April 20, 2014

The Reconciliation Of The Cross

Jesus buriedSo let’s get this clear: it’s for My own sake that I save you.
I am He who wipes the slate clean and erases your wrongdoing.
I will not call to mind your sins anymore. (Isaiah 43:25, The Voice)

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day we remember the Passion of the Cross of Christ. We will remember it if we perhaps attend a Good Friday service. We may spend a bit of time meditating on the passages of Scripture that show Jesus being tortured and crucified. We may even watch Mel Gibson’s Passion Of The Christ again. We won’t spend too much time on the death of Christ, though. Death is boring. We want life—abundant life. We want the fun of the resurrection. Tomorrow we wear black, while Sunday is for bright colors and “He is risen indeed” greetings. Tomorrow we will not greet fellow believers with “He is dead. He is dead indeed.”

We rush past the death and burial of Jesus because there is seemingly nothing in it for us. If there is no resurrection, says St. Paul, we are just a bunch of miserable people. And so we are. We are lousy, miserable SOBs who turned our backs on our Creator and went our own way. And worse yet, we somehow have convinced ourselves that God felt really sorry for us and sent Jesus to die so we might maybe possibly come back to God. See? we think we hear God saying. I love you so very much I sent my son to die for you. Now will you believe me? Please oh please oh please come back to me. And now it is all up to us whether we can be bothered with this most Divine Act. We live life so bass ackward it is a wonder why we have eyes that look forward instead of to the rear.

I have some news for us all. The Cross is not for us. It is not about us. The Cross is about Jesus. It begins and ends with the Son of God. The crucifixion of the Christ was not a patchwork plan by the Father. It is not Plan B to make up for failed Plan A. The Cross was God’s plan from before the Big Bang. The death of Jesus is as much a part of creation as is the Horsehead Nebula or flowering redbud trees or ripe red raspberries. It was God’s plan all along for the Creator to become a creation and to die. He did this not for our sakes but for his.

And the question before us is this: Why? Why would God spin the entire magnificent universe into existence simply to end up dead on a tree that himself made?

Let’s get one thing straight right away. When Jesus died, he died. I think, since we know that he rose from the grave, we tend to think his death was no big deal. It’s like we think Jesus just took some time off. A three day weekend, as it were. But the Cross is not the Cross if it did not mean the end of the life God. When they took the body of Jesus down from where it had hung and bled, there was no longer any life in it. The resurrection is not a miracle if Jesus didn’t die. And if his body died, so did all of him. Where there once was a carpenter’s son named Jesus, there was now a lifeless and thoughtless body.

This is vital if we are to get even the smallest glimpse of God’s purpose in all of this. (I really don’t think we can get more than a tiny glimpse of the purpose of the Cross, no matter how long or hard we look at it.) Jesus’s thoughts ceased. Where there once was a mind, there was now simply a void in space and time, a black hole of nothingness. Do you see this? When Jesus cried out his last on that Good Friday the Temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom. There was another tearing, another rending in two at the same time. Where Jesus once held thoughts in his mind, there was now a parting of the sea of consciousness. A sea of terrible nothingness lay beyond that veil. And that is where God has cast our sin—into the sea of nothing.

 I am He who wipes the slate clean and erases your wrongdoing.
I will not call to mind your sins anymore.

Where did our sins go if they are beyond the knowing of the omniscient God? How can God wipe clean the slate of our wrongdoing? Isaiah says God will not “call to mind” our sins anymore. How can this be? Could it be that in the moment of his death God placed all of our sin—and his thought of our sin—into the void of the mind of Jesus? Could it be that in the rending of Jesus’ thoughts our sins—all of our sins, past, present and future—were placed forever beyond even the reach of God in that sea of nothing? (This idea was birthed in me from Robert Capon in his book Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace. He articulates it much better than I ever could.)

My sin, however, is not just a part of me. You can’t just lop off sin like scraping off a wart. My sin goes all the way to the very core of my being. If, then, my sin is cast away from God into this sea of nothingness, that means all of me is cast there as well. I and my sin cannot be separated, at least not in this life. It is the wheat and the tares. Rip up one and the other comes up as well. So in choosing not to call to mind our sins any longer, is God saying he is choosing not to hold us? Is he casting us away from his presence forever?

God casts our sins away from his thoughts, yet God holds everything. There is nothing beyond his grip, not even nothingness. Nothing is not beyond him. Thus for all eternity God must hold our sins in the dead mind of Jesus. For ever God will hold me as a sinner, as dead as Jesus on the Cross. God is reconciling all sin in nothingness, nothingness that could only be reached through the everythingness of the Cross. Thus I become nothing, as from before creation. In order to live I must be born again. And this is only accomplished in the resurrection. But for all eternity there is the death of sin in the mind of Christ. And for all eternity there is newness of life. There cannot be one without the other.

