Theology of the Cross and Suffering (#5)

Theology of the Cross and Suffering (#5) January 9, 2009

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.

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