There was a time, not long ago, that I looked at the cross as a symbol of love. This message was reinforced by shirts, logos, and even skywriting at Easter time. But a message that love looks like a form of excruciating punishment is beginning to melt away for me.
For centuries, the Cross has stood as the symbol/logo for the Christian faith in all its forms. In most Western countries, it can be adorned without persecution. In fact, many fashion brands have integrated it into their designs and prints. I don’t hate it. I don’t hate McDonald’s golden arches or Nike’s Swoosh either. They are all ubiquitous brands – symbols we use to affiliate with experiences, values, and belonging. Tribes have held totems and symbols for eons. Most anthropologists would agree that very little has changed in that regard.
So why the personal unraveling around the cross? For me, there are three strands that support a message that CROSS = LOVE. Firstly, there are the cultural origins of the cross being used in Christianity. Secondly, the issue of the cross being a tool of punishment. Thirdly, the theological beliefs around salvation. Then I’ll bring it home and make it personal.
I’m not arguing it change. It’s been around since the second century AD. Earlier Christians used a variety of other symbols, such as the fish, the anchor, and the chi-rho (a monogram made up of the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ).
The use of the actual cross as a symbol of Christianity became more widespread in the 3rd and 4th centuries after the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire.
There is also an argument around the origins of the symbol being BC, referencing Ezekiel 9:4 and the use of the Hebrew letter ‘tav’ being used to mark God’s people in Jerusalem. This early Hebrew tav is similarly cross-shaped to the Greek letter ‘tau’. The use of the tau as a symbol of the cross thus represents a continuation of the Jewish tradition of marking the faithful with a sign of protection, and a recognition of the significance of the cross in Christian theology.
Of course, there have been people over the centuries to whom the cross meant death and destruction. For example, during the Crusades, the cross was used as a symbol of Christian military conquest and domination over non-Christian peoples. Some argue that the use of the cross in this way contradicts the message of peace and love that Jesus taught and undermines the message of the Gospel.
So it’s not all nice jewellery and love, is it? But as it stands, it remains a cultural icon and faith symbol, and I doubt that will change. Based on this, however, this item of torture doesn’t equal love.
Secondly, there is the fact that the cross remains an instrument of death and public display. If I mounted a silhouette symbol of an electric chair, noose, or guillotine to my faith community building, do you think it would call in the masses? Sure, this is a bit extreme, but there is nothing soft about the cross. It is among the most brutal forms of death. We even get the word excruciating from the crucifix. How is that love? Give me the fish, anchor, or dove any day! I can’t see how this equals love.
Thirdly, and predominantly, I think this message of CROSS = LOVE has found its way into our culture supported by theology and belief. And here is where I fully understand that someone would make the connection between this symbol of sacrifice and the love of God. And this is the strand that breaks for me. The idea that God sacrificed Jesus on the Cross for humanity doesn’t stack up for me, theologically, relationally, or personally – and before I explain why briefly, understand that I’m not alone in this. Not now, nor throughout history. I’ll spell a couple of things out and then share personally on how I am considering things.
In Christian theology, the death of Jesus on the cross is often understood as a sacrifice that was necessary for the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of humanity with God. Many reading this may have been taught that the cross was a sacrifice God the Father made to appease anger, bloodlust, or some kind of law that ranked higher than God’s own divine nature and will. The notion of Original Sin and much of what we have adopted from Augustine, etc., supports this view. While there are numerous biblical passages that support this understanding of the cross, there is no one single scripture that explicitly states that God killed Jesus on the cross.
Instead, Christians draw upon a range of scriptural passages to support the belief in Jesus’ sacrificial death. Some of the key passages include John 3:16, Isaiah 53:5-6, Romans 5:8.
Overall, the idea that God killed Jesus on the cross is not explicitly stated in the original texts but is instead an interpretation of the biblical text based on theological reflection and tradition.
Also worth considering… from a Trinitarian perspective, the idea that God killed Jesus on the cross could be seen as problematic because it can suggest a division within the Godhead or a lack of unity in the divine nature. Most Christians would admit God is one divine being who exists in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is equal in power and glory, and together they form a single divine unity.
If it is believed that God the Father killed Jesus on the cross, this could suggest a separation or division within the Trinity, with the Father acting against the Son. This could be seen as contradicting the unity and harmony of the Godhead.
So, the idea that God killed Jesus on the cross could also be seen as suggesting that Jesus was a separate being from God, rather than an integral part of the Trinity. From a Trinitarian perspective, Jesus is not a separate being who can be killed by God the Father but rather a person of the Trinity who willingly offered himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of humanity.
For these reasons, many Trinitarian theologians prefer to focus on the idea that Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary act of self-sacrifice, rather than a punishment inflicted by God the Father. This view emphasizes the unity and harmony of the Trinity and the loving, self-giving nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
There are other things I could present, but for the sake of length, let me bring this home and make it personal. After all, the question worth asking here is, “Where do I (you) fit into this whole story?”
The reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion are complex and multifaceted, but I don’t believe God the Father crucified Jesus the Son. According to Christian scriptures, Jesus was crucified by the Roman authorities. They may have seen Jesus as a political threat or a potential revolutionary, as he was widely regarded as a messianic figure by many of his followers. It’s true that Jesus went willingly. I’m not arguing its divine value in the divine unfolding of things. But mankind crucified Jesus. We did. Political systems did. Religion did. Hatred did. Threat did.
To me, today, the cross is emerging as a symbol of what I have the propensity to do when confronted with radical unconditional love and acceptance. I shun it. Part of me desperately knows it needs the heart of it, but another part of me knows it will be so costly and confronting that I’m better off destroying it.
Part of me is the Roman Empire that prefers the illusion of power and success.
Part of me is the religious sect that prefers rules and a merit-based system that works to be absolved from my shame.
Part of me is the denying friend who refuses affiliation with surrender, healing, and forgiveness.
Part of me is a thief with nothing to lose, desperate to know that when I die, I’ll be okay.
Part of me is a weeping mother whose dreams have been shattered.
This much I am convinced of: there has never been a time, nor will there be, when God and I are not connected. If there is a separation, it’s in my mind (Col 1:21). Separation from God is an illusion that dissolves as these parts of me slowly give way to the unconditional mystical union that God offers me. And yes, it’s confronting!
I’d prefer rules and a religious contract to work through to be free of the shame and disappointment I experience in myself and others than allow the fire of God’s love to burn those things away. Because then I feel I’ve earned it and was powerful, disciplined, and good. I mean, if I accept radical acceptance, I’d feel obliged to reciprocate and love others the same way. And THAT is terribly confronting!
I’d prefer to EARN a spot in heaven with God than face the truth “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That is a hard pill for those of us who’ve walked this religious path to swallow…that perhaps everyone is already forgiven and accepted…no sinner’s prayer. No penance. Just included.
Am I boycotting the cross? No. I doubt that will ever happen. We are too attached and invested in our cultural icons. But each of us is invited, especially at Easter, to examine its role in our faith.
So if the Cross isn’t Love. What is it? For me, God is love. And God is not a Cross. (Unfortunately, there is no logo for God, so that’s hard to draw or brand with). The cross that crucified Jesus and others was crafted by mankind. And to this day, we are still crafting things in an attempt to dampen a message of universal acceptance and salvation – the crafting of religious rules is a subtle example of this attempt.
The Good News is, this message of universal acceptance and salvation rose from the dead to remind us there is no force more powerful than love and forgiveness.
Love and Peace
WOW, Thanks for Sharing David.