And so why did God do this? If he knew we would all sin and fall short of his glory, then it seems the Cross and the resurrection was just a charade for our entertainment. Something to make us feel better about ourselves, to lift our self-esteem out of the dirt. Really? Is that really why Jesus suffered and died? Was the Passion simply God playing a mulligan with us, his creation?

Or was there a deeper reconciliation going on? Is all of creation, every star, every galaxy, every black hole somehow pointing to something we cannot yet see? Is all of human history—every war, every civilization, every kingdom—somehow a part of a symphony only God can hear?

So let’s get this clear: it’s for My own sake that I save you.

Does God owe us, his creation, an explanation? He says he did this for his own sake. I don’t believe I will ever know why. If I can ever get my arms around God’s why, then I can be sure it’s not God.

Sunday will be here soon with candy and dyed eggs and spiral-sliced ham. But let us not rush past Friday with bitter wine and darkness and death. We do not see clearly now what God is reconciling through the Cross, be we can see God in the Cross. He is there. And he has rescued us from nothingness for his sake.

Happy Good Friday.

Comments

  1. Travis Sibley aka BigLove says:

    WOW! That is simply an amazing piece, Jeff!

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us all. It is humbling to look at it this way and seems so very right!

  2. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Space trilogy. The failure on earth–the Fall from Grace, Crucifixion is all part of something unique, and essential, and of vast importance to the whole universe.

    This is a good post, but I’m not sure all of this is planned. I think it is and isn’t–it is kind of a cosmic Plan B. If the fall is intended, the failures of the Hebrews, the betrayal, and crucifixion are all intended, it seems like a bit of a fraud. I think the plan was for us to stay in Paradise, or failing that, to for Israel to obey God, or failing that, for us to follow Jesus.

    But of course we didn’t, and maybe wouldn’t. There was the snake, and sin, and idols, and Satan. But I don’t think it was meant to be, exactly. That also makes it seem like just a show. As you say, it isn’t just a show. God didn’t just push around little pawns and pretend to die. God came to us, and we killed God. This is the absolute worst possible outcome of all. What then happens, is that God redeems our utter and complete failure. God turns Satan’s seeming victory on its head. To grasp the truth of this remarkable Resurrection story, I have to realize the horrible reality of how we played into Satan’s hands and failed God, not simply accept how we played along with God’s secret plan, seeming to err, but really just doing what He wanted all along.

    I’m not sure it isn’t for us. The incarnation holds a deep sense of the importance of our little, short, brutish lives.

    • I tend to agree with EricM on this. I’m not so sure God created us just so we could fall and then have the Law faiil and for Him to then have Jesus come to Earth to die for us. I think God’s intent was for us to NOT sin and remain with Him in paradise, then for us to follow the Law, and now for us to find salvation through Jesus. That we would screw up His intent was known…but I don’t think He created us just to fall again, and again, and again still…just so He could put this plan in play.

      Then again…what do I know…LOL.

  3. Death creates two abominations; a corpse and a spook.

    For our sake, for three days God became both; inert matter and unbodied energy

    “He descended into Hell”

    • That one line of the creed is so loaded with meaning. He didn’t get dragged there passively against his will. He lay down His life, and He took it back up again.

  4. All of that (all of this), that we might be reconciled to Him, for Jesus’ sake.

    When I take an honest look at myself in the mirror, I can’t imagine why (God has done this).

    But, He made us. He must really love us.

    Wonderful piece, Jeff.

  5. Lynn MacDougall says:

    Thank you so much for these thoughts. The veil, the darkness, the nothingness… The mystery and the not needing to know. The something we cannot see – and that is how we believe God is God. Words put to my thoughts- so encouraging.

    I am new to Internet Monk- Jeff, your posts on brokenness and suffering and, particularly, depression have been very meaningful. The scandal of Shepherdless Flocks was outstanding and especially meaningful to my pastor / shepherd husband and me as we have been journeying through a wilderness of what it means to love those God gives.

    Could, you tell me if the painting above is De Grazia?

    Mercy and blessed Maundy Thursday

    Lynn MacDougall

  6. Sometimes I am envious of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. He didn’t try to understand what Jesus was going through. He didn’t have to worry about whether he was “happy” enough to be a believer, or had enough “enthusiasm”. He didn’t worry if he had “enough” faith to pass the test. Or if he was going to the right church, or thinking the right thoughts, or doing the right things to really “appreciate” what Jesus was doing for him. He just asked Jesus to remember him, and that was enough. So as I get nauseated by that pressure to be grateful, happy, and and enthusiastic enough as other Christians this Easter season, I pray that He will remember those of us that don’t quite get the “Christian” life sometimes, who get down, who don’t understand God all the time, but need Him anyway.

