god on a cross (pt 3)
If you look closely at Jesus, you'll see more than a great teacher, social prophet, political figure, or miracle worker. You'll see God showing up in flesh and blood to deal with every ounce of brokenness and darkness in our world. But how does that happen? How does He deal with it?
That question has a simple answer — He’s doing it through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus — and it has a lot of complicated answers that arise when we see how the Bible explains the mystery of that story. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though, because simplicity isn’t always a virtue. At least not to me. The virtue is in finding a solution that has enough complexity to address the problem. If you have a simple problem, a simple answer may suffice. But if you’re digging into the depths of the mess we’re in, both personally and systemically, then you may be comforted to know that God apparently has brought a sufficiently robust, nuanced, multifaceted solution to the table.
I offer that observation as a disclaimer, because I won’t be getting to everything between now and the end of Lent. And admittedly one of the reasons I’m writing regularly here is to do my own exploring. The writing is a way of sorting things out. So here I’d like to look at an aspect of atonement that I don’t hear about as often when the subject comes up.
Jesus tells a story about three servants whose master goes on a journey and leaves them each with some money. A lot of money, actually. One guy gets a colossal amount of money, another guy gets less but still a ton, and a third guy gets even less but still enough to do something with.
When the master returns, he finds that two of the servants have doubled their money by investing. But the third servant, the one who was given the least, just sat on it.
The master calls him wicked.
Now if I’m trying to understand how things go wrong, how I’ve gone wrong and how the world has gone wrong, then I’m going to want to understand what happened with this servant whom the master calls wicked.
He tells the master, "I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
This servant who gets it wrong — he is afraid of his master. It’s not clear to me whether this cynical view of his master preceded his poor stewardship or was the result of it, but either way they seem connected. He was wicked, and when he thought of his master, he was afraid.
This raises a question for us: do we get it wrong when we get God wrong? Do we go wrong when we don’t know what God is like?
And when I say ‘know’, I mean every kind of knowledge, every way of knowing. I mean the theological concepts that some of us use to describe God, and I mean the deep knowing in our hearts that none of us escapes, whether we know a lie or a truth, and regardless of whether we’re aware of what we know.
If you listen to some preachers, some Christians, you can get a distorted view of God. They harp on the wrath of God as if it’s in the center of His being. As if God’s default posture toward the human race is one of rage.
If you listen to some poets, some songwriters, some philosophers, you may hear that God is apathetic or removed. He’s the absentee father. He’s the landlord who checks in just often enough to see what a mess we’ve made of the place and demand the rent.
And honestly, if you watch my life, I’m afraid to say you might get a confused view of God, too. Because I’m a preacher and a pastor, and more importantly someone who calls himself a follower of Jesus, but sometimes I reflect a picture of God in which He resembles me more than I resemble Him.
So it’s quite possible we have gotten God wrong. And that in getting God wrong, we’ve gone wrong. We’ve lost the plot, found ourselves in need of help. But the point here is that Jesus came to fix that.
Jesus says that when we see Him, we see the Father. In fact, He says we don’t actually get to see the Father apart from Him.
So with Jesus in mind, what is God like?
Apparently God would rather give than take.
His mission is to save, not to condemn.
When He gets angry, it’s because He sees the powerful abusing the weak.
When He weeps, it’s for others.
He would rather be the victim of violence than its perpetrator.
And He is love. Sacrificing love. The kind of love that lays down its life.
I’m saying this because I think we often come to Jesus wanting Him to fix us, and we don’t take the time to really see Him, but maybe seeing Him clearly is the thing we need to be healed. Or we theologize our way through dense categories of atonement language but lose the image of God on a cross, and that image fixed in front of us is the thing we really need to be united with God again.
I’ve seen people post a quote from Iraneaus, the 2nd century Church Father: The glory of God is man fully alive.
But you know what I’ve never seen anyone post? The second half of the quote which says: The glory of man is the vision of God.
When we see God clearly, our glory is going to come to the surface. The decay that has dulled us will be chased away by the vision. The fear that makes us wicked, like the servant in Jesus’s story, will be chased away by love.
I don’t want to be wicked, and I certainly don’t want to be afraid. So between now and Good Friday, I’m going to try to see Jesus more clearly. I’m going to let him critique everything I think I know about God, and wherever He tears down a lie, I believe He'll replace it with a life-giving, healing truth.