On the Meaning of the Cross

Sunday, September 14, 2003



At the following blog: Disputations, the owner, Tom K., argued on May 14, 2002 that the cross is the center of the Christian faith. I responded that I believe the resurrection is the center. Without the resurrection, I argued, the cross would be just the story of another marginalized Jew executed by Rome. It may be a story that stirs hearts to compassion in good people and those who like underdogs. However, it would not be "Gospel", or "Good News".

Tom graciously responded with another blog on September 5, 2003. In the 9/5 essay, he stated that the cross and resurrection are ultimately inseparable, but that he still believed that cross was pre-eminent, and we could have been saved without the resurrection.

This is an interesting issue, because I am often told by conservative Catholics that I do not emphasize the cross enough. Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, so I thought I would post my response to Tom. This response fleshes out a bit more how I see the cross in our lives.


I appreciate the time you took to write a response to me. Well thought out, and I have to agree that the cross and resurrection are ultimately inseparable (but hey, if I started there, would we have a disputation?)

And yes, while those who liked my side may quote 1 Cor 15:14, you may quote the same letter at 1:23 "We preach Christ crucified..."

But I will react a bit to your notion that if Christ were not risen, we still would be saved. I do not think this entirely true. The resurrection event IS to some extent the Gospel.

Imagine if you had never heard of Christ and your best friend appeared in some manner to you in a glorified body after you had witnessed him brutally and savagely and very surely murdered.

Forget about theology for a moment.

What would you feel?

There may be some fear and doubt (as there was with the Apostles)...maybe even some question as to whether your experience is real...but once you became utterly and certainly convinced, what would you feel?

How would you view life and death?

You see, the resurrection is more than "proof" that Jesus was God....

The resurrection is itself Good News!

Death has been shattered and has no power over us.

Only in light of the resurrection does the cross even begin to make any sense.

In the Old Testament, we learn that the mystery of suffering and death is somehow related to our own sin - our own rebellion against God.

If a man rose from the dead, ANY man, then sin has been vanquished - at least in that man!

Sin is at least conquerable, if not utterly destroyed.

You allude to the Gospel passages advising us to pick up our crosses, and I do not deny these passages. Nevertheless, our goal is not the cross, but our own resurrection!

Furthermore, the God revealed in Jesus is a God who wants us to taste of the resurrection even here. Jesus constantly preached that the sovereignty of God is at hand here and now.

His whole life - everything he did and said - was aimed at helping people. Never once did he do harm to another, and the ONLY people he showed "tough love" were religious authorities laying up burdens on others!

Yes....there is a cross that we all must lift... but the Good News...the Gospel is that we will rise with the one who already conquered death.

Furthermore, I would argue that it was only in light of the resurrection that the disciples came to believe and to know that Jesus was God in the flesh.

Whatever God does has universal significance.

If Jesus were not God, his resurrection is meaningful as a human possibility.

If he were both God and human, then his resurrection points to human potential as a universally significant event. What happened in him not only CAN happen in us, it is promised to us. It will happen in us.

But what about heaven and hell,..., even Jesus preached of hell (more than anyone else in the Bible). God desires all people saved (1 Tim 2:4). Hell is not something God does to us. Hell is our own choice when we reject God or fail to trust him fully (I have an article about this at Does Hell Exist?).

But doesn't the cross atone for sin?

In Rev 12:10 we see that Satan is our accuser. Satan is the prosecuting attorney at our final judgement. The Holy Spirit is our legal Counsel (paraclete). The interpretation of Jesus' death as atonement may silence the devil, but an infinite God acts with infinite layers of meaning.

For me, one of the most meaningful communications God makes in the cross is that he is with us in our pain. Yet, while this is comforting, our real hope and joy lies in the resurrection!


I ran out of space in Tom's comment box, but I wanted to continue on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to explore this mystery.

I only briefly alluded to acceptance that we must all pick our crosses. I sometimes sense from conservatives two meanings that they discern in this.

First, they think of picking up the cross as the struggle to avoid sin. We all know this meaning of the cross by the time we are adults. It is difficult sometimes to walk away from certain temptations.

Second, conservatives tend to think of picking up the cross as doing acts of asceticism, such as celibacy, fasting, vigils, or other acts of mortifications. These mortifications are supposed to be offered with the cross in atonement for sin in some way.

I question this second interpretation, and wish to add some other meanings.

In questioning the second meaning, Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as fasting for 40 days. He was also celibate. I am not completely opposed to such practices, but since Jesus was sinless, we cannot interpret the ultimate meaning of such acts as offering pain in retribution for sin.

Furthermore, any act of asceticism has a very marked difference from the crucifixion. In the Garden of Gesthemene, Christ prayed that the cup would pass! He did not want to die so brutally. The cross was not a freely chosen act of penance or atonement. Rather, it was an injustice inflicted upon an innocent man!

Certainly, there is a sense in which Jesus offers himself freely on the cross. He could have run from the cross. He could have fled Jerusalem at his first intuition that something bad was about to happen. He had already escaped stoning once according to the conclusion of chapter 8 of John.

Christ does submit his human will to the divine within him. He does permit the Father's will to unfold in his life, even though it is not what he would choose for himself. Nevertheless, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the cross is not what Jesus wished!

Acts of asceticism are freely chosen. By this very nature, acts of personal asceticism are very different from the cross. The cross comes from outside of us, and is inflicted upon us as an injustice!

When Christ tells us to pick up our cross, I believe he is telling us that if we open our hearts to others,..., if we love as he loved,..., we are going to get crucified!

Yet, if we embrace such a cross, we will rise with him!

You see, the cross is not acts of asceticism. When Jesus fasted, he was using typical Jewish prayer of the body to act out emptying oneself to be filled with God. He was not torturing himself to make up for sin.

As a celibate male, Jesus was not forgoing the pleasures of married love as an act of sacrifice. Rather, he was making himself available to others and to God in the way that made sense to him as an individual,..., in the way that enabled him to love the most,..., in the way in which he was called by the Father and lead by the Spirit.

Yet, on the cross, Jesus did make a sacrifice of atonement. However, it was only a sacrifice precisely because it was total self offering,...,not a chosen act, but a submission to the consequences of loving deeply.

I am utterly convinced that if we love deeply, we will be hurt!

We will be hurt unto death!

Yet, in light of the resurrection, I am utterly convinced that this pain and loss is worthwhile. We are promised that love pays for itself. Love is stronger than death!

There are three things that last: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love.

Christianity is not, and must never become a religion of masochism. Our goal is not self annihilation. Our goal is not pain. We are not to be glum people who speak of doom and gloom. We are not to be people who seek ways to torture ourselves. We are not to show tough love to the weak. We are not a cult of death, but a faith in the dignity of human life and the incomparable value of the human person revealed in the incarnation and resurrection!

We are to be people who love until it hearts, because we know that the pain and the sting of death has been vanquished in Jesus Christ! We know this precisely because he is risen!

And while we go through the pain of loving and being hurt, and as we face the sufferings inflicted on us by others and by nature, and as we come to the close of our life, we know in the cross that God is with us and will see us through to the day of glory!

Peace and Blessings!

See a related article at: The Mystery of Suffering

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 11:01 AM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com