Today I want to take a look at the paradoxical nature of the cross. The cross is simultaneously judgment, and forgiveness all in one. And whether the cross is judgment or forgiveness is often the result of perspective.
Andrew Sung Park writes this,
“When the cross of Jesus is seen from the perspective of the oppressed, it signifies God’s suffering with them; seen from the perspective of oppressors, the cross means God’s suffering because of them”.
And this little difference – makes a huge difference.
The truth is that God suffering on the cross signifies God’s solidarity with all who have been abused, oppressed, or hurt through evil. God knows what it is to be killed by an empire about power, oppression, and might.
Yet the cross is also simultaneously reminding us that God’s death is because of oppressors. That the death of Jesus Christ is the result of oppressive systems, people, and regimes that use violence to make peace. The cross stands in judgment of those systems, and offers forgiveness to those who are oppressors.
The trouble with this, or the offensive part of this is that we like to most identify with the oppressed. We like to most identify with the God who suffers with us, not because of us.
But the truth is that I am not really all that oppressed (I’m white, western, male, and educated). And the reality is that most of us probably reading this are not the oppressed in many significant ways. Through simply being born in the West many of us have inherited much privilege that others do not have.
I bring this up because I know personally I would much rather look at the cross as a place of God’s solidarity with me, but I know if I’m going to be honest I also need to look at the cross as a place of God’s judgment with me. Of the ways in which I can and do participate in systems that hurt other people. The difficulty is that in today’s day and age we don’t often see the ways in which our actions contribute to hurt around the world. We don’t see how our privileges might be at someone else’s expense.
I say this all not to make anyone feel guilty – because I believe guilt is a terrible motivator. I say this all because what God has been speaking to me and reminding me of is that yes the cross is a giant reminder that I’m forgiven. But the cross is also a giant reminder that there is evil in the world, and it’s often in us.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said,
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
And I think the answer to Solzhenitsyn’s question is – Christians should be willing to destroy a piece of their own heart. Christians should be willing to do the hard work of examining our hearts and seeing how we might change. Christians should be the most motivated to change because when we look at the cross we know two things: 1) we are forgiven and included, so we should not be scared or fearful of doing a courageous moral inventory; 2) we all have sin and evil within us, so we should know we need to do a courageous moral inventory.
So I say this all to remind us of one simple thing: we should be so grateful for God’s forgiveness, so grateful that we do the hard work of examining why we need it. Because if you are anything like me there are actions I need to cut out, there are habits I need to be freed from, there are revelations from God’s Spirit as to the best path I need to hear. But it is easy to ignore doing the hard work of inwardly looking.
I just think that the cross invites us to do that hard work of inwardly reflecting on our lives. The cross says to us we are welcomed and included, but that there are parts of all of us that need to be changed. May we have the courage to really examine our lives, listen to the Spirit, and make changes so that we might not only accept the gift of grace from Jesus Christ – but live like him.