The Crucified God
Christ was crucified; and Christ was God. Jurgen Moltmann has ample warrant, therefore, for giving his book on the cross the title, The Crucified God.  Before there is a rush to buy it, however, we should warn readers that it is a fairly weighty specimen of academic theology. Furthermore, Moltmann could not satisfy Karl Barth as to his orthodoxy and can hardly expect, in the circumstances, to be endorsed by many of my readers. Indeed, some might think he were better left unmentioned in these pure and august pages. The trouble is, we owe him not only the title of this chapter but a good deal of theological stimulus besides, and it would be immoral to borrow without acknowledging our debt. Moltmann has clearly highlighted the paradoxical nature of the fact that God was crucified; insisted that it is not something we can just take in our stride; and drawn attention to some of its revolutionary implications for our theology, our individual Christian practice and out ecclesiastical ethos. The fact of the crucified God must be not only the foundation but the judge of our Christianity. The cross, said Luther, is the test of everything (Crux probat omnia).
But before looking at its implications for the church and for theology we must first of all look at the cross in itself. The sufferings it involved can be briefly summarised under four headings.
First, our Lord suffered physically. His body, like our own, was severely limited in its powers of endurance and highly sensitive to pain. In common with other men he suffered, in that body, hunger, thirst, weariness and exhaustion. Beyond other men, he suffered the physical agony of Calvary: the whipping, the immolation, the many hours' suspension, fully conscious, upon the cross itself. These experiences were imprinted indelibly upon his memory, so that today not even the most excruciating pain is beyond the Saviour's personal understanding: 'He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust' (Ps. 103:14).
Secondly, our Lord suffered emotionally. He had an ordinary human psychology (sinfulness excepted). It would be morbid to overlook the fact that in that psychology he knew many hours of joy and contentment. Indeed, we could say that his sinless personality was so fully integrated that these were his basic and characteristic emotions. Yet he also knew the dark side of our psychology, not only occasionally, but habitually. He was 'the man of sorrows'. He was distressed by the spiritual hardness of those among whom he ministered, grieved by their opposition and pained by their misery. He wept in the presence of death, seeing it as an outrage: and he wept over Jerusalem, a great collective of sins and sorrows, doomed to destruction.
These dark emotions were intensified by the shadow of Calvary - a shadow which hung over him from the beginning of his ministry. As early as Mark 2:20, he speaks of a day when he will be violently taken away from his disciples. But the burden became particularly evident after Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi: 'And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them; and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid.' These words speak of a solemn awesomeness in the demeanour of our Lord - one which filled the disciples with fear and foreboding.
These pent-up emotions erupt in Gethsemane. He is sore amazed. He is very heavy. He is exceeding sorrowful - 'unto death'. He throws himself on the ground in the intensity of his agony. The cause? His clear vision of what God's will for him involved: 'Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.' The experience drains him - so much so that an angel has to be sent from heaven to strengthen him.
In these things, Christ still stands beside those who are emotionally overborne, finding their grief and bewilderment insupportable and likely to be fatal. Most of us, of course, enjoy so much of God's goodness that we should find it no great difficulty to 'make melody in our hearts and be thankful always and in all things' (Eph. 5:19f.) But there are some who are simply terrified by the unfolding will of God. Gethsemane is their reminder that the Saviour can enter fully into their fear; as it is also a reminder that such fear is not necessarily something to be ashamed of.
Thirdly, our Lord suffered socially. Our starting-point here must be the recollection that Christ loved his neighbour as himself - not coldly and formally but warmly and affectionately - and naturally wanted that love reciprocated. It was not easy, therefore, to be isolated, to be condemned by the religious establishment, to be deemed an embarrassment by his family and to have the multitude calling for his blood. The treatment he received from his immediate disciples was even more painful. They were chosen precisely 'to be with him' (Mk. 3:14). In his humanness he needed their friendship. Yet one betrayed him, another denied him and all forsook him. He died entirely bereft of support, encouragement or appreciation, knowing that those who were closest to him thought only that he was letting them down.
Fourthly, our Lord suffered spiritually. There are two dimensions to this. One is his exposure to Satan and the powers of hell which began with the threefold temptation early in his ministry. These temptations were repelled, but we should not assume that they were repelled easily. Significantly, we are told that his victory followed a time of fasting (Matt. 4:2). Luke tells us that after this the devil left him; but only 'for a season' (Lk. 4:13), which clearly suggests that the attack was soon renewed. It became particularly intense in Gethsemane, where Christ has to 'agonise' against the suggestion that he should put 'the cup' (the Father's will; or, the way of the cross) away from him. It was here, probably, that he resisted 'unto blood, striving against sin' (Heb. 12:4).
But Gethsemane was only the shadow of Calvary, where the Satanic attack culminates. He is behind Judas' betrayal (John 13:27), Peter's denial and the disciples' flight (Lk. 22:31). He is the pervertor of justice in the courts of Annas, Herod and Pilate. He is the instigator of the chant, 'Crucify! Crucify!' and of the taunt, 'He saved others. Himself he cannot save!' From what Scriptures and experience teach, we may well infer that he subjected the mind of the Lord to an unceasing bombardment of sinful suggestions, horrid blasphemies and despairing forebodings.
