Why would anyone love the cross?

Ole Henry Halleraker

The savagery of human cruelty is well known and duly documented. Reading history, no society has refrained from abhorrent brutality when it comes to dealing with problems. The more provocative the problem, whether to faith, to tradition or to power, the more contrived the measures. There seems to be no boundaries to the viciousness of man.

Institutions have, down through history, concocted ways of applying suffering and death to unwanted individuals or groups. The Roman crux was one of these methods. It both dealt with the problem most effectively, and it functioned as a deterrent. The pain was excruciating, sometimes lasting for days, and the subject did not die from the wounds, but from dehydration and asphyxia, not to speak of the humility of hanging stark naked as a public spectacle, powerless and abandoned to die.

Pain and ridicule paired with the terror of death.

The Romans only used this kind of execution for non-Romans, which points to the practice as a way of subduing unruly people-groups. It was used to punish thieves, robbers, murderers, but was also used for traitors. It was the ultimate punishment in the Romans’ vast array of cruelty.

Never have the gallows or the guillotine been a sign of endearment, but the cross is. How did that happen?

Jesus cursed

We need to go about as far before Jesus’ lifetime as we now live after. Deuteronomy says that if a person who has committed a sin that qualifies for death, is executed and then hanged on a tree, the body must not remain on the tree overnight but be buried the same day. The given reason is: Anyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed by God.[1]

The statement is surprisingly general, and The New Testament clearly finds this to be a prophetic statement pointing to Jesus[2]. If so, that means that Jesus on the cross was cursed by God.

Now, the meaning of the term “cursed” has changed over the centuries. Its biblical content is that the one cursed is - by God - effectively cut off from God, and from life with God, and hence also cut off from the people of God.

My claim is that Jesus was cursed, and this is a fact, as he hung on a tree – on the cross. His words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[3] voices the pain of separation. But he was not only separated from his father, similarly to anyone who encounters their own destruction - rather God had cursed him, shunned him, cut him off.

And still, this does not explain why the cross became a sign of endearment, rather the opposite.

Basically good at heart

Man is capable of utter atrocity.

Anyone who believes he is exempt from potential cruelty, reveals he is in dire need of a mirror.

History is packed with terrible deeds committed by ordinary people. Man only needs a rationale for why a certain action is right, acceptable, necessary, needed or even just unavoidable. Our prisons are packed with offenders, and you and I could under given circumstances easily be an inmate. Dysfunctional families and neighborhoods did not just happen, they were made - by ordinary people.

Words like discrimination, embezzlement, theft, defamation, rape, abuse, lies, abortion, bullying, destruction of property, repeating rumors, murder, envy, pride, cold hearts, exclusion from fellowship, unforgiveness, are all known trespasses in our societies, and these and similar actions destroy lives and communities. These too are the footprints of man.

Of course, we would love to say that our transgressions are mishaps, momentary lapses, and that we are basically good at heart. On the other hand, I am not sure that the heart would be a great place to look if you want to define man as good – man’s inner being is probably messier than his deeds. Most of us are quite thankful that others have no access to our innermost thoughts and feelings.

Man’s problem is not only what he does, but even more his inclination to put himself center stage, and make all things about himself. The irony is that man ventures to define what it good but must fall short at the outset.

Did you know that the evil in our lives, even if it were marginal, makes us cursed? We are cut off from knowing the living God.

Just forgive

There is a general opinion out there that if God actually were good, he could just forgive everyone and in the same instance make all evil go away. And the world would be bliss.

The general opinion obviously also needs a mirror.

Where there is a theft, there is also a need of finding the culprit and bringing him to justice. The more devastating the crime is, the more important it is to find and deal with the offender. This is both to give retribution to the offended, but also to protect our community. We will not, cannot and shall not accept that individuals are exposed to destruction of property, slander, violence, battery, rape, child abuse, etc. You do not tell a raped woman that we as society choose to forgive. That is not justice, and justice is paramount.

When Anders Behring Breivik blew up Norway’s governmental buildings in Oslo in 2011 and chased and killed 69 youngsters on the small island of Utøya, injuring 66 others in the process, justice needed to be done. There is no way a society can live with “just forgive”. It goes against everything our societies build upon. The society would collapse and seize to exist as a community.

We intuitively understand the need for retribution when we are severely wronged. As social beings we also identify with others and understand they have the same need for retribution as we do. However, what we do not necessarily understand, is that this deep need is part of us being created in the image of God: Evil must not have free rein. It must be checked and dealt with.

All unrighteousness is sin[4].

Unrighteousness is a matter of the heart.[5]

Our heart is of course just a symbol of the innermost of our being.

When I need to use force, despite of what is right, it is originating from my heart.

Should I feel offended to such a degree that I crave revenge, it is my heart that is in operation.

Changing the truth to get what I want, or to make me look great, is a logic from my heart.

