So Voxo gave me the almost certainly impossible yet irresistible (at least to me) challenge of talking about what ‘actually happened at the cross’.  I’m not entirely sure what Voxo is requesting, and the cross is an area too big to capture, especially in one post but here is what i’ve been thinking about so far.

There has been huge debate about the technicalities of the cross. Debate deep enough to cause factions among the body of  Christ (which is a little ironic to me what with the cross enabling reconciliation and all…).  Nonetheless, it is a weighty issue (and I am definitely ill equipped, so these are just my personal musings).

From what i can see the two main controversal issues surrounding the cross are about what happened to us (the justification debate); and what God was like in the moment of the cross.  Not surprisingly, the two are linked.

If we hold to the view that at the cross double imputation occurred – where Jesus took on our sin and then also transferred his moral record of righteousness to us – we then tend to infer that our righteousness is a requirement for membership in God’s family the way a prestigious college might require 600 points on the leaving cert for admission to the course. Like we have to be ‘good enough’ to get in, and we cant do that by ourselves so God makes us ‘good enough’.

In this sense we come to attribute God’s wrath and hatred of sin (poured out on Jesus at the cross) to his disapproval of sin, the way the queen might disapprove of a hair in her soup (except way more extreme!).  We presume that God’s concern for our righteousness is because he desires our perfection as an end in itself.  We presume that someone like HIM could never associate himself with someone like US and so the cross makes it possible for us to become like him, reach his standard so to speak.

We view the cross as though it were a loophole allowing God to be true to his hatred of sin and yet true to his love for us at the same time.  It’s as though God looked at us, loved us, wanted relationship with us but he couldn’t just ignore our sin.  It’s like with one hand he was drawing us towards himself and with the other hand he was destroying us.  It’s like God was so ‘wound up’ because of our sin (because sin irritates him so much) that he had all this pent-up aggression which had to be released, but if he released it on us then he’d have to deny the part of him that actually loves us but if he couldn’t express his wrath he’d have to deny his commitment to holiness.  Because God couldn’t have his cake and eat it too he poured out his wrath on Jesus rather than us, that way he could still be a man of integrity.

But here’s the problem… God’s is not a person/being committed to holiness, He IS holiness.  God is not a person/being committed to love, He IS love. I don’t think the cross was the solution to God’s personal confusion or schizophrenic tendencies.  I think we have got so much so right, and yet the part i think we may have misunderstood when we talk about what happened at the cross is the ‘why?’ of God’s wrath and hatred of sin. The out workings dont look much different but there is something significantly different about it.

God doesn’t hate sin because it pisses him off or because it makes him unable to love us or like us.  God’s desire to deal with our sin and make us righteous isn’t because he’s obsessed with perfection per se.

Sin is death. It is the absence of life, the absence of God.  God hates sin not because it disgusts him, he hates it because his deepest desire for us is to KNOW HIM and sin blocks us from truly experiencing and knowing God and therefore it robs us of our ability to live the life that is truly life.  It robs us from being and doing what we were created for… being loved by God.

God doesn’t hate sin because he is a pompous, legalistic, arrogant being, he hates sin because he loves us with a fury and passion that we will never understand.  He hates sin FOR us.  He hates it like we hate the cancer in the body of our friend.  He hates it because its robbing us of life, of him.

On the cross therefore, Jesus was not a substitute punchbag upon which God took out his bad mood at humanity (did someone mention cosmic child abuse? *wink*). The purpose of the cross wasn’t to provide a dumping ground for God’s wrath, the purpose of the cross was the battle between God and the sin that destroys us and robs us and divides us.

We need to be justified, made righteous not because God is unable to love us unless we are but because unless we are we will never be able to truly know God or receive his love for us and therefore we will never be able to fully love him which is what we were created for.  That is why God is concerned with it.  He fought and won the battle with sin on our behalf and we get to live in the fruit of that through his spirit.

