The Glory of the Cross?

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14). Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn tells of the following episode in his Gulag Archipelago. Sick with fever and broken in spirit Solzhenitsyn was forced by the gulag authorities to work day after day.

One day, overcome with anger mixed with deep depression, he simply gave up hope. He threw his shovel on the ground knowing full well he would pay for such action with a beating from the guards. An elderly crippled man who had been working side by side with him hobbled close to him with his only crutch and touched Solzhenitsyn on the shoulder. Immediately the old man drew a cross in the dirt of the ground. Aleksandr saw this crude image for a few seconds before the man covered over the cross with his foot. As the guard headed toward them Solzhenitsyn picked up his shovel and confesses that he had an overwhelming spiritual awareness at that moment. He thought to himself, “The old man is right. They can take my health from me. They can rob me of my wealth and quench my zeal for life. But the one thing they can never touch is my faith.”

How do we process glory in suffering? Most of us seem unable to deal with bad hair days let alone those moments in life when the weight of the daily grind and the doubts that creep into our minds practically make it impossible to rejoice. Perhaps none of us will experience the kind of political and social repression that has existed in so many regimes such as Nazism and Communism and the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. To have some tyrant snatch one’s children from his home is unheard of in democratic societies today. The horrors that humans have heaped upon their fellows are unconscionable and almost seem surreal when we contemplate such behavior. Humankind is just one despot away from repeating the atrocities that have pockmarked history.

The cross has become so familiar to us that we hardly are touched by its meaning. How disciples of Christ who have been rescued from the depths of sin can remember the body and blood of the Savior without tearful reflection is sad to fathom. Is the Lord Supper merely one of five acts that must be done as hurriedly as possible in order to get the flock out of the sheepfold within the expected hour? Is it possible to push our gum to the side of our mouths as we pinch an ort of matzo without reflecting for ten seconds on the sacrifice that was paid to liberate us from our waywardness? I recall a meeting of church leaders where the main topic was the discussion of methods that could shorten the length of the communion memorial. The deacon who won out was able to cut the time from twelve minutes to six. What good stewardship this must be.

What happened six hours one Friday is the turning point of human history and provides the centerpiece of what existence is all about. In his divine providence and mercy our holy God had charted out the course our Savior was to take in order to offer redemption to a race of earthlings whose ancestral parents could not so much as to honor a single prohibition. “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). From the moment father Adam and mother Eve rebelled against the wishes of their maker we have followed in their defiant steps with unrestrained insubordination. We have shaken our fists in the face of God so often that it is a wonder his merciful patience has not been exhausted. If he is a God of omniscience, then perhaps he is also a God of copious and boundless mercy.

A recent conversation with a long-haul truck driver left me scratching my head. I hope it left him scratching at his heart. He confessed over lunch that he was an atheist. I presumed to tell him that he was a man of great faith. He asked for clarification so I told him that it required monumental faith to believe that life and all it supplies is merely an accidental shuffling of cosmic dust. He grinned as he acknowledged that there were some days when he had his doubts, but that he was able to push them aside when the reality of life and suffering invaded his domain. As we were chatting the man expressed his distaste for the filthy language that was being exchanged around us. I asked him why he felt badly about it since if there were no God and no reason for being and no design or purpose to life it shouldn’t matter one way of the other how people expressed themselves. I thought I saw a glimmer of hope in his eye as he drew one more drag from his Marlboro.

“We have a moral code to live by or chaos and anarchy would take over,” the man wisely said. I agreed with him and then immediately asked where he got any sense of moral ethics. He had to think that one over and finally said, “Without laws of order we would all be savages.” I smiled and replied, “If this is all one big bang of an accident, then what difference does it make whether we are or are not savages?” Just then a pretty young gal walked by our counter. The man practically fell off his seat staring as she left the dining room. “Who do you think made her?” I asked the trucker. “Something that lovely cannot be an accident or a product of mere chance.” Perhaps I won by sheer volume the war of words or perhaps he was just too tired to argue the point. But silence took over our conversation. As the man took his receipt and headed for the cashier, I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “Since God apparently isn’t your co-pilot, I suggest you drive very carefully.” He threw this my way. “Is God your co-pilot?” I laughed out loud and said, “No, sir. I’ve changed seats with him a long time ago.” I hope a seed of doubt/hope was planted that day.

Who can weigh the glory of the cross? Who of us can fully understand the kind of love that was required to be put in the position our Savior was in that lonely day outside Jerusalem? Oh, my! If we understood how much Jesus loved us we’d all become Christians today. The cross screams out loud the love of a Father who would do anything to rescue his children from themselves. Would any of us give one of our children in place of the scum and wretches that pollute society today? God gave his only Son in place of every miserable rebel who ever walked the face of the planet. How could he have done such a thing? How could he love us so? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He died for truck drivers who are afraid to believe. He also died for the rest of us who are afraid not to believe. Behold, the cross!