The cross is too beautiful for that.
It’s too beautiful to be reduced to a simple explanation. It’s too beautiful to finally “figure out.” It’s too beautiful to capture in a simple tract. It’s too beautiful to proclaim with a megaphone and a picket sign. It’s too beautiful to be turned upside-down to be wielded as a sword. It’s too beautiful to be used as the source of blood-guilt to manipulate people into cognitive beliefs to avoid hell. It’s too beautiful to be properly imagined by viewing the Jesus Film or the Passion of the Christ. It’s too beautiful to be confined to one narrow explanation. It’s simply, too beautiful for that!
In the New Testament, an array of images express the significance of the cross. Mark Baker, who is a personal friend, has written vastly on this subject (more to come on this topic in the near future). In his book, Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement, he first explains how the way the story of the cross has been told over the past several hundred years has led to some collateral damage. For instance, imagine if the following perspective is your primary way of understanding the heavenly Father, when your earthly father was abusive. It may lead to some problems with how you might attempt to relate to such a God. On top of this, I’m not convinced that the way many Christians talk about the cross is truly biblical.
For many people, the cross and the atonement that took place there, is mostly about how God the Father needed to be appeased in order to grant humanity forgiveness. This is because God is holy and just. When God sees sin in humanity, his justice burns with anger. God cannot tolerate to even look at a person because of their depravity. So, what is the solution? God takes his Son Jesus who is holy and sinless, places him on the cross to appease God’s wrath. God the Father then, beats up on the Son instead of directing such holy wrath towards us sinners.
Therefore, when we accept Christ as Lord, our sinful self is not what God sees, but rather God views us through Jesus’ perfect holiness, allowing us to be in relationship with the Father. This view, which is a distorted version of what is often called penal satisfaction, “can too easily lead to a situation in which we might conclude that Jesus came to save us from God” (22).
Needing to be saved from a God whose primary essence is love, doesn’t seem to be a healthy way of thinking about the cross. It is unfortunate that many have accused Mark and others of denying substitutionary atonement, when exactly the opposite is true. Jesus truly is our substitute from the consequences of sin, death, and alienation. Mark makes this clear when he states: “Although we raise a number of critical concerns about the model of penal substitutionary atonement, we do not reject the idea of substitutionary atonement” [emphasis mine] (25).
If we were to take a look at the relevant biblical passages, certainly the atonement (how/what the cross accomplishes) is described in courtroom language (which is where the term “penal” comes into play). The problem is that instead of placing the story of the cross in the context of a Hebrew court scenario in which the goal is restorative, we often have assumed that the court should be one of retribution (demanding penalty or payback to appease the judge like courts in the modern West). For a Hebrew mind, Jesus’ saving work has more to do with restoring shalom – right relationships with God, others, creation, and self. His resurrection restores us back into such a harmony, freeing us from the powers of evil and self-deception that led to our alienation. This only begins to get at the inexhaustible beauty of the cross!
The cross is too beautiful to portray it as an instrument of God’s wrath. PS – God isn’t angry. In fact, God is full of love. That’s God’s essence. And by the way, God is madly in love with you!
What are other ways in which The Cross is Too Beautiful for That?
 Mark D. Baker, ed., Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006).
Side Note: Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement is THE book listed as Rob Bell’s recommendation for reading more about “the cross” in the appendix of Love Wins.