Having the offender brought to justice is the first step towards recovering. This is where it is resolved who is the offended and who is the offender. The loss of the offended is acknowledged, and the culpability of the offender is determined.

Justice is placement of guilt.

Justice is therefore clarity.

The second step towards recovering after being severely wronged is seeing the offender sentenced to punishment. This communicates the value of the loss to the offended.

Sometimes, however, the sentence is forgiven.

Made whole

There is a misunderstanding that forgiveness is free. Far from it!

Someone must always pay, and when forgiveness is involved, it is the forgiver who pays. Every time.

Now, you cannot forgive a wrong against somebody else. To be able to forgive, you must own the wrong. I cannot forgive you for the computer you stole from your neighbor. The simple reason is that you did not wrong me. A more comprehensive understanding is that I have not been robbed of my computer and am not in need of being made whole. Now, let us say that you asked me for forgiveness for stealing your neighbor’s computer. Let us further say I declined to forgive and demanded that you gave me that computer. Ridiculous, you may say, and rightfully so, as this violates the mechanism of forgiveness.

I cannot forgive someone who wronged you, since I do not bear the weight of the wronged.

The payment for forgiveness is the acceptance of not being made whole. Therefore, it is the forgiver who always pays. Let us say you slandered my reputation and seriously hurt my career by your lies. Later you regret your actions and ask me to forgive.

This is then the content of what you ask:

1. You ask me to live with the consequences of your actions without me being made whole.

2. You request that I for all future relent the right to hold your actions against you.

This shows who pays for the forgiveness, and that forgiveness is a costly business!

And, therefore, I deeply love the cross.

As God is everyone’s maker, any transgression against any fellow human being, is simultaneously an offense against God. [6]

When man honors and worships creation rather than the creator, man takes center stage, and in effect elevates himself as God. The bible considers this man’s most fatal transgression.

There is ample reason why this is fatal:

Firstly, if one might in some warped way suggest that man could take God’s place, this would lead to utter chaos. Man has not, and will never have, neither as individuals nor as collective, the competency and capacity to run and keep all of creation.

Secondly, one needs to understand that if it were possible to remove God, you would simultaneously remove the guarantee for justice in the face of evil, especially when power goes berserk, or when the most vulnerable suffer. God is their vindicator – the injustice will be dealt with.

Thirdly, God created this universe, and is its rightful owner and master. Man is a created being, and a temporary one at that[7], and belongs to God by his mere existence. Og den

Hence, man playing God is a terrible idea.

From his choice to usurp God, there seems to be no boundaries to man’s appetite for self-upholding, self-indulgence and self-awe.

And so, every human being suffers wrongdoing by their fellow man.

I do believe that this is the reason why humans suffer from so much from guilt.

Forgiveness rendered

Therefore, I bear the same burden as every human being – I am guilty. Guilty from my choices, my thoughts, my words, my actions. And there is no way I can suffer the consequences, as I do not know how I would be able to do that. There is too much. I have offended too many, and I cannot even trace them all. I don’t even know them all. For I do understand that there are numbers of individuals I somehow wronged, intended or not. And they must live with the consequences of my wrongdoing.

And I dare not even dare to think how I possibly could repay God for my offences against him.

And therefore, I deeply love the cross.

Us having wronged our fellow man, makes God wronged on a universal scale. Unless you understand that God demands justice for every person alive, you have not understood who you are dealing with.

Every bullied child who is crying to God for help, is remembered. No mother screaming in terror during genocide, is forgotten by God. The scope is unimaginable, and unbearable. And they will all have their vengeance.

And this is what the cross is about. As any transgression against any man, is also a transgression against God, God is in the position to forgive, insofar as he is willing to accept the cost. For the forgiver must bear the cost of forgiveness, and he must accept not being made whole.

So, what did we take from God, as he is not whole, in this sense? We took his son. Because of us, the humankind, Jesus did not only take our sin upon himself, he himself became sin[8]. We robbed God of his son. The amassed evil of a whole world was the target when God punished sin on the cross.

We did that by asking him to forgive.

And this is how a horrific instrument of torture and death became the most loved symbol in the world.

By this cross, my every sin and all my guilt is forgiven. By this cross, I became a son of God.

By this cross, I daily step into God’s presence.

By this cross, I belong to God’s family and have brothers and sisters from all walks of life.

By this cross, I have learnt what forgiveness is, both to receive and give.

By this cross, I understand what love really is.

By this cross, I learnt to reconcile.

By this cross, death har lost its power.

By this cross, I will one day worship Jesus together with all the saints from all of history and every nation and people-group and language.

And that is a worship session I look forward to!

[1] Deut 21:23 [2] Gal 3:13 [3] Mt 27:46 [4] 1John 5:17 [5] Jer 17:9-10 [6] Comparison: If someone assaults my child, they have also wronged me. [7] Even though man is created for eternal life, his time on earth is very limited. [8] 2Cor 5:21

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