For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
"I will destroy the wisdom of
and the discernment of the
discerning I will thwart."
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
- I Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
- I Corinthians 2:1-2 (NRSV)
These words from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth stand as a challenge to me. A challenge I can no longer shirk. With them he wrestles with the greatest scandal of Christianity: Jesus, dying at the hands of the Roman power he defied, hanging on a cross. With them he attempts to solve the problem that scandal poses by inverting it; seeing in it not the futility of the one whose followers proclaimed the Anointed of God, but rather the very power of God.
As I get time over the next few weeks and maybe months, I plan to wrestle here with the crucifixion of Jesus. This is what Christian theologians have been wrestling with for as long as there has been a Christianity. At this moment I can't articulate everything that I think that the scandal of the cross means and has meant. That scandal has been cheapened by those who wish to see in it an easy victory; those who refuse to wrestle with it honestly, exploring in it the mystery of God in the midst of human suffering.
I will say upfront that I do not believe that Jesus was God, or some perfect human. I do not believe that his death was a perfect atoning sacrifice for my sins and the sins of the world. I do not believe that his death was part of God's plan for the redemption of the world - I do not believe in redemptive suffering.
But I still call myself a Christian: One who seeks to follow Christ. One who sees the nature of God mysteriously revealed in Christ. And I do believe that God was at work in Jesus, the Christ, reconciling the world both to God and to itself. And so for me - especially since I cannot believe in completely perfect, sinless persons or divine-human cohabitation, and since I refuse to believe that God wills our collective salvation through the brutal execution of anyone, much less a man such as Jesus - the scandal of the cross looms darkly over me. If my theology cannot somehow wrestle honestly with the crucifixion of Jesus, then it is a fraudulent, dishonest theology.
In this series I will, then, look through Christian history to see how others have wrestled with the scandal of the cross. I will look across religious lines to see how the scandal of the cross has impacted Christian conversations with other faith traditions. And I will look within myself to see how my understanding of "Christ crucified" has changed over time, and is continuing to change.
I cannot promise any firm conclusions, or any safe or easy answers. I cannot pretend to understand the mystery of the presence of God within human suffering. But I can promise to use whatever theological tools I have at my disposal to, whenever I can, posting here my own wrestling with and reflections on the crucifixion of Jesus.
The first post in this series will come later today, when I post some reflections on Isaiah 53, on the "Suffering Servant" - a passage from the Hebrew Bible co-opted by Christians in our attempt to wrestle with the scandal of the cross.
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