  7. Recently we have spent some time looking at the word “hesed’ which if I may, speaks of the meaning that speaks of “lovingkindness”. We see this word used many times in God’s Word. It refers to God’s covenant which God declared as keeping his portion to save us from our sin nature that we cannot do. Most belivers (I hope) know that even as Christ-followers/believers, we are the covenant breakers through dis-obedience. Yet God stays true and perhaps that is why I find this season the very peak of our Christ-heritage. Please excuse my lack of theological terms and complete understanding. “Hesed” then is the under-lying reason of the cross . . . “it is for My own sake I save you”.

  8. Dana Ames says:

    …for God’s own sake.

    When I think of this, I think of what St John wrote: God is love.

    I believe the cross can be for nothing else but for the sake of love –
    the truly free self-giving of a being who can will and act (a Person).

    Lots I could say, but for now, silence.

    Dana

  9. Very well written. There are two sides to the scandal of God’s grace, the unconditional nature but also the motivation from within the God-head, not external. I continue to struggle with this as I read Rob Bell’s new book. He makes some very profound comments, but then come backs to the theme of God ultimately being for us and wanting us to flourish. This is repeatedly held in contrast to the views of God as angry and wrathful – sending storms and earthquakes to punish people. I continue to view both dicotomies as wrong. This article supports that. Viewing God as motivated by wrath or motivated by a “wet-slobberly-kiss” love both seem decidedly man-centered; a vew of God as saving his creation for his own sake is God-centered, but very difficult to comprehend.

  10. Jeff–I’m a longtime lurker around here and a huge admirer of the writing you bring to the Internet Monk. Thank you.

    I’d like to ask one question in the hope of clarifying how we should think about what I take to be a central issue in your piece: what’s the sense of ‘for the sake of’ at work in Isaiah 43.25? Here are two in which one can do something for the sake of oneself:

    (1) for the sake of one’s own *good*
    (2) for the sake of one’s own *purposes*

    I don’t think you want to say that Isaiah intends (1) because this has some troubling implications. For one, it is questionable whether it makes sense to speak of God doing anything for his own good because God is perfect, lacking no good. More urgently, however, is that (1) is incompatible with God’s acting lovingly toward us because love is other-regarding (e.g., ‘love does not seek its own’). This issue comes up in discussions of eudaimonistic ethics because eudaimonism holds that all good actions are for the sake of one’s own well-being, but many good actions require that we act for the sake of others, even to the point of not regarding one’s own well-being at all. If eudaimonism required that we *think* of all our actions (e.g., loving ones) as being for the sake of our own well-being, then it would be self-defeating because some actions (e.g., loving ones) which are constitutive of living well would be impossible. So if Isaiah intends (1), then God’s acting for his own sake excludes the possibility that God is acting from love.

    Perhaps Isaiah intends (2), then. This option is preferable because it is compatible with God’s acting lovingly. In other words, (2) is compatible with God’s acting for *our* good. That all seems fine, but it does imply an important sense in which the cross *is* ‘about’ us’ namely, that it is for our good. The reading, then, is this: The cross is for the sake of God’s [loving] purposes, which includes our good. So I am compelled to say, “In one way yes, but in another way no,” about the claim that the cross isn’t about us.

    I think that there are textual reasons to think of the Isaiah passage in the way I have just suggested, as well. 43.22-24 rehearse all the things which Israel has failed to do which would ordinarily be thought of as being transgression-wiping (and in fact how Israel has done exactly the opposite). So when verse 25 rolls around, God can be read as saying that it isn’t *for the sake of* (perhaps read ‘on account of’) anything you are doing, but it is *for the sake of* what I am doing that I wipe away your transgressions (for the sake of your good because I have chosen you, as we see in ch. 44).

    So, what do you think? I suspect that I am not disagreeing with you here, but I want to get a good grip on in the text and the biblical story more generally and on what your piece brings to bear on them. Thanks again!

  11. “If I can ever get my arms around God’s why, then I can be sure it’s not God”. I think that this kinda says it all. Thankful that He doesn’t let us figure it out. He is dead, He is risen. Hallelujah!!!

  12. Can you tell us who the artist is and the name of the painting?

  13. We certainly do have our propensity to see everything God does as “for us” with “us/me” being the center of all that is and will ever be.

    It doesn’t do damage to God to also understand that what he does “for my (God’s) own sake” is also ultimately for “us”. God is a self-sufficient community of mutual love. Love in purity seeks to draw “the other” into that same relationship. Love is expansive, not parochial. That is why Paul wrote;

    What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

    Especially when we understand ourselves as “in Christ” — Paul’s favorite theological descriptor– we are better positioned to understand that “God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself”.

    Good post, Jeff.

    T