Revealing sinfulness, the cross shows who we really are.
Revealing holiness, the cross shows who God really is.
Several months ago, an older woman who knew I was a Christian approached and asked if she could speak with me; she proceeded to share many different themes that all of us could relate to—moments of hurt, long periods of loneliness, pent-up anger, health issues, financial difficulties. Sometimes she would cuss as she spoke, apologize, cuss some more; other times she would break down crying. She hadn’t really asked me a direct question, so I just sat and listened to her, let her get it all out.
Eventually she stopped and asked, rather pointedly, “Does God even care?”
I know that question occasionally occurs to all of us in our lives. And I know that our customary “God is there”, “God cares”, “God provides” responses can sound insubstantial; they are true, but can sometimes seem intangible. What good are spiritual realities that have no material or physical expressions? The Scriptures show us God understands this tension, this need for connection to substance. His grace-filled resolution was to incarnate his very essence, God into flesh.
It is in the person of Jesus that “God is there” and “God cares”. In Jesus, God identifies himself with the whole of humanity, living out the same human experience we each trudge through day in and day out. Though he was God, he did not make his human existence more comfortable for himself; quite the opposite actually. He lived under the same conditions each of us human beings must endure throughout our lives and was spared none of its hardships and horrors. He willingly took them upon himself so we can know God cares. What I attempted to convey to this lonely, panicking woman in my answer was that Christ-on-the-cross, in suffering, abandonment, and death, is probably the clearest and most substantial expression of just how much God does care.
It is in Jesus’ suffering on the cross that God joins humanity in our suffering. In our unbearable moments of pain, suffering, fatigue, and sorrow, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I will go through this with you”, “You are not alone in your pain.”
It is in the Father’s abandoning of Jesus that God joins humanity in our abandonment and loneliness. In our moments of loneliness and perceived or actual abandonment, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I, too, know the pain and panic of abandonment.”
It is in Jesus’ death on the cross that God joins humanity in our death, that cumulative consequence for all that sin has wrought. In the moment of our death, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I, too, entered this terrifying and inescapable unknown.”
This probably is not the answer we hope to hear in our wearisome moments, but I believe it’s the answer we need. As “God with us”, Jesus is the clearest picture of God at work. His birth, his life, his teachings, his actions, how he interacted with others, how he suffered and died—these are all earthy, tangible expressions of God caring for us. When we wonder “does God care?”, in all these moments, Jesus puts a face to the mystery and shows how God is answering the question. But this earthy expression is still not without divine mystery.
It is here in Jesus’ crossing of death’s threshold we see God’s great care for us wonderfully displayed, not in how our identities are similar, but how they are not. By entering death, Jesus’ divinity is unleashed in all of his brilliant glory, majesty, and power. We are saved, not just by how he identifies with us, but because of who he actually is—the sovereign LORD of life.
With Good Friday approaching, the time is opportune to contemplate how, in Christ, we are not alone or abandoned. In Christ, God’s caring presence is constant. My prayer for us throughout Passion Week is that, through Scriptural and prayerful contemplation, all of what we are aware will be saturated with the sanctifying presence of Christ through whom God is always working his salvation in us by how he care-fully identified with us on the cross. Comfort of Christ to you.