I am appreciative of Tony Evans’ meditation on the cross of Jesus. His approach is clear and represents one of many possible pictures of the saving grace of God’s suffering love. The cross is a source of confidence and power, embodying the hope of Christmas’ “Emmanuel,” the affirmation that God is with us, giving us everything we need to have abundant life. Leaning on the power of the cross can transform our lives and give us strength when we have no power of our own.
When I think of the cross, I am reminded of statements from two of the most perceptive commentators on God’s place in our contemporary world, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Alfred North Whitehead. In the midst of Nazi atrocities and from the vantage point of a prison cell, Bonhoeffer affirmed that “only a suffering God can save.” Still grieving the death of his son and the loss of a whole generation of young men in World War I, philosopher Alfred North Whitehead proclaimed that “God is the fellow sufferer who understands.” The cross is all about God’s presence in our pain and joy, and God’s willingness to take on the pain and brokenness of life to bring healing to the earth.
From my perspective, divine companionship, revealed in the pain of parent and child, is the primary meaning of cross. I believe that the cross reveals the power of a parent’s love. God is the ultimate parent, and God’s parenting is not about soothing God’s ego, assuaging God’s wrath, or paying a debt. I am a grandparent and parent and none of these metaphors enter into my notion of parenting, or for that matter any parent I respect. I assume that God is as good, if not a better parent to humankind, as I am, and I have never had to protect my son from my wrath – that would be abuse, nor have I let his imperfection or mistakes come between us, or required any payment on his or any other’s part for receiving my love. Sadly, many “orthodox” images of the cross appear to say that apart from the cross, God cannot tolerate our humanity and is ultimately out to get us. I believe that the cross reveals that God is out to love us, to embrace us, and to welcome us home, and that God doesn’t need to punish anyone or require any sacrifice to love us.Still sacrifice is essential to life. Jesus, who did not have to die, still went to the cross. He was not predestined, but chose to be faithful with darkness all around, his cause apparently lost, and his future uncertain. In fact, as his prayer in the Garden suggests, Jesus might have preferred another path entirely. But, Jesus chose to fulfill his vocation to reveal God’s love, embodied in his preaching, teaching, welcoming, and healing ministry, and that required him to face the consequences of his love for us. Like Gandhi and King in our time, he knew the risks of faithfulness and accepted the possibility of death to reveal God’s love for us.
The power of the cross is found in the affirmation that God is with us, sanctifying death, conflict, and pain. In the cross, we discover that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We experience a love that is greater than our sin that accepts us as we are and then guides us toward wholeness. When we are loved and know it, we can do great things and awaken to greater energies and possibilities. When we are accepted, we can experience wonder arising from our wounds. When God is with us, loving us into life and accepting us with open arms in death, we can face the unendurable with grace and dignity, knowing that God is as near to us as our next breath. We can bear our own crosses and know that the way of the cross is the way of life.
Yes, there is power in the cross. The power of life rising from the ashes, the power of an open future beyond an empty tomb, and the power of a love that never gives up on us, or anyone, and that love empowers us to be partners in healing the world by embracing and transforming the crosses of this world in light of an empty tomb and an open future.