The God That Failed

Our God lies in the tomb this day. He has been cru­el­ly tor­tured and mur­dered. His fol­low­ers, those to whom he had revealed his glo­ry and pow­er through­out three long years full of won­ders and truth, have scat­tered and fled, hud­dled togeth­er in fear, all hope drained from them.

Yet as Chris­tians we believe, not that Christ’s defeat was short-lived, but that he was nev­er defeat­ed at all. The unspeak­able suf­fer­ings of the cru­ci­fix­ion were under­tak­en by Jesus, not inflict­ed upon him. He did not endure his tor­tures; he embraced them. His suf­fer­ing was excru­ci­at­ing, but it was suf­fered with unfath­omable love, the love he held — and holds — for each one of us. The cross was the vic­to­ry of Christ, not his defeat, his unan­swer­able rebuke of hatred and sin and death. “Nails were nev­er enough to hold the God-Man fas­tened to the Cross had love not held Him cap­tive first,” writes the late John Car­di­nal Wright in his mag­nif­i­cent lit­tle vol­ume of reflec­tions on the Sev­en Last Words (Words in Pain, p. 44).

Today, the cross is indeed still “a stum­bling block” and “fool­ish­ness” to the world. Even many Chris­tians find the image trou­bling, won­der­ing what sort of God could will such a thing to occur, how this hor­ri­ble death could have any place in our redemp­tion. I am no the­olo­gian, only a trou­bled believ­er on my jour­ney, but I hold fast to the hope that the Cru­ci­fied offers me. For me this is not some sote­ri­o­log­i­cal account­ing, a cos­mic tit for tat to off­set the offense of our myth­i­cal first par­ents. The Cross is God’s ulti­mate demon­stra­tion of how much love will do, even when giv­en no rea­son to do so.

God is love. The ques­tion that asser­tion rais­es in the con­text of the Cru­ci­fix­ion is not, I believe, “How could a lov­ing God wish such a death upon His Son?” but rather “How can we fail to respond to a love that would give so much?” The chal­lenge is not to the nature of God but to us: what are we going to make of our lives and our world to attempt to jus­ti­fy such an extrav­a­gant ges­ture on the part of the Son of God?

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