On a deeper level, the Lord's spiritual sufferings climaxed in the severance of fellowship with his Father, indicated in the cry of dereliction, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' We are tempted to add - 'Whatever these words may mean!' because here we have neither experience nor revelation to guide us. He was clearly bereft of all that was fitted to comfort him: for example, the assurance of God's love, the awareness of God's help and the certainty of a triumphant outcome. That fact that he cried, 'My God!' rather than the usual 'Father! (Abba)' suggests that he also suffered the loss of a sense of his own identity. The incarnation itself was sufficient to obscure the Lord's identity from the eyes of ordinary onlookers. The inability to say 'Abba!' suggests that at last the veil of (imputed) sin, ignominy and suffering was so impenetrable that his sonship was obscured even from himself: not necessarily in the sense that he doubted it but in the sense that it was not present as any consolation to his consciousness.
The fact of his feeling deserted does not mean, however, that at last the Lord is all on his own. God had promised to help his servant (Isa. 42:1) and that promise could not be broken. Even when most alone and most forsaken the Father who had sent him was with him (John 16:32). Or, if we may introduce the third Person of the trinity, the eternal Spirit supported him as he offered himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14). Recondite and mysterious though the subject is, it is not altogether without analogy in our own spiritual lives. Just as Christ was being helped and upheld even when he felt forsaken, so God's grace may be supporting his people even when they feel spiritually desolate. Sadly, the converse is also true: God's help may be absent when Christians feel most confident of it.
The forsakenness of Christ has important implications for the doctrine of the trinity. It renders utterly inadmissible the Sabellian denial that Christ is a distinct person from God the Father. It is difficult enough for this heresy to live with the idea of the Word being with God (1 John 1:1). It is impossible for it to live with the idea of the Son being forsaken by God. How could one mode or aspect of a person be forsaken by another? or one phase of a personality-cry to another, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?'
The relation between the Word being forsaken by God and the Word being with God is an intriguing one. From eternity there was communion between the Father and the Son. The face of the One was toward the Other in an unclouded reciprocal love. On the cross the One who had been with God is forsaken by God: or, if we may use a variant reading of Hebrews 2:9 (choris instead of chariit), the One who was with God comes to be without God. He is outside. He is an unholy and accursed thing. It is against the brilliant background of former eminence and privilege that the contrasting darkness of the dereliction is silhouetted most clearly. But then the dereliction (being without God) is only an intermediate point on a road leading somewhere else. The One who was with God comes to be without God in order that we should be with God. The New Testament says so explicitly: 'He died to bring us to God' (1 Pet. 3:18). The Son of God does not return empty-handed from the far country. He brings with him 'a multitude which no man can number' (Rev. 7:9), born without God, deserving to remain without God, but now, through the Son's forsakenness, brought so close to God that he can meticulously wipe. away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7:17).
In the previous chapter we looked, very briefly, at the actual suffering involved for Christ in the fact that he became the crucified God. By far the most important question raised by these sufferings is, What did they achieve? And the full answer is, of course, that they achieved redemption. They constituted a sacrifice which expiated sin, propitiated God, destroyed the devil and redeemed the church. The primary concern of any doctrine of the cross must be to do justice to these central elements in our salvation.
Our objective in this article, however, is a very limited one. We come back to Luther's Crux probat omnia: the cross is the test of everything. This applies not only to our doctrine of salvation but also, as Moltmann has pointed out, to our doctrine of the Christian life and our doctrine of God.
cross the test of our lifestyle
The key word so far as the Christian life is concerned is that spoken by Christ in Mark 8:34: 'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.' This cross cannot be identified with 'crosses' - those pains, annoyances and frustrations which come to all men regardless of whether they are Christians or not. The cross we are asked to bear as disciples is not common to us with all men. It is the result of making the same kind of choices as Christ made and thus provoking the world to treat us exactly as it treated him.
This means, first of all, that we must identify with the deprived and the outcast. From eternity, Christ was with God. Had he remained there, he would never have been crucified. Instead, he chose to be with us, and for us. He identified fully with lost men, sharing their sufferings and making their cause, his cause. He became their spokesman, advocate and at last their scapegoat.
The step was not confined to identifying with man racially. He identified with particular victims of oppression: with the Jews, groaning under the burden of Roman imperialism; with the poor, weary under the yoke of the Pharisees; with social outcasts like tax-gatherers and prostitutes; and with racial minorities like the Samaritans and the Syro-Phoenicians.
More strikingly still, Christ identified with those who, morally and spiritually, were totally unlike himself. The ethical contrast between Christ and the woman taken in adultery is absolute. Even when he becomes her spokesman, he does not become like her. Nor does he condone her sin.
An authentic, cross-bearing church must similarly identify with the despised, the inarticulate, the helpless, the defenceless and the godless. But involvement must never become assimilation. When the church serves those whom man despises and whom God has forsaken, it must retain its own differentness. The light must shine at the heart of the darkness; but the darkness must not extinguish it.
The second implication of taking up the cross is that