The Beautiful Brutality of the Cross

Well-known atheist and psychologist Steven Pinker published a book in 2011 titled “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.” The book focuses mainly on the philosophies of religion, asserting that religion (specifically Christianity) is one of the greatest contributors of violent acts and warfare.

If one groups together all religions into a single entity, the characteristics of the group as a whole will most certainly not fairly represent the characteristics of each individual religion. Certain religions preach peace and tolerance, while others teach punishment and submission. The assertion that Christianity is a source of evil and violence can be easily refuted by anyone who seeks to do so. However, I want to focus on a specific point that Pinker makes in his book. He spends a few pages talking about Jesus’ crucifixion, and how it is barbaric and disturbing that Christians see it as the most beautiful expression of love that God has ever shown.

To get a better idea of Pinker’s opinion on the subject, here is a paragraph from his book –

More to the point, what was the lesson that the first Christians drew from the crucifixion? Today such a barbarity might galvanize people into opposing brutal regimes, or demanding that such torture never again be inflicted on a living creature. But those weren’t the lessons the early Christians drew at all. No, the execution of Jesus is The Good News, a necessary step in the most wonderful episode in history. In allowing the crucifixion to take place, God did the world an incalculable favor.” (p. 25)

Do Christians think that crucifixion is a brutal and barbaric method of execution? Of course they do. It is not as if Christians were advocating crucifixion as a good means of punishment for anyone. Rather, they saw it as the most brutal form of execution a man could endure. In this way, Jesus, both God and man, showed the extent of his love to his creation. Pinker seems to be making the false resolution that because Christians profess and value Jesus’ crucifixion, it means that Christians are heartless and barbaric monsters.

As happens with some secular or atheist philosophies, there is a grain of truth to be found in these assumptions. Are Christians barbarians? In a sense, yes. Because of our sinful nature, every human (Christian or otherwise) was and is born completely dead and void of any true love. Our natural opposition to God and his will is what warranted the ultimate sacrifice of Christ.  All mankind was conceived in sin, even to the point that we are all enemies of God. As David states in Psalm 14:3,

“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
 not even one.”

Do we take pride that it is our sin that held Christ to the cross? Certainly not. The crucifixion was necessary because of the sins of the human race. We are held to blame for all of the sins that Christ took on as he suffered. We believe the crucifixion to be both beautiful and disturbing at the same time. It’s disturbing in the sense that we all took part in crucifying Christ. It is beautiful in the sense that God showed the world the extent of His boundless love, giving Himself up to death for our sake. And furthermore, we know that the nails we personally used to hold him to that tree have been cast out of God’s sight, out of His memory, as if we had never done any wrong to our Savior. Jesus has taken the blame and pardoned us from our guilt, and as a result our consciences and souls are free.

Look at it this way: Christians don’t walk out of a Good Friday service smiling and chatting about the recent college basketball game. It’s usually one of the most emotional and shameful experiences that a Christian can go through. On Good Friday, we focus on the fact that our sin is to blame for Christ’s suffering. We walk out of the service in sorrowful introspection, realizing the extent of our sin.

Then, when Easter comes on the third day, the beauty of Christ’s death is found in the fact the he didn’t stay dead. If Christ had died for us and not risen, the cross would be seen as anything but “good.” If Christ had been punished for our iniquity, and not overcome death itself, the cross would be the shame of all mankind. However, God ensured it to be the opposite. Because Jesus rose from death, we know that he conquered death for us through his atonement. We do not boast about ourselves, as is we have anything to do with our own salvation. Rather, we boast in the cross of Christ, rejoicing in the hope that comes from Christ’s atonement. We heed the words of Paul in Galatians 6:14 – “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We lower ourselves before the cross, recognizing that God’s gift of salvation was given to us despite our shameful stance towards God.

We also know that through our baptism, we were “crucified with Christ,” that is, our sin and rebellion were put to death through Jesus’ sacrifice. When we rejoice in the cross, we celebrate our death as well. In the same way, when we rejoice in Christ’s resurrection, we take heart in the hope that he has also secured our resurrection. The beauty of the cross cannot be comprehended or understood by one who has not been brought to faith. To Steven Pinker, the message of the cross is foolishness because he is not in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). The death of Jesus Christ has absolutely no value to those who aren’t God’s children, and is absolute folly to the world.

