However, I do want to ask a few questions…
A couple of nights ago I was reading with Sephi from a kids prayer book, which has got to the Easter story a little earlier than our 2013 calendar. As I was reading I came across the line ‘thank you for dying for us’. I changed it quickly to something like “thank you for your love”. Now, I’m not trying to protect Sephi from the reality of human existence. We’ve had many conversations about death. I don’t think that she’s obsessed…just exploring thoughts at the moment!
So why did I change it?
I guess what I believe about the cross has changed a lot in recent years. I think it’s a massively complex thing – and have tried to explain my thoughts previously about what’s going on. But I’m increasingly certain that to focus on the ‘Jesus died because of my sins’ is to focus on a penal substitution argument that leaves us with a vengeful God, literally a sacrificial lamb, and a whole heap of guilt to put on a small child – or any new believer.
One of the things I’ve thought a lot about is how the cross represents an incredible victory against violence that sums up much of what Jesus taught us during his ministry. The human powers attempt to silence his critique of their authority by murdering him, and yet their violence fails. He defeats death. It is powerless. Jesus teaches us that when we are struck, we should turn the other cheek. He tells us that violence only begets violence. It always fails. And here is the greatest symbol of his argument – the violence of a public execution on a cross – it doesn’t kill his movement, if anything it gives birth to it, propels it forward from being a tiny bunch of confused followers into a movement that quite literally transforms the whole world.
I’ve also been influenced by what Peter Rollins writes about (and I’m sure many have written before) in that the cross represents the destruction of the idol that we’ve made God into. Instead of allowing God to transform our world view, we transform God into something we can manage, just another thing that we aspire to be or own, to fill our emptiness. Instead, God fulfils everything by disrupting that possessive world view. We can’t own God anymore than we can own the moon, or the air that we breathe. God is everything and in everything and…well, words begin to run out and we haven’t even scraped the surface.
Essentially, the cross is a moment of existential crisis – God, in the form of Jesus’ cries out ‘why have you forsaken me’, accusing God (the Father) of failing. And thus our pursuit of a God who sorts everything out for us and makes life simple is broken. God breaks it himself. Doubt seems to be placed at the centre of everything. Jesus dying saves us from that corruption and creates a new way of being and living that holds the mystery of who God is close, invites us to participate in that mystery with us and gives us permission to doubt because we believe. The cross isn’t about guilt – it’s about love and hope and doubt and uncertainty and…well, so much more…
I’m probably not articulating it very well, but this is where I am at the moment.
So what now? What difference does this make?
Well, I suppose it means that I look at the world and seek to see God everywhere and in everyone. I doubt, I have ‘dark night’ moments when it seems like it’s pointless to try to know God, and yet somewhere within that I experience the presence of that absent God.
I want my daughter to grow up knowing that God is love and grace, that there are huge questions that arise as a result of that, things that we need to ask and doubt about, because to doubt is to truly believe. I want her to question, to probe, to have a faith that isn’t broken the first time her prayers aren’t answered, or the first time she experiences adversity or tragedy.
I want her to grow up knowing that violence will never work, and that even if she is beaten and broken and all seems lost, that she will never be defeated because she walks in the way of Jesus. Love hurts, love is costly, but love is worth it. Violence will break whenever it encounters this true love. I want her to love lavishly.
I want her to grow up seeing God is the most hopeless of circumstances, in her neighbour, in those who call themselves her enemies. I want her to marvel at her world and not accept the simplistic answers that both religion and science sometimes offer. I want her to love her community, to give sacrificially, generously because generosity is at the heart of who we are. We never give up, no matter how hopeless it may seem. In fact, I guess I want her to be one who brings hope with her.
I suppose more importantly, I want her to figure this out for herself, within a framework of exploration that we’ve equipped her for. I want her to be a ‘free thinker’, who knows the God story and what it means to her parents, her family and those we commune with, but also willing to listen to those who disagree, to do so generously and willing to learn about herself from others.
All of this I fail at miserably, but it’s what I strive for.
Reading a simple children’s prayer book…this is what happens!