Posts Tagged ‘the cross’

I could never myself believe in God

August 17th, 2010

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 13: Suffering and Glory

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.”

This quote is found on the back of my library’s copy of The Cross of Christ. I’ve seen it every time I grab the book to read it–and, quite frankly, it has always mystified me.

Sure, if it were not for the cross, God would be a very different God than the God of the Bible, since the cross is the crux of all Scripture (pun partially intended!) But does that mean that I could not believe in Him? I don’t know. I mean, He would still be powerful and in control and creative and so on and so forth. Surely I could still believe in Him. Couldn’t I?

As I said, that quote puzzled me.

But then finally, in the very last chapter of the book, I found the quote’s origins. And then I understood.

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples…and stood respectful before the statue of the Buddha…a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Stott is not speaking of whether or not he could believe that God exists without the cross but of whether or not he could believe in Him–that is, whether he could place his trust in this God.

A God who is incapable of pain, who is merely a detached observer, cannot be trusted. A God who cannot be touched by suffering is a God who can heedlessly cause all sort of suffering. And we would be right to rail at Him: “What are we,” we might say “but pawns in a game, moved about to suit your purposes without any regard for our suffering.”

But the God of the cross is ultimately worthy of trust. For He has experienced our pain, has borne our pain, has drunk the full dregs of God’s wrath. He has suffered at man’s hand and at His own father’s hand. And it is He, who has for our sakes experienced pain beyond our comprehension, who now calls us through the pains of this world to take heart for He is using these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, to work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (II Cor 4:17).

I could never myself trust in God, if it were not for the cross.

Yet because of the cross, I can make no better choice than to entrust my all to Him who bore my suffering.

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

WiW: The Cross and Society

July 12th, 2010

The Week in Words

I’ve been reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ and making notes over the past few weeks. Then I found a couple of articles that seemed to go along with what I’ve been reading…

Michael Horton on The Cross in Today’s Discourse:

“In contemporary discourse on the atonement and justification, Hunsinger judges, ‘The social or horizontal aspect of reconciliation…eclipses its vertical aspect.'”

“In much of evangelicalism today, the emphasis falls on the question “What Would Jesus Do?” rather than “What Has Jesus Done?” Jesus provides the model for us to imitate for personal or social transformation.”

I can see the growing emphasis on the horizontal aspect of the cross–how the cross impacts our behavior towards others–in much of my reading, blogwise or bookwise. Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, particularly, seems to emphasize this a good deal.

And it is true that the cross impacts our relationships with others. But is this the whole story?

C.S. Lewis rightly decries the notion.

Screwtape (Lewis’s fictional older demon) on how to tempt a Christian:

The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [=God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner.”

If the cross becomes merely a means by which society can be changed, the cross loses its power and the enemy has succeeded to a large degree.

What then is the cross’s impact?

Michael Horton (again) on the essence of the cross:

“Christ’s penal substitution is not the whole of Christ’s work, but without it nothing else matters.”

We cannot primarily look upon the cross as an example we are to follow, but as a completed work, accomplished by Christ on our behalf. We cannot primarily look upon the cross as a means by which to transform society, but as the means by which God the Father and Christ the Son transformed us from sinners to saints, from enemies to friends, from abandoned orphans to adopted sons.

Yes, we should attempt to take up our crosses and follow Christ. Yes, we should seek to follow Christ’s example in our daily lives. But unless we recognize the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, we will have lost the transformative power of the cross.

Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

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