Theology of the Cross and Suffering (#5)

Carl Trueman, whom we have been blogging about all week, goes on in Luther’s Theology of the Cross:

The cross is paradigmatic for how God will deal with believers who are united to Christ by faith. In short, great blessing will come through great suffering.

This point is hard for those of us in the affluent West to swallow. For example, some years ago I lectured at a church gathering on this topic and pointed out that the cross was not simply an atonement, but a revelation of how God deals with those whom he loves. I was challenged afterwards by an individual who said that Luther’s theology of the cross did not give enough weight to the fact that the cross and resurrection marked the start of the reversal of the curse, and that great blessings should thus be expected; to focus on suffering and weakness was therefore to miss the eschatological significance of Christ’s ministry.

Of course, this individual had failed to apply Luther’s theology of the cross as thoroughly as he should have done. All that he said was true, but he failed to understand what he was saying in light of the cross. Yes, Luther would agree, the curse is being rolled back, but that rollback is demonstrated by the fact that, thanks to the cross, evil is now utterly subverted in the cause of good. If the cross of Christ, the most evil act in human history, can be in line with God’s will and be the source of the decisive defeat of the very evil that caused it, then any other evil can also be subverted to the cause of good.

More than that, if the death of Christ is mysteriously a blessing, then any evil that the believer experiences can be a blessing too. Yes, the curse is reversed; yes, blessings will flow; but who declared that these blessings have to be in accordance with the aspirations and expectations of affluent America? The lesson of the cross for Luther is that the most blessed person upon earth, Jesus Christ himself, was revealed as blessed precisely in his suffering and death. And if that is the way that God deals with his beloved son, have those who are united to him by faith any right to expect anything different?

Thanks to John for alerting us to this very personal appropriation of the Theology of the Cross by someone struggling with cancer.

By the way, Emily is right that suffering is not meritorious in any way. Luther said that crosses we choose are not crosses at all. Suffering involves precisely encountering what we do NOT choose and do NOT want, which takes us even beyond simple pain and utterly confounds those who think truth itself is subject to our will. But this is a part of life. The Cross of Christ shows that suffering is not “meaningless,” as we often say, but that He is bearing not only our sins but “our griefs”and “our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4) so that in our own crosses of suffering we can grow closer to Him.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • richard

    Speaking of suffering, how about those FLorida Gators, Dr. Veith?

  • richard

    For a terrific book on this and the place of suffering in the life of a Christian, I can recommend Michael Horton’s book, “Too Good to be True.” The theology of the Cross is prominent in Horton’s book; this book and his lectures on the subject ministered to me as my wife and I dealt with my wife’s cancer.

  • JonSLC

    Isn’t “hiddenness” at the heart of the theology of the cross?

    God’s power over all that kills us is hidden under Christ’s apparent weakness on the cross.

    The power of the resurrected and ascended Christ is exerted while hidden under words in the mouths of sinners, under bread, wine and water.

    The power of Christ in a Christian’s life is hidden under crippling suffering that forces one to cling to his all-sufficient grace.

    The theology of the cross certainly affirms God’s power, but disguised in what appears to us as weakness.

  • Manxman

    Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross…

    For me as a Christian, one of the most difficult things involved in being called to trials and suffering is walking by faith and not by sight. Jesus KNEW what His suffering was all about. He KNEW where it came from and KNEW what it would ultimately accomplish. That is rarely true with us. I guess that’s why the first part of the verse tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Hey Manxman,
    Thanks to the Cross we know the joys that await us, heaven, and any suffering down here is worth it. The Joy set before Jesus, believe it or not, was having you with him there in heaven. He had heaven before he came. He didn’t have you there. That is his joy, and now it is our joy.


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