Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cross: God As An Iconoclast Of Himself

At the cross God deconstructs many of our notions of what God is like, and in their place shows us a being whose very essence and nature is love and who is truly affected by creation.  This is where the rubber meets the road in Christianity.

Around mid afternoon, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “My God … my God … why have you abandoned me?!?”

This soul-wrenching plea that Jesus makes is a cry of utter despair, given when it feels like all hope is lost, and justifiably so. Jesus had been arrested, mocked, and beaten by religious hypocrites, then grotesquely whipped and sentenced to death by the wicked empire that those scheming religious leaders collaborated with.

Jesus‘ closest friends had all scattered. He is being blasphemously mocked by the crowd. Jesus is midway through the dying process; his torn flesh bleeding profusely and repeatedly congealing to and being peeled from a bare wooden surface. He is hemorrhaging brain tissue from the crown of thorns that was smashed into his skull.

The spikes through Jesus’ wrists and the one pinned through both of his feet are sending searing pain through his entire body - as they freshly tear through his muscles and nerves with each excruciating attempt he makes to lift his entire body weight to draw a breath.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus says, “My God” and says it twice. In quoting the lament from Psalm 22, Jesus is protesting the fact that someone who he has close relationship with is noticeably distant in his time of abandonment and torturous pain. It was a most natural time to cry out those words.

I’m sure that every one of us have had times where we also felt like God had forsaken us - times of tragedy, illness, and loss - times when we’re in valleys of the shadow of death.

In these times, we often echo Jesus’ protest. We demand to know why we suffer so painfully. We protest how the bad things that keeping happening violate our sense of justice - things like heartache, disease, abuse, corruption, racism, hatred, and violence. We cry out to a God who often feels distant when we feel abandoned.

Jesus - crying out in such a desperate state, brutalized and bloodied to a pulp - tends not to look very much like God to us. We’re used to picturing God as transcendent and “up above” it all somewhere. And we’re used to a limited, cynical understanding that sees strength and power as operating in terms of control, command, and dominance.

But when God willingly entered into the human pain and suffering we experience, it showed us an entirely different idea of strength; a power shown in vulnerability, which is the greatest kind of strength that there is. In Jesus, we see the truest picture of God; a loving servant whose approach to the universe is one of sacrificial love - which is the greatest kind of love that there is.

This doesn’t mean that there are easy answers to the difficult mystery of suffering. It still hurts. It still feels unbearable. We’re still tempted to wonder why God won’t supernaturally intervene. It still violates our sense of justice.

But what Jesus’ suffering on the cross shows us is that God voluntarily chose to leave the glory of heaven and genuinely participate in human suffering. In doing so, Jesus made the realities of suffering, pain, humiliation, and death part of the life that God lives as the Trinity.

At the cross God deconstructs many of our notions of what God is like, and in their place shows us a being whose very essence and nature is love and who is truly affected by creation.  We see a God of compassion, which literally means “to suffer together.”

This is where the rubber meets the road in Christianity. This God of grace is not only capable of but is - quite literally - dying for genuine relationship with creation!