Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reflections on the Cross

"What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life." -Henri Nouwen  
Paul wrote, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, "The cross is just stupid to those who are being destroyed. But to those who are being healed and rescued, the cross is the power of God."  Perhaps the irony and utter backwardness of this passages is lost on us. Sure we've heard this passage preached, perhaps too many times, as a argument against our critics when they've pushed us into a corner - "they think it's foolish because they're being destroyed!" But what is Paul really up to? He saying that the cross is the power of God... the cross? really? Isn't the cross, in a concrete sense, a symbol of weakness? What is the cross if it isn't others exerting power over God? It's powerlessness if it's anything! It is helplessness if it's anything! About the cross, Jurgen Moltmann wrote, "God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness" (The Crucified God, 205). How can we look at a poor man dying and say, there's victory or there's power? But I think that's the point...

The cross is foolishness... it is so completely backwards from what we've come to embrace as power. But I actually think we're hungry for a little foolishness. In this world of coercion and oppression, where power is defined in our ability to get our way, to step over others, and to control our situation; I think we're hungry to look at the suffering in this world and see a little victory, a little power, a little hope. In this world which has become all too aware of its finitide and the conditions of suffering, I think we need to see some power in powerlessness. If we take the cross seriously as a display of power, if we take it seriously as a way to carry ourselves in the world, then it can do nothing if it cannot change everything! As C.S. Lewis said, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." If we really can see the face of God in that man on the cross and if we really can see such work as a means for salvation, then it's just got to change us, inside and out. It's going to change how we do business. It's going to change how we handle problems. It's going to give us courage to love people we never thought we could love. It's going to be trasformational! It will transform powerlessness into power. We will begin to see God in the midst of our suffering, declaring resurrection. And we will see God in those who suffer, giving dignity to the broken and filling the meaninglessness with meaning. 

But the tragedy of the church is that, too often, rather than taking up the cross for what it is, rather than let the cross be an ironic and paradoxical symbol of power displayed in powerlessness... in the offering of life instead of the taking of it... we replace the cross for something else altogether. We take Jesus off of it, we dare not see our savior so vulnerable, so helpless. We make it into a symbol of our brand of power, not a power ironically discovered in helplessness. We pretty it up and decorate it with glamour and opulence. In the name of relevance, we change the cross itself and forget the death of Jesus. We follow the way of Constantine and we try to conquer and coerce under the banner of the cross and we call it Christianity. It seems easier to control people than to love people and so we count the true cross, the cross of the helpless Christ, as foolishness indeed. 

What if we really let the cross speak for itself? What if we allowed it to be as powerless and vulnerable as it really is? What if we trusted God enough to simply take up the cross and offer ourselves to others, give ourselves in love, even to our enemies? To do this may sound foolish, it may seem counter-intuitive, but if we trust, then it may indeed be the power of God and we may indeed find victory, healing, and salvation.  

“Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

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