What follows is the first installment of nine concerning the title for this blog, the crucifixion and the crucifix.
Ask any Christian the question, “Who is Jesus?” Most likely you will get the same reply, “Jesus is God.” That is, of course, right. It reflects the very language of the Nicene Creed which confesses, Jesus to be, “of one substance with the Father... who...was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”
However, as soon as you say that Jesus is God, it begs a prior question; namely, who is God? Of course, this question could be answered in any number of ways. He is the creator of all things, the unmoved mover, the all-seeing eye, the almighty One, the life force, the one to Whom we owe absolute obedience. While, each of these answers is true in its own right, sensitive Christians can see a problem begin to emerge. God is defined with no reference whatsoever to Jesus Christ. Jesus enters the picture only at the second point.
To the extent that we put Jesus in second place, any ideas that we have about who God is and what He is like will be skewed and off the mark. It is only when we are thinking about God apart from Jesus that we can ask questions like, “How can God be so harsh as to condemn people just because they don’t believe?” or “How could God let Hitler and Stalin do such evil things?” “Doesn’t it make God an evil being if He can consign people to the pains of hell with no end ever?”
I’m sure that you’ve heard these kinds of questions before—you might have even raised them yourselves. They present vexing philosophical problems which have given rise to a great many heresies among those who attempt to answer them. But the simple fact that I want to point out here is this: These questions will simply never cross your mind while you are standing at the foot of the cross. It is impossible to look upon God as He hangs on the cross and say, “How can you be so evil as to condemn people to hell?” The reason is obvious. God is hanging on the cross for one reason and one reason only—to rescue people from that fate! While we are witnessing Him giving everything He is and has to rescue the world from death and hell, it makes no sense whatsoever to ask, “How He could be so mean as to put people there?” Those kinds of questions only make sense as long as we are thinking about God apart from Jesus on the cross.
For this reason, the Apostle Paul was determined to know and speak about nothing other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is for this reason, also, that I believe a crucifix to be such a beautiful figure to have constantly before your eyes. It keeps you centered on the one and only revelation of God that makes you a Christian.
Every other monotheistic religion in the world can tell you all the logical things about God and then stand around and speculate how this almighty, transcendent Being might sometimes be merciful — and under what conditions. Monotheists who take the Christian angle will tell you that Jesus is also God, and that the merciful Jesus kind-of balances out the harshness of God. But true Christians of all ages have confessed not only that Jesus is one face of God; rather, we teach that Jesus is the only face of God. That makes all the difference.