I think this will be one of those blog posts that is seemingly obvious and perhaps overly nit-picky, but I want to share a detail that deepened my theology anyway.
My favorite professor at DTS was adamant that Jesus’s death was meaningless without his resurrection. This is not a new idea, since Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17: “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” So far, so obvious. But ever since it was pointed out to me, I’ve noticed how often faith is shared that focuses entirely on Jesus’s death. It’s present in the songs we sing (from hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” to praise songs like “At the Cross”) where our joy and salvation is supposedly found at the foot of an execution instrument. And it’s present in sermons and small group conversations where Jesus’s death is used as a shorthand to encompass his entire act of salvation.
Recently, a thought experiment dropped into my head. Let’s say I am in a firing line about to be executed for my crimes. A gun is pointed at me, and I’m crying and begging to be spared. When the shot rings out, I am shocked to find that someone else has leapt in front of me to take the bullet in my place (in this scenario there is only one bullet in the whole world and therefore the punishment is over). What is my honest reaction to this? Yes, I would be momentarily grateful to still be alive. But I would also feel grief that someone else took my place, rage at the incompetent executioner, and most importantly of all, GUILT. I would forever feel guilty, knowing that my life had cost someone else theirs.
Now imagine that as soon as someone else takes the bullet for me and I fall over their body crying in shock and disbelief, they pop up, alive again. “I’m alright,” they say. “I took your punishment and an execution is recorded, but I’m alive again.” What’s the prevailing emotion now? JOY. Now that gratitude goes on and on, and of course I’m going to want to follow that person around because of 1) their sacrifice and 2) their power. But there’s no longer guilt, just joy.
I suppose that’s the subtle difference that makes how we speak of Jesus’s salvation so important. When we disproportionately focus on Jesus’s death, we are emotionally cued to experience guilt. But when his death is followed by resurrection, there is joy and freedom and grace. It is very easy to start practicing this; just take an extra second to say “Jesus’s death and resurrection” every single time you talk about Jesus’s work of salvation. It can drastically shape our view of God and our view of ourselves. It did for me, anyway.
I grew up in two worlds: the postmodern culture of my public education and the isolationist culture of my church. Although I was not consciously aware of the secular culture in which I grew up, it influenced me all the same, both implicitly shaping me and as I explicitly reacted against it. On the positive side, postmodernism taught me to value individual experiences and to look on the world with wonder at the multitudes of cultures and belief systems around the world. On the negative side, I internalized a belief that I could never fully be sure of anything. This applied to friendships, family members, and truth. I became a cynical person who doubted people’s love and wondered if I had any purpose in life. Although I was a loud-and-proud Christian at my public school, the theology I parroted rarely took root on an emotional level to counteract these fears.
In fact, although my church tried to offer hope in the face of a “sinful” culture, the theology I learned only exacerbated the loneliness and detachment of postmodernism. I was taught a theology that was centered upon the cross in hope of a future in heaven. I learned about the depth of love Jesus had for us by dying a horrific death in atonement for our sins. I had a guilt-based relationship with God in which I feared every new sin I committed would crucify Jesus all over again. The only hope, I believed, was in heaven. This world was entirely awful, and I certainly was not capable of making things better. Therefore, I looked forward to the day when I would be dead and blissfully happy in heaven, a nebulous place of whites and golds where I knew my sin-stained self would be able to see Jesus face-to-face. Continue reading
I often forget to celebrate Holy Week. Sometimes this is for amazing reasons–like a visiting friend who brings me so much joy. Sometimes this is for dumb reasons–like being anxious about the future and how to make hard decisions. And I think God is patient with me, understanding my distractions, waiting for me to realize the gift He’s given the Church in walking through Holy Week year after year after year.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Christ as humble King, entering the city not on a military horse but on a plodding donkey. At my church, we walked down the aisle with palm branches, laid them on the alter, and took Communion from our elders. We were encouraged to symbolically lay down something along with the palm branch, and I gave up control. Or rather, for one moment I gave up control, hoping that God would honor that fleeting moment of trust and see my heart that is scared and doubtful but so desperate to lean on Him. Then I took the bread and the wine, looking back at what Jesus did for the world so that I can look forward to what He will do when He returns. In all this, Christ is King. He is in control. Continue reading