Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What is the Cross Anyway?

Since a couple of dear friends totally messed with my theology and basically set the whole thing ablaze a couple of years back, I found myself pondering the most elementary questions of my faith. Now approaching Easter, I was struggling with the answer to this question, posed by my almost-seven-year-old. "Why did Jesus die for me?"

After discussing the matter at length with my best friend, I felt Papa shed a little light on the subject.

Picture a starting point. The Garden of Eden. Paradise lost. We are communing with God. We are given free choice. We choose independence.

From that point, we begin to part our ways. God continues on His perfect path, and we set off on our . . . well, imperfect path. The place we were never meant to go. "Trespassing" where our feet were not created to tread.

Now picture these paths looking something like the letter "V" ~ our path growing gradually further and further away from His. Now, for anyone who wants to go back to Him and walk with Him on His path, they will need a Bridge. They cannot cross the chasm on their own.

God has the answer. And the cross is the only way.

Rather than think of the cross of Jesus as being the picture of God's wrath being unleashed on His son to appease His anger, what if we looked at it like this: The cross is the picture of God Himself crossing over to our independent path and taking upon Himself every consequence of every sin (independent act) that had been committed or ever would be committed (remember the path only gets further and further away from Him.) What if this was about Jesus, Almighty God, rising from His throne, taking off His magnificent robe, setting His eyes like flint, and entering wholeheartedly and unreservedly into the most gruesome and horrible fate imaginable, taking upon Himself all of the consequences that would ever lie ahead of us on our own independent journey away from God.

In that instant as He cries out, "IT IS FINISHED," a fiery path is cut from one path to the other and a bridge is made for whosoever will accept His gift. He cries out, "you do not have to see how this story ends. You do not have to suffer under the unavoidable consequences of your choice to live independently from Me. You do not have to suffer that pain. Accept that I have suffered it in your stead. Lift your foot. Walk across my bloodied back. I have lain myself out as a bridge for you. Re-join Us on the path that you were always meant to walk."

Never again can we raise our fist to God and say, "you don't know! You don't understand!" For He did not ask us to suffer the consequences of our choice for independence alone. Instead, He came here and suffered right along with us. In fact, He took every consequence of every bad choice upon Himself. We can look at His face and see His passion and know that we are never alone and that we have seen the face of a love that has conquered death for all time.

So I looked at my almost-seven-year-old and said, "Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn't have to pay for our choice to be separate from Him. He paid so we could come back home." And this time I knew a little bit more about what that meant.
*painting above by Judy Ross*


  1. That is a fantastic illustration. Simple. Beautiful. Powerful. True.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. It's funny how, having grown up in the church, this is a lesson I too feel I've just recently learned to any significant extent.
    With ever more to learn...
    That's a nice image though, the V and the cross, very poignant.

    - Foster

  3. Ah, such a good discussion. The cross is so much more than we were ever taught in Sunday school... and so hard to explain at the same time... and yet you have summarized it so beautifully. If only we could embrace this simple truth that our independence from Him is sin... and a consequence which hinders us so thoroughly!!! Especially in how we relate to Him, and our understanding of who He is. Not just who He is to us, but who HE IS. Brilliant post Janna ;)

  4. This is something that as a parent of two young children, I have never been able to wrap my mind around.

    Sugar coat it as you will, you are essentially telling your seven-year-old that she is so guilty, so personally culpable, that the only way she can be absolved of her personal sin is for an innocent and perfect Man to be tortured to death. According to the theology, were it not for that substitutionary atonement, your seven-year-old would actually deserve that punishment herself.

    It's often easy enough for us as adults, knowing our own sins, to accept that we "deserve" such punishment ourselves in some way. But following this theology to its logical conclusion in young children -- obviously guilty of nothing more than throwing the odd tantrum -- I'm left feeling far more confused about God's "love" than I was before becoming a parent.

    Not just confused, really. As a parent, this makes me angry.

  5. Dear anonymous,

    I believe appeasement theology makes a lot of people confused . . . and angry. How do we trust that God is a loving Father and at the same time that He is willing for loved ones to be burned alive? The two cannot coexist.

    For me, I was actually unable to really accept the whole "punishment" thing even for myself, mainly because I managed to conduct myself in a fairly non-abusive way for most of my life. And I certainly couldn't accept that my children or my non-believing friends deserved such horror.

    I don't view the cross as an appeasement of God's wrath. I view it as the greatest rescue story ever told. I don't know that I "deserved" hell, but I do know that I needed rescuing from the path that lead away from Him. Of all the things I am thankful for, the most dominant is that my baby girls will know the Great Rescuer.

  6. Hi PaulandJanna,

    Thanks for your response. As much as I try to re-picture the situation as one of rescue instead of appeasement, I can't make the crucifixion fit.

    It still seems to me you are teaching your children that they have such a serious problem (call it sin, call it walking down the wrong path, call it whatever you like) that the only solution was for God to torture his own son to death.

    In other words, it's not the need for rescue that I necessarily have trouble with. It's the means of rescue that seem so beyond barbaric as to be merely silly, especially in our case where it is a small child allegedly in need of "rescue" in this manner.

  7. Anonymous,

    I totally feel your pain (for lack of a better word) ~ perhaps part of what has confused us is the notion that God tortured His son, rather than the reality that God Himself suffered for us. That Jesus was God in human flesh, suffering for the whole of our existence.

    Is it possible that we are limited by our earthly timeline, not presently cognitive of eternity? That perhaps the revelation that Jesus sees eternity and the end of our paths from the beginning would help us to grasp, even slightly, the need for the Great Rescue, even for a small child??

    I read a really great book once, called "He Loves Me" by Wayne Jacobsen. I would highly recommend it, if you're interested. It helped me immensely when wrestling with these issues.


  8. Hi PaulandJanna,

    Thank you again for posting my questions on your blog and for taking the time to thoughtfully respond.

    I think your point about God's eternal perspective on our lives is a good one. But it sounds like you are conceding that a young child is truly innocent and that the need for redemption can only be understood from God's lifelong perspective. Or in other words, that redemption is from the consequences of choices the child hasn't yet made.

    This does make a certain theological sense, but at the same time it makes an honest and helpful answer to your child's original question seemingly impossible! Darling, God had to kill himself to save you from the very bad choices you are going to make over the rest of your life. Possibly truthful, but hardly helpful or edifying.

    Anyway, I hope I've expressed myself clearly. What got me originally thinking about this was a song you may have heard called Here I Am To Worship. There is a line in the middle that goes I'll never know how much it cost / To see my sin upon that cross.

    One day I was listening to a recording of this song sung by a choir of children. It struck me suddenly that, theology aside, these young children were singing about how their own personal evil necessitates redemption by God's bloody self-crucifixion. I understand the theology and your own take on it, but it seemed at the time -- and still seems -- downright awful to blithely teach children to sing about how evil they are. This is something I simply cannot square with my own experience of the world as a parent, regardless of how bullet-proof the theology is made to seem.

  9. LOL, well I think the more I live, the less bullet-proof any of our theology is! When I hear my girls chiming in to that song you mentioned, my heart goes to a different place. I think, "wow! Are they getting this?" I think we err if we put the emphasis on our own sin or on the sins of our children. The emphasis for me is, "child, you are worth DYING FOR."

    Isn't that in all of us somewhere? That question?

    I don't know about you, but I've found my kids to be more perceptive than most of the desensitized adults I see around me. They seem to have this "knowing" that something isn't quite right without Jesus. They seem to already KNOW that they need rescuing. Perhaps that would be the "God-shaped" hole inside of each one of us?

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