it.  These are excerpts from Hannah Hurnard's book  The Winged Life,  from the chapter "Revelation Made by Jesus Christ".  I think it is the most meaningful explanation of the the cross I have ever found, but I certainly can't 'prove' to you it's true.  All I can say is, when I see it this way, my love and devotion deepens...for God and humanity both.

     "As a young Christian my first conception of God represented Him to me as...high and lifted up and inhabiting eternity.  He was entirely unapproachable by sinners, save through a mediator, his son Jesus Christ.  I knew that He knows everything and nothing can be hidden from Him...but I conceived of Him as cognizant of it all in an absolutely impersonal way, except of those who were brought into a personal relationship with Him through Jesus.  I was quite sure that when Christ arose again and returned to the glory of the Father...he is now past the reach of all suffering.   I can never forget the shock of horror of the very idea with which I reacted to a passage in a book...
     'God knows and is cognizant of all the sin and the horror of its manifestations and results all over the world.  Not a single detail is unknown to him...I can pity, I can sympathize, I can try to help, but then I can come home...and I am away from it all.  But he stays there.'
     With my whole will I longed to reject it--a suffering God instead of the high and lofty one, who had only needed to suffer once in order to atone for all the world's sorrow and anguish.  But God, being omnipresent, must be conscious of it all the time...and feeling it all with the anguish of holy love.  But still, revolutionary as this new idea was, I still thought of Him as suffering from without...suffering in much the same way as a loving and heartbroken father or mother suffers while tending a child in some agonizing illness.  It took another twenty years (when I saw) what our Lord Jesus has revealed about God through his choosing to become incarnate in a man--namely that he is conscious of himself in all men.  Until that moment I had thought of God as conscious of everything from without...but now I saw...he is conscious of it from within.  This is what the saints mean when they speak of God as immanent...immanence, not pantheism. God manifest in the not this stupendous and awe-inspiring revelation which was made by Jesus Christ?  Once, in the fullness of time, when we were able to be shown, God in Jesus Christ revealed himself to us and the truth about himself.  Every part of his incarnation, life as a man, and death on the cross--yes, and his glorious resurrection is a revelation of this truth.  
     The Jewish people found it overwhelmingly difficult to grasp the significance of a suffering God, of the Creator on a cross, just as they were so unable to understand the revelation of the presence of God actually dwelling in a tent of skins...and would not believe he was present and incarnate in a human body.  He was wounded and has been wounded for our transgressions all along...from the moment of the first sin it began to be true.  "Surly he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows", "In all their afflictions he was afflicted"...these passages now take on a marvelous and overwhelming significance, and a host of other ones as well.  Never again can I despise or be indifferent to a single individual that I meet...for I see someone in whom the eternal God and Redeemer is conscious of...feeling and bearing all they feel and bear and all the consequences of their sin and the cruel sins done against them by others.
     Here, at least as far as I can see, is the answer to the mystery of suffering...Love himself is in them, feeling it all, bearing it, crucified and rising to life making himself responsible to undo, in the end, all the results of sin...and bringing forth in his own good time resurrection life out of agony and death."