The single most important question we can ask is “How does the cross shape our picture of God?”
What makes that question so powerful is that more than any other question it defines who God is to us and in turn it defines who we are. I am coming to believe that we cannot change (am I the only one who finds changing myself near impossible) in any significant way if we do not change what we think about God and more specifically who he is in the light of the cross.
In the light of that I recently watched this well known story which has been used for many years to lead people to Jesus. Here it is:
(Obviously I do not want to discount anyone’s salvation if they came to Jesus through this story, but I am saying that it is not the healthiest or most accurate picture of God.) I came away from watching it feeling very uneasy and like something was wrong with that picture.
Now I just happened to be reading around the issue of psychopathy, which is a sliding scale, obviously just because someone isn’t the most emphathetic person doesn’t mean they are an axe murderer. However I made a startling discovery, there is a very simple test (obviously this is one of many) psychologists can use to determine a tendancy towards psychopathy and it goes like this:
Imagine a train is traveling down a rail-road track which has a fork in it. Now if it forks to the left there is one person caught in the tracks, but if it goes right there is a group of 15 people that are caught in the tracks and you have to flip a switch to divert the train and chose how many people will die.
Obviously we find the thought sickening but if forced into that situation we are going to flip the switch and sacrifice the 1 to save the 15. Now here comes the twist, there is a second part:
Imagine you are on a bridge that crosses a rail-road track and you see a trail hurtling along it. There is also a very large gentleman on the bridge with you. Suddenly you see that a group of 15 people stuck on the track and they will die when hit by the train. However the gentleman next to you is so large that if you push him off the bridge, he has enough girth to stop the train and save the group. Could you push him off?
Now apparently in a psychopaths brain, they can chose to push the fat gentleman off without giving it another thought because the maths still works. The average person can’t because you no longer have to just flip a switch, it is now very personal and you have to actually push a person into harms way.
This is how the above mentioned video can portray God, as a person with psychopathic tendencies. I am sure you haven’t thought about it like that because this actually happens at a sub-conscious level, but it still has a big impact on you just like other sub-concious knowledge. Emotionally we are focused on the sacrifice of the son, but when the emotions fade, what kind of God are we left with?
The problem we have at the cross if we hold to this view of God is that it portrays God needing to use violence to solve the sin problem we have in the world. Now if I look around the world I can’t help but see that while we need to have justice and law to make things work, when someone breaks the law through an act of violence, another act of “justified” violence or retribution doesn’t actually solve the issue. Violence begets more violence.
This thinking actually reduces God’s law of love to the same level as justice. What that means is that for God to love he must have justice. For God to love us, or to forgive us, somebody must first die and blood must be shed, oh and they must be innocent. I no we don’t like to say it like that, but have you ever figured out how punishing an innocent person effectively deals with the sins of a guilty person?
What I see in the cross is something very different. I see God in Jesus, here is the verse (that is an important distinction to make, that on the cross God and Jesus aren’t separate) reconciling the world to himself. Secondly he allows Evil, Sin and Death to exhaust all their violence on him and he overcomes them by the beauty of sacrificial love and by his resurrection, here is the verse.
In the cross, I don’t see God demanding an innocent person die for the guilty. I see satan, sin and evil coming to kill steal and destroy. I see the wisdom of God worked out by breaking the cycle of justified violence (look at the conflicts around the world, no matter what side you are on each side feels justified in acting out in violence). I see Jesus paying a ransom with his life, I see the power of sacrifical love and innocence as a higher law, infused with resurrection power, breaking the grip of death itself.
I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.