The Cross is the center of the Christian faith, though it takes the entire Weekend (Good Friday and Easter Morn) to accomplish the gospel work of God.
But, the Cross is often truncated into an event that deals exclusively with sin as transgression (sin is transgression, and a lot more) for the purpose of preparing people for the Celestial City (which it does, and again a lot more). I call this truncated version of the gospel the Good Friday Onliy Gospel. The Cross, if we look more seriously at the Bible, is so much more.
That is why, in the Jesus Creed, I devoted sections to God’s physical sympathy with our suffering, to God’s liberating us from our fallen condition, to the Cross of Christ as a paradigm of Christian existence. The Cross is all this, and still even more.
If you haven’t looked yet at Os Guinness’s new book, “Unspeakable,” then you might want to when you are browsing at your local bookstore. Guinness, who has been writing salty treatises since the days when he wrote “The Dust of Death” (a first look at Eastern religions in the heady days when Francis Schaeffer was chopping wood in Switzerland and stoking fires in the USA). Unspeakable takes on the twin problems of suffering and evil (they are not the same) and the Twin Towers lay in a heap of ruins behind every page. After taking us through several important questions, he comes to the issue of whether or not the differences (between the Eastern religions and Christianity/Judaism) make a difference. His chapter on Christianity is worth every penny you might spend on the book.
He sets up the “resolution” of the Christian faith by examining the old line of Augustine: If he God is all-good, he would will only good; if all-powerful, he could do whatever he wanted. Since there is evil, either God is not all-good or he is not all-powerful. Well, no one who faces the words of those lines can walk away unscathed. Hinduism, Guinness states, avoids evil by withdrawal. But the God of the Christian faith stares evil and suffering in the face and he does so preeminently in the Cross (and here Guinness forgets the resurrection and Pentecost, which is a pity because they would strengthen his case).
Never mind about that. Three Christian responses to suffering and evil are found: (1) God faces evil by the message that the world should be because it was created otherwise; (2) God faces suffering as an all-good God by absorbing wounds himself; and (3) God’s power remains an eschatological hope (here he has forgotten both Resurrection and Pentecost, rendering the power of God entirely a future hope when it has present restoring powers).
Still, the sweep of Guinness tells the story: the Christian story is one in which God absorbs pain, deals with evil, and creates new possibilities (I’d say through both the Cross as paradigm and the Resurrection as power and Pentecost as enablement). When theologians write as Guiness does, and I don’t agree with all he has written, we find ideas that neither minimize the human condition, what I call the Cracked Eikon condition, nor slink away from bold and realistic realities.
To adapt a line Guinness uses from a Portuguese parable: God makes things right with crossed lines. It takes a story a long time to fill in those lines.
Blogs to come: I’ll be blogging on McLaren’s “The Last Word,” on Jim Wallis’ “God’s Politics,” and then perhaps on what we mean when we discuss the “unity” of the Bible. I’ve got grading, Baccalaureate and Commencement to attend to over the next few days, along with reading the proofs of a monograph coming out from Baylor Univ Press this fall, so I may not be able to keep up the pace. In the meantime, I’ll also be blogging some on favorite essayists, and I’ll begin that with Alan Jacobs’ two wonderful books of essays.