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| The Reason for God|
Chapter 12 : The (True) Story of the Cross
November 20, 2016
Hello to another beautiful day that has been given to us by God! Today, we continue our book, The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by the author Timothy Keller. And we look at chapter 12, The (True) Story of the Cross.
As we all are well aware of, the primary symbol of Christianity has always been the cross. The death of Jesus for our sins on the cross is at the heart of the gospel, which Christians refer to as the good news. However, what Christians consider as the good news, the rest of our culture views it as bad news.
As told to us in Scripture, Jesus dies in order for God to forgive us of our sins. Unfortunately, to many this sounds absolutely ludicrous, or to put it in simple words, crazy. To many people who hear about this for the first time, or are unknowledgeable about this, tend to ask "Why would Jesus have to die?" "Why couldn't God just forgive us?" In which they assert that "the Christian God sounds like the vengeful gods of primitive times who needed to be appeased by human sacrifice." Some liberal Protestant theologians reject the doctrine of the cross altogether because it looks to them like "divine child abuse."
These questions and assertions seem very fair. From an objective view, many would probably feel the same way. Theoretically speaking, as we tend to do when we're not considering reality, why couldn't God just simply forgive us? However, the problem with this type of belief is the simple fact that we definitely do not live by it. For example, in economic terms, if someone damages something that belongs to us, we receive payment or the cost of repair for the item. Clearly in this view, "forgiveness," is founded in the payment. The debt that one bears on damaging another's property isn't simply vanished into thin air, but rather must be paid back for.
Now, to move away from economic terms, we look at reality. Usually there are two outs when someone has incurred any sort of debt on you, in any form. If someone hurts you, most people are likely to think "eye for an eye!" Revenge is one of the first options we consider when someone wrongs us. We would either initiate pain on the other or we really, really hope that person gets some type of pain and say "Karma."
As "satisfying" this option may seem at first, it has a great toll on the person in the long-term. The desire for vengeance is, obviously, not motivated by any type of goodwill. Rather, it is ill will. And when you fall deep into vengeance, it hurts your personality as well. You may become harder and colder, more self-absorbed, and have more hate within yourself. You may believe that it won't affect you in any way, but there will be seen a rise in aggression towards anything the other person may be associated with. Let's for example say the person who has wronged you was of a particular race, there is a great chance that you may build up some personal stereotypes against that particular race. This we have seen throughout history, and in my opinion, needs no clear example. We have all experienced this, possibly in the very way we speak of that specific religion, race, or ethnicity, or anything of that nature.
The other option is forgiveness. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. It means to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being, which is agonizing. You not only suffer the original loss of happiness, reputation, and opportunity, but now you lose the consolation, and satisfaction, of inflicting the same on them. You are absorbing the debt, taking the toll upon yourself instead of taking it out of the other person.
When we consider it in this manner, forgiveness does NOT seem to be an easy route, and definitely not an attractive one. And at first, it will appear to be like that. However, what it does do is bring death to the life-long living death of bitterness and cynicism. To many, forgiving someone, wholeheartedly, is very difficult. We may say the casual and insincere "it's okay" often, but sincerely forgiving someone is one of the most difficult things man has learned to do. And eventually, due to not giving the fuel to our vengeful desires, it will, as fire does in reality, simmer down to eventually vanish.
A prime example is in a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he tells us the form of suffering in true forgiveness. And he had the most severe case. He was a German Christian, after first-hand experiencing Nazi Germany and Hitler. And in that very book, this is what he writes, "My brother's burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share... Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian's duty to bear."
And when Bonhoeffer was in prison and in the process to be executed, in his letter while in his prison he writes, "Please don't ever get anxious or worried about me, but don't forget to pray for me - I'm sure you don't. I am so sure of God's guiding hand that I hope I shall always be kept in that certainty. You must never doubt that I'm traveling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I'm being led. My past life is brim-full of God's goodness and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified..."
