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Why Must the Cross be so Absurd?

“We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:23-25)  This is Holy Week.  This week, millions of Christians will proclaim Christ crucified.  Christ crucified will be front and center in their celebrations.  Indeed, Christ crucified is the very heart of their faith. 

But to many non-Christians, Christ crucified is utter foolishness, the major stumbling block to seeing Christianity as a rational faith.  Sam Harris is one of the most insightful critics of Christianity.  This is how he puts it in his book, Letter to a Christian Nation: “The notion that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that his death constitutes a successful propitiation of a ‘loving’ God is a direct and undisguised inheritance of the superstitious bloodletting that has plagued bewildered people throughout history…Christianity is more or less synonymous with the proposition that the crucifixion of Jesus represents the final, sufficient offering of blood to a God who absolutely requires it (Hebrews 9:22-28).  Christianity amounts to the claim that we must love and be loved by a God who approves of the scapegoating, torture, and murder of one man—his son, incidentally—in compensation for the misbehavior and thought-crimes of all others.”  (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2008, pp. 96, 98)

On the surface, I couldn’t agree more.  What I have found, however, is that as you dig deeper, Christ crucified makes a whole lot more sense than we think.  It turns out to be the only way a loving God can love a fallen creation and reconcile us to Himself, something I will break down more in the future.  But even so, at some level the Crucifixion will still always appear offensive or absurd to us.  Instead of being an argument against it, however, this fact provides a profound reason to believe it.  Here’s why.

If the Cross is what it claims to be; if, in an “eternal moment”, it is how God is able to reconcile His mercy and justice in order to love sinners like us; if it is something that ultimately happens within the transcendent, infinite God, then on some level at least, we should expect it to look absurd to us—it’s an otherworldly phenomenon finite beings are incapable of fully comprehending. 

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  How often have you heard this?  It’s our way of trying to reconcile justice and mercy, to balance them out with one another.  It sounds simple enough.  But it’s not.  It gets complicated quickly.  Just try applying it to the gunmen involved in the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Colorado.  To hate their sin, to do justice, means somehow making them experience the pain they inflicted on their victims and their loved ones.  But to love the sinner, to be merciful to these gunmen, means releasing them from the consequences they so justly deserve—an unthinkable slight to the victims.

From God’s perspective, freely forgiving us isn’t just unless He is able to do justice somehow for those we’ve offended.  Conversely, it’s not fair to you—or loving—if God forgives someone who has deeply wounded you without finding some way to do justice by you.  In fact, it would mean God wasn’t perfectly just—or loving.  So how does God hate the sin but love the sinner?  How does he reconcile His perfect, infinite justice with His perfect, infinite mercy?  The Christian answer is the Cross.     

Christians say that the Cross is necessary for God to reconcile His perfect justice with His perfect mercy.  The Cross is necessary for Him to be able to forgive us and still remain true to His nature.  The Cross is how God can be perfectly just and perfectly merciful while loving sinners like us.  So, the Christian claim is that what happens on the Cross is ultimately and primarily something that happens within God Himself.  In His divine nature.  At the transcendent level.  Infinitely beyond space and time. 

That’s why, at some level at least, Christ crucified will always appear absurd or offensive to us.  If it actually is what Christians claim it to be, then it accomplishes something infinitely beyond what mere mortals can comprehend.  We can barely grasp how justice and mercy can be balanced on the Finite level, let alone the Infinite. 

In fact, if the Cross was something we could fully understand, we’d know it wasn’t the thing it’s supposed to be.  If it was something finite beings could grasp, it couldn’t be the thing that reconciles God’s justice and mercy at the transcendent level.  The fact that it appears so utterly absurd to us is fully consistent with the claim it’s making.

When all is said and done, the scandal and foolishness of Christ crucified is exactly what we’d expect if Jesus’ death on the Cross actually does save us by satisfying God’s perfect justice and mercy.  It is God, after all, who is actually dying on that Cross.  It is God, after all, who is taking all the suffering our sin causes into His nature and being so that He can hate our sin with a passion, but love us sinners with an even greater passion.

Christ crucified must appear utterly absurd because it is the other-worldly Wisdom and Power of God.  And, as we should expect, God’s foolishness is infinitely wiser than any human wisdom.  God’s weakness is infinitely stronger than any human power.

I pray you have a most awesome and blessed Holy Week contemplating the other-worldly love of a God who would die for us.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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