The cross gives way for relationships to be restored and reconciled both with God and each other because the sin which stops us from loving and being loved has been destroyed in Christ and if we are in Christ we participate in that reality and life.

The cross isn’t just about the reconciliation of individuals, it’s about the renewal of all things through his body which is the church.

NT Wright puts it like this: “God must curse everything that thwarts and destroys the blessing of his world and his people.”

So yes, Jesus still has to die, but the image of God as he sends Jesus to the cross i think becomes a significantly different one.

… nervously posted by transfarmer.

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8 Comments on “Cross-ed.”

  1. Clairebo Says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are a person with very beautiful instincts, and you should continue to listen to them.

    Thanks for this.

  2. […] from a quite remarkable post: God’s is not a person/being committed to holiness, He IS holiness. God is not a person/being […]

  3. Anon Says:

    Hmmm. This sounds like the Christus Victor theory of the atonement to me… a cosmic battle between good and evil. It may not be penal substitution, but it ain’t much better. I still don’t understand how murder becomes a transaction of salvation for the entire history of humanity.

  4. Anon Says:

    I wonder instead, following on from how beautifully you describe God’s love for humanity, and God’s hatred of sin, or that numbing inclination towards self interest and self destruction which we seem to have, if the reason for Jesus’ death was the way in which he lived and loved so radically. He looked death and the empire in the eye… he looked for those on the edge of the picture, those whom society ignored, he took risks in who he loved and spent time with, and he refused to submit to a regime which wanted to dominate and squeeze out all sense of freedom. In doing that, he was sent to death, and in the face of death, he stood firm, his final act of resistance and courage. I believe that the radical, salvific moment is in the life of Christ, not the death, but that his death is the inevitable part of the story. Any thoughts?

  5. Anon, if that is your real name: Christus Victor is an orthodox and legitimate metaphor for what happened at Easter.

    Furthermore, what has been outlined here is a straightforward Thomistic account of penal substitutionary atonement. There is no need for the Transfarmer to be nervous posting such paleo-orthodox thought.

  6. transfarmer Says:

    Thanks for your comments. Anon, I’m not entirely sure i understand what you’re asking so please forgive and correct me, but it sounds like you’re resisting the idea that the cross was God’s will and instead hoping that the only reason Jesus died on the cross was because people hated him for living life the way he did. I’d want to resist it too if i thought that the cross was God’s murder of Jesus. But the cross was a battle between God and death itself. A wise friend of mine constantly says “our enemy is not our enemy but rather enminity itself is our enemy”. God wasn’t having a battle with Jesus on the cross, he was having a battle with sin and death itself in and through Jesus who because he was the only one without sin was the only one in whom the battle could be fought and won. That’s why Jesus death offers salvation to the whole world, because the sin of the whole world is defeated in Christ. does this help answer your question?

  7. LN Says:

    Anon – “I believe that the radical, salvific moment is in the life of Christ, not the death, but that his death is the inevitable part of the story.”

    I think that by believing that, you’re kind of doing away with large chunks of the Old and New Testaments, no?

    “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”. Sin requires sacrifice (which is not murder) in order to be dealt with. Jesus said Himself that no-one would take His life; He would lay it down of His own accord. The cross is not just one thing, of course, but one of the things it is is the self-sacrifice of Jesus which was NECESSARY for our reconciliation to God.

    God didn’t murder Jesus so He wouldn’t have to murder us. Everything about the cross springs from love. The Father’s sending of His Son to suffer and die, Jesus’s laying down of His own life – all of this is motivated by mutual love within the God-head which overflows to love of the world.

    I think if you keep “love” and “sacrifice” in mind, the death of Jesus isn’t only the inevitable consequence of His life on earth – it is the climax and purpose of it. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”.

  8. Anon Says:

    I’m back. Just to say thank you for your thoughts and explanations. I’ve been deliberating on this one for a long time now (I’m talking years) and I’m STILL thoroughly confused by the notion of salvation for all of humanity through a necessary death. However I’ll continue to read and think and talk and hope that one day something falls into place. peace.

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