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.)