Jurgen Moltmann is the foremost proponent for approaching the world’s suffering through the lenses of the cross. For Moltmann, “Christian theology must look at the question of Christ’s suffering before looking at the suffering of the world. It can only form a critical theology of its contemporary environment only in as far as it has experienced the critique of the cross.” So what does the cross have to say?
For the message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God’s power… So then, where does that leave the wise? or the scholars? or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world’s wisdom is foolishness! For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength… God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important (1 Cor 1:18, 20-25, 27-29).
So Jesus called them all together to him and said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it is among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:42-45).
As these passages illustrate, the cross of Christ transforms all worldly definitions of wisdom, power and justice. Power by coercion is itself overpowered by self-sacrificial servanthood. Justice by way of ‘the sword’ perpetuates the violent cycle that God’s shalom desires to vanquish. The cross of Christ, on the other hand, leaves people “hammering their swords into plowshares…for they will learn war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Golgotha demands that we seriously reconsider our concepts of justice and especially our means of achieving it. Douglas John Hall clarifies the need:
“The theology of the cross…does not altogether eschew the idea of power and such related terms as triumph, victory, or conquest. But it does eschew—and radically so—the models of power, triumph, victory, and conquest which Christian doctrine has all to consistently employed in its endeavor to interpret the meaning of the work of God in Jesus as the Christ. The theology of the cross does not intend simply to discard the metaphor of power, but it does want to transform it; for it is an adequate way of speaking about the redemptive work of God only if it is conformed to the image of God revealed in the crucified One” (God & Human Suffering, 1986, p. 105).
Like an elephant in the room, the Cross has stood in our midst, casting its giant shadow over all of the world’s feeble attempts to build a just and peaceful society. Yet for two thousand years we have tried to ignore its strange presence, perhaps because its counter-intuitive message still seems quite foolish to our all-too-worldly minds. Let us turn our eyes once again toward the ‘Old Rugged Cross’ and see if we cannot make some more sense of God’s foolish wisdom. Stay tuned.