This is a repost of a poem that I wrote last year. As I reflect this Easter on the nature and character of God, and of his son Jesus, it seems just as poignant and real as it was when I first wrote it. For me anyway.
It reflects where I am on my spiritual journey and how I have grappled with the God revealed in the Christian community and Christian practice I have grown up amongst and which I choose to be part of. And this is most definitely for me a process of change. For much of my life, I saw the cross predominantly through the lens of the more recent Protestant view of penal substitutionary atonement. I have come to struggle with this view in that for me it reveals a God from whom we must be saved by Jesus.
I can no longer live with this view of the divine.
Jesus does not stand between us and the punishment of God, as if he were the only thing preventing God from throwing us sinners into the pit of an eternal hell. No. Jesus reveals what has always been true of God – that his posture toward us has always been that of love, and his response to our self-destructive and violent actions has always been to offer forgiveness.
The cruel and violent nature of the cross reveals more about the lengths humanity will go to in clinging to power. And that is damning.
Some quotes that have been formative to my thinking in recent years. First, from the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar:
“In the ugliest place of human existence (crucifixion and death) God reveals himself as absolute, total self-giving love … Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, the Christform is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.”
– John R. Cihak, Love Alone Is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Apologetics
And then from US pastor Brian Zahnd, whose journey and writings have been significant to me of recent years:
God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We haven’t always known this.
But now we do.
– Brian Zahnd
And more from one of Brian’s blog posts discussing the crucifixion:
Unfortunately over the last thousand years the Western Church has drifted into the idea that God required the violent death of his Son in order to satisfy his honor and pay off justice. (A theory that was wisely rejected in the Eastern Church.) In an attempt to explain the cross according to the honor codes of feudalism, the character of God has been viciously maligned. The cross is many things, but it is not a quid pro quo to mollify an angry God. Above all things the cross, as the definitive moment in Jesus’ life, is the supreme revelation of the very nature of God. At the cross Jesus does not save us from God — at the cross Jesus reveals God as savior! When we look at the cross we don’t see what God does, we see who God is!
The cross is not a picture of payment — the cross is a picture of forgiveness. Good Friday is not about divine wrath — Good Friday is about divine love. Calvary is not where we see how violent God is — Calvary is where we see how violent our civilization is. The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon — the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love.
– Brian Zahnd
So then, to reflect in my own words:
It is that time of year again – Easter – that time God died.
What does that even mean? A man who, to all accounts,
welcomed and sided with the vulnerable, the down-trodden,
a man who went around doing good – miracles of kindness expressing
love. And why did he die? Why did they murder him? For what grievous
crime did they take his life?
Only that that those with power felt their position threatened,
and threatened only by his kind acts and confronting words.
Religious leaders, the rich, and the political leaders – willing
to see the death of the innocent as a small price to pay for their
hold on power, better that one die for the many they said.
And the crowd, happy to ask no questions, find themselves
complicit in the murder of an innocent man – and for what I
don’t even know.
And so the man who was God died. Died, not through lack
of strength, but because of it. Died, with the will to love, not
the will to power, reigning supreme. Died, a course willingly
chosen, through not of his own hand. Died, not with hate, but with
forgiveness, on his lips.
And what about us? Here, now. How different are we? Have we
learnt from the sins of our fathers? Perhaps. We declared it the war to
end all wars. And yet, we now talk openly about perpetual war. After the
Holocaust, we said never again. And yet, our abandonment of those cast
aside by wars of the rich and powerful grows unabated. Even at home,
the plight of the poor among us is a stain on our affluence. And from
our great halls of government to the street, hateful words and deeds
seem only to grow more common whenever our own comfort seems
I can only admit to myself – that time God died – it would
happen today as it did then.
That time God died. Maybe it meant something then, and just maybe,
the effects echo through the corridors of history, reverberating
hope even to the present day. That time God died, maybe just maybe,
death itself was dealt the decisive blow, ushering in a new age. A
new age open to all who would come, where the death of God brings
the life of God to us all.