We often hear things like “God loves you.” We know Christian Churches stand or fall on that notion. We know that the faith of any individual Christian is grounded on this one simple statement: God loves you.
But what happens when our experience tells us not that God loves me, but that God must have it out for me? Our pain and suffering, or our vision of the world where injustice and suffering exists in such terrible ways, must square with the statement—or not. In a world where millions of children are slaughtered for convenience, in a world where the suffering of entire people groups is made worse by national (dis)interest, in a world where sexual slavery, hatred, mass shootings, drug dependency, racism, sexism, corporate greed, political maneuvering—in that kind of world, how can you say “God loves you,” or me, or anyone else? Doesn’t it seem as if, if there really is a God, the world we experience tells us that this God is rather capricious, or uncaring, or perhaps worse, takes malicious joy in our various sufferings?
It’s a fair question, and I think sometimes we don’t square ourselves with fair answers to that question. The answer, as you might imagine, is “the Cross.”
A World that Has a Cross
The world we live in is just the kind of world in which the Roman political system had a means of dealing with what it considered to be the most terrible kind. It served different purposes for Rome. Just 100 years before Rome crucified a now-famous Galilean, there was another famous crucifixion in 71 BC. A runaway gladiator-slave named Spartacus led a rebellion. His followers were finally killed or caught, and Rome hung up to 6,000 of his followers along the Appian Way. Now, whatever we think of Rome, or Spartacus, or any of these other facts, we should pause on that for a moment. Rome hung 6,000 human beings on a road. They languished on those crosses for days, and afterward remained for everyone to see the corruption, and stink, and rot. Scavenger animals feasted for days. And this was Rome’s symbol of triumph over a rebel-slave: a road of suffering stretching for miles.
More commonly, Rome used this as the most expedient means of demonstrating to its inhabitants what happens when any individual in the Empire dared to stand against the system. You want to speak against Rome? You want to stand against perceived injustice in the good-and-glorious Empire? The cross was an ever-present reminder for those who entertained such ideas.
Of course, the most famous example of Roman crucifixion happened upon a man who also voiced opposition. In a backwater of the Empire, the locals became offended by a man who claimed the locals needed to turn from their evil ways. The locals, in turn, formed a mob and brought him to the Romans in charge. When they heard this man made claims to kingdom, when they heard echoes of opposition to Caesar’s good reign, they stripped him, whipped him, mocked him, and turned him back over to the locals so the locals could have him legally murdered.
This is the world with a cross. It’s a world where systems become corrupt. It’s a world where the kings make much of themselves and little of any authority over them. It’s a world where the mob can turn against an innocent man and murder him in the name of justice. And from that day to this, not much has changed in that regard.
A World that Needs a Cross
And if we see that story and think that we’re better than they are, you haven’t been paying much attention to the news. The means have changed, but the heart is the same. Again and again, we see people suffer at the hands of the Twitter mob. Politicians condemn the innocent for the sake of political expediency. Your neighbor may very well plunder your material goods, and that’s why you lock your door at night. Murder is in the heart of every one of us who hates our brother or sister.
But if we read all of that and fail to see the corruption in our own hearts, we aren’t looking closely enough. We are the mob who rip apart the innocent; we are the locals who’d rather not hear about our culpability; we are the Caesars who dispose of the slave with violence. We are the murderers. Most of us simply haven’t had the opportunity to show just how much murder is in our heart in such public or obvious ways. So murder remains hidden in our heart while we smile and pretend it isn’t there.
And here’s just where we find the punchline: If we say “God loves you,” it must take into account a world that has a cross. All the terrible injustices visited upon us are visited because this is the broken world that has a cross. It’s a world that isn’t made right, and we feel it to our bones. But the problem is that humanity itself is the culprit: throughout history, we have murdered more people in the name of perceived injustices, sometimes even in the name of God. Blood is on our hands, dripping wet with red innocence. And we don’t even care.
This is a broken world, a world where human beings created a cross. It’s also a world that God used such a tool to demonstrate His love toward us. God’s love used the brokenness of this world and took the injustice to show His justice. Jesus wiped the feet of Judas before he received Judas’s betraying kiss. Jesus served Himself to a broken system before that broken system flayed him and nailed him to a Roman cross.
The world that has a cross is precisely the world that needs one. “God loves me”? Yes, indeed. And God shows His love to me by showing me just how broken we are before He shows me just how redeeming His love is to my own soul.