Tuesday, March 26, 2013
The Offensive Cross
Remember that hymn, the Old Rugged Cross? Millions of Christians have sung that song since it was written in 1913, and when we sang ''I love that old cross, I’ll cherish the cross, I cling to the cross'', we meant it. But that was then. And, unfortunately, this is now.
In between, Christianity has been marginalized by modern culture and dismissed as obsolete, judgmental and arrogant by the world. And those of us who believe that something relevant to all of history happened on that hill far away? That the cross is something to cherish? We’re, at best, narrow-minded.
At worst? Ignorant, superstitious, uneducated fools.
So I guess you’d have to cut Huffington Post commentator Chris Cocca a little slack for his angst about Good Friday. Mr. Cocca said that he, for one, won’t be sad on good Friday.
“I can't feel pathos in the part of the narrative that stresses how hard it was for God to give up God's son…Is it because I expect a God worth having to leave things like wrath to us? Is it because if there's one thing I've learned from Jesus, it's to want more from God than retribution? Is it because I suspect that if God is all the "alls" we say God is, the calculus of Atonement doesn't work? That God could, indeed, forgive us, even in our default, lazy sin, without blood sacrifice?"
Mr. Cocca says,
“The Crucifixion also must mean more. That if any sublime thought or experience I've ever had means anything, there must be something cosmic about this Jesus, something eternally profound about his life and death.”
He’s starting to get it, right?
Wrong. He goes on:
“If Jesus on the cross actually is God on the cross… if God comes to the cross to feel what it's like to be us at our most human, then what if the cross is also God'smea culpa? What if the cross is God's apology for our suffering, what if it's God's self-imposed sentence for allowing entropy, sickness, disease, moth and rust and flame when God, in God's omnipotence, could have set the rules our universe is bound by very differently? … What if the cross isn't our absolution but God's?”
“I can't believe God requires blood oblation for the remission of sins. I expect more from God… I can believe God wants us to live better than we do. I can believe God wants us to give a damn about real justice and real change… I want to believe that God is on the cross, in the tomb, in the rubble of Haiti in ways that matter. But I can't hold those hopes without believing that an all-loving, all-powerful God could achieve God's ends without brutality, entropy, evil, or bloody payback justice. Give me all-loving over all-powerful, always. … … give me the poetry of God's most human moment, of God's great apology, and give me, in Easter, hope that this redeemable God repents, believes, lives so that we might."
Mr.Cocca describes himself as a Christian-ish skeptic. A seminary pastor who doesn’t like church. An agnostic that thinks that if there is a God there, we’ll know Him through experience rather than revelation. And this guy has a Masters in Divinity!
And he’s not alone.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, A Presbyterian Pastor and early liberal voice, said that the doctrine of the blood atonement made Christianity “a slaughterhouse religion.”
Alan Jones, an Episcopal priest and well-known author, said that,
"The Church's fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it. That Jesus’s sacrifice was an act meant to appease an angry God. That the cross as a means of atonement was a “vile doctrine”.
Steve Chalk, a British minister and author, said,
"people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a construct stands in total contradiction to the statement “God is love.” If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and refuse to repay evil with evil. The truth is the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his son are prepared to go to prove that love. The cross is a vivid statement of the powerlessness of love”
And untold numbers of churches across the land have just stopped talking about atonement. They just talk about love and social justice instead.
The cross is offensive.
The problem this bunch has is that the Scriptures say otherwise.
Jesus said that He came to give His life as a ransom for many.
Brian McLaren, father of the emergent church said,
"The church has been preoccupied with the question, "What happens to your soul after you die?" As if the reason for Jesus coming can be summed up in, "Jesus is trying to help get more souls into heaven, as opposed to hell, after they die." ... I don't think that the entire message ... can be boiled down to that bottom line."
Jesus said that He came for one hour—the cross. (And if you claim to worship Him, you should at least give some credibility to what He says. Right?)
The Scriptures say that,
“without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) ESV
And there’s the rub. Jesus Himself, as sinless as He was, without blood, would not have saved us.
Our own repentance, though we flood the earth with our tears? No effect.
Our own good works? Ditto. Filthy rags.
“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
Funny. These kind of “Christians” (using the term loosely) don’t seem to have taken God by surprise.
Paul seems to anticipate this development:
"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (I Timothy 1:15) NKJV
Why, exactly, does the remission of sins require blood? I’m not sure. Paul points out that the covenants required blood—and the covenants involved the shedding of blood to bring home the gravity of the covenant commitments. But I agree with Mr. Cocca in that I think there is much more to it than that.
I think it is one of those things that we’ll see clearly when we are face to face, and probably spend eternity contemplating.
And I also agree with Mr. Cocca that the cross is offensive.
But when I say it’s offensive, I mean as in “a means of attack”. God created the world, and called it very good.
And then it was corrupted.and at the very moment that sin entered, God promised a redeemer that would win it back.
Christ’s death on that cross was the victory.
Revelation 5 paints a future moment in which that victory is finally complete:
“Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”… Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,And to open its seals For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood.”
The people of the earth were enslaved to sin, and God declared war. And the cross was His definitive offensive play.
The Lamb of God was slain, and took away my sin. And yours.
The cross is foolishness to the world.
"Because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom." (I Corinthians 1:25) NKJV
I won’t be sad Friday either. But I will sing The Old Rugged Cross:
“that old rugged cross/ so despised by the world/ has a wondrous attraction for me/ In that old rugged cross/ stained with blood so divine/ a wondrous beauty I see.."
Call me a fool.
I’m not sure what to call the man who thinks God needs to apologize…
Last week: Jack of Hearts