Ultimately, forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy's renewal and change. Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of the sin yourself. Everyone who forgives great evil goes through a very hard time within themselves.
With this understanding, then it shouldn't surprise us that when God determined to forgive us, rather than punish, that he went to the Cross in the person of Jesus Christ and died there. As we have reiterated, everyone who forgives someone bears the other's sins. On the Cross, we see God doing what every human being must do to forgive someone, but on an infinitely greater scale. And it would seem to make sense, then, that human forgiveness works the same way because we reflect the image of our Creator.
And let's not forget the Jesus Christ is God. In the Christian faith, specifically, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Son of God, whom is God Himself. God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross took the pain, violence, and evil of the world onto Himself. Therefore the God of the Bible is certainly NOT like the primitive gods who demanded our blood for their wrath to be appeased. Rather, this is a God who became human and offered His own life in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that one day he can destroy all evil without destroying us.
The Cross is not a simple act of sacrificial love, for throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable but stupid and wrong. Jesus' death was only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us of our sins? Because it was only then that the debt was paid and as we learned God Himself paid it! Forgiveness is ALWAYS a form of costly suffering. And it is divine forgiveness that is the ultimate ground and resource for us humans. We see this on Bonhoeffer who claimed that it was Jesus' forgiveness of him on the Cross that gave him the security in God's love that allowed for him to live sacrificially for others.
In the mid-nineties, several Protestants attempted to remove the Cross from theology. One speaker said, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all; I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff." Why can't we just concentrate on teaching about how God is a God of love? Because if we take the Cross away, we don't have a God of love.
In the real world of relationships, it is impossible o truly love a person with a problem or a need without in some sense sharing or even changing places with them. All real life-changing love involved some form of this kind of exchange. The prime example that I can think of is with parents. I choose parenting because I believe we can all relate to this example.
In parenting, children come into the world where they are completely dependent on their parents. From eating, to pooping, to peeing, to changing clothes, being warm, and everything! And for many years, it is parents who give up much of their own independence and freedom. And that's only the physical cost. The emotional cost of raising a child is significantly more costly, and I can attest to this myself, and it wasn't even my own child! For any parent, to love their children, or young child, you must be willing to decrease your freedoms, your physical needs, and your emotional needs, in order for them to increase theirs. You must be willing to enter into the dependency they have so eventually they can experience the freedom and independence you have.
And like all life-changing love toward people with serious needs is a substitutional sacrifice. If we become personally involved with another person, in some way, their weaknesses flow toward you as your strengths flow toward them. And in The Cross of Christ, written by John Stott, he writes that, "the essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for us. We... put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God... puts himself where we deserve to be."
In that case, how can God be a God of love if he does not come personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain that we experience? There are two answers to the question: First, not even God can; and Two, only one major world religion even claims that God does.
It was God who not only suffered for us, but he certainly suffered with us. He knew what it was like to be under the lash, and to refuse to be cowed by those in power, and to pay for it with his life. When we read the four Gospels, we read of Jesus facing so many adversities throughout his ministry. From people who were suppose to be his people to the very kings of the land. When Jesus suffered for us, he was honoring justice. But when Jesus suffered with us, he was identifying with the oppressed of the world, not with their oppressors. When we look at it, it was God who came down off his ultimate throne and suffer with the oppressed so that they might be lifted up, literally, to heaven. It is on the cross, not only do we see justice fulfilled, but God's loving mercy.
This concludes chapter 12, The (True) Story of the Cross, in which I hope you have been able to get a proper understanding of the very act of forgiveness, why it had to be Jesus Christ, and why it had to happen to begin with. The answer is, ultimately, because God is the God of love. Because God is the God of love, he chose to forgive us by sending His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to come down, from his ultimate throne, to suffer and to die on the Cross. It is out of God's love that He died in order for us to be with Him in heaven. This is not a sad story, but a joyous one. And this is to be the story of our lives!