8/21/2008 8:44 AM
1. The cross is the death of ideology. The cross provides the critical principle which de–centers our preoccupation with both individual and corporate concerns. It calls into question any ideology that would use the Gospel to further its own ends. Anthony Thiselton has written: “The cross is a scandalous reversal of human expectations and values . . .. In the theology of the Fathers, as in that of Paul, the message of the cross challenged the corporate constructs, expectations, and wish fulfillments of communities or of individuals as a scandalous reversal of human expectations and values. Far from reflecting pre–existing social horizons, the cross and the resurrection gave birth to new horizons, which in turn effected a cross–contextual liberating critique and individual and social transformation. This is a far cry from the notion that communities can only project their own images onto texts, thereby to construct their meanings.” (Thiselton, p. 7)
The cross provides the church with a anti-ideological bias that protects the Gospel from being blown about by any number of contemporary cultural winds or co–opted by any number of alternative faiths, religious and secular.
The cross also protects the church from both utopianism and cynicism, because it keeps in view that the resurrected one remains the crucified one.
Likewise, the cross helps the church to understand its life and discipleship in other ways than by the canons of success and power that the world so values. It teaches the church to recognize its true hope in the God who raised the dead from the illusory hopes the world holds out for both individuals in the face of death and for human history in the face of futility. I once heard William Sloane Coffin tell a group of pastors, “If you don’t want to be so disillusioned, don’t have so many illusions.” Christian faith which deemphasizes the cross is prone to just such disillusionment about its projects and hopes. But the cross functions as the critical principle that separates illusory hopes from the true hope that rests in trust in the God who raises the dead.
So the church is able to live in real hope only because the cross has taught it where properly to look for hope. Christian hope lies beyond all human endeavors and accomplishments and beyond all possibilities inherent in the natural world. Christians love the world God made and for which his Son gave his life, and we work and pray to make it more like the kingdom to come. At the same time, we know that our true hope lies only in the God who raised the crucified, who is the God who raises the dead. Such hope transcends both personal death and cosmic futility. From the cross the crucified God reigns over the future, and his suffering love will overcome all things.
2. The cross shows God’s solidarity with all human suffering including suffering caused by human violence. On the cross Jesus suffers an agonizing death, but perhaps more than his physical suffering was the anguish he experienced by the total abandonment of the One he called Father, which he expresses when he cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Psalm 22:1)
In this experience of abandonment Jesus knows solidarity with all human
suffering, and if we take his divine nature seriously then God knows this, too, and in some sense experienced it on our behalf, and by doing so redeemed it, which we can only see in Easter hindsight. So not only did Jesus suffer (which is what passion means) but his suffering and death are not incidental to the glorious story of divine atonement and human redemption but quite literally crucial.
Now some of the critics charge that the cross exalts human suffering, and encourages people to accept it. We must admit that suffering, in and of itself, is not redemptive, and so we should be careful not to romanticize suffering. But suffering is such a universal feature of the human condition that surely it must be good news to know that our God understands our suffering, and in Jesus, was himself “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Copyright ©2008 Richard Floyd