When Christians look at the cross, we should call to mind both law and gospel. Our disobedience to the law was the very thing for which Christ suffered, but Christ suffered because of his perfect love and grace towards the world. Why would anyone worship a God who was humiliated enough to die such a barbaric death? We worship the humble Christ because God is love  –

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

 

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A Fascinating Exploration of Fractals and the Design of the Universe

Even if you don’t care much for mathematics or the sciences, this video will provide you with an appreciation of the incredibly powerful and intricate nature of the abstract world. Dr. Jason Lisle give a glimpse into the infinite nature of God’s mind by examining the infinite properties of numbers themselves. The actual concept and existence of numbers and fractals gives compelling evidence for an omniscient and eternal creator. We can even see footprints of the infinite world of numbers within God’s physical creation. This video is well worth your time, and you won’t be disappointed. Instead, you will be amazed at the awesome beauty of God’s creation.

Just for fun, I’m curious to see the readers’ experience with mathematics:

Don’t Dull the Sword’s Edge

Whenever I hear of a new church that I don’t know much about, I usually look up their website to find out what they believe. Whether it’s non-denominational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or any part of the spectrum, the primary points of confession on their websites are almost always the same. Briefly, it usually goes like this:

•We believe in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created all things.
•We believe that Jesus Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, led a perfect life, died an atoning death, rose from the dead, sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead.
•We believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in each Christian, giving them faith, and allowing them to lead a godly life.
•We believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, being the sole authority of the Church.

The beliefs of each specific church usually starts to diverge after these primary points. Some of them believe that Christians having the ability to speak in tongues and prophesy. Some of them claim that their church is filled with miraculous healings and revivals. Some of them talk about the turning point when a Christian “makes a decision for Jesus.”

Even if you dig deeper in their official teachings, many churches tend to fill their public confessions with vague statements that have some wiggle room for interpretation. American churches tend to be afraid of commitment to any specific doctrine, because they want to be all-inclusive and facilitate everyone’s opinions. It is not necessarily a terrible thing when churches are vague or very general in their summary of beliefs. Sometimes it is necessary to be concise when giving a brief overview of what a church confesses. However, a vague and weak statement of confession, both when written or publicly proclaimed, is an indication that a church is avoiding that harsh realities of Scripture. A confession of beliefs that is void of any controversial teachings tends to be the most attractive. The ambiguity of doctrine and the preaching of “feel good gospel” is what makes non-denominational churches so attractive to many.

This lies in stark contrast to the reality of Scripture. The harsh truth that so many Christians fail to admit is that everyone is a sinner who is intrinsically opposed to what God has to say. Contrary to what members of the church growth movement have to say, unbelievers don’t resist the Church because it’s stale or old-fashioned or hypocritical. In reality, unbelievers resist the Church because they are enemies of God by nature. Even Christians, before they are brought to faith, were bound to sin and unbelief under the law. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 –

“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

 

We live in a world that makes every effort it can to resist the harsh truths of God’s Word. Popular music, hip pastors, and a softer message can’t make people a part of the Church. That power is reserved solely for God’s Word. The Word of God is the only thing that can renew a sinful heart and plant the seed of faith. Romans 10:17 reaffirms this truth – “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Word is the only means by which the Spirit works faith – and that Word must be taught and proclaimed in its entirety, including the truths that stand completely opposed to our society.

To be fair, some churches must do a better job of applying the gospel. The law cannot soothe a guilt-stricken heart. It only multiplies the guilt ten-fold. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can give the guilty conscience peace and reassurance. This doesn’t mean that the law has no place in our churches. The law must be proclaimed from our pulpits and our confessions so that it may fulfill its purpose – to kill the sinful nature in order that Christ may raise it again, blameless and holy in God’s sight. “We were once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and we died” (Romans 7:9).

There is no gospel without the law. If humanity is not dead in sin, then there is no reason for forgiveness. The law has to be upheld in its entirety – if not, the gospel has lost its meaning. And in proclaiming even the harshest convictions of the law, the gospel becomes that much more beautiful. If the world is convicted of more sins, including the ones that are held highly in society, then the grace of God abounds all the more for the forgiveness of these sins.

It’s disappointing when churches don’t understand this reality of Scripture. So many churches believe that by watering down the law they can draw in more people. This might even work at first. But if we don’t fully realize our sinfulness, how can we know the gospel? It’s simple – by preaching the fulness of the law, we can administer the fulness of the gospel. There is no sin that the gospel cannot overcome.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 2:4-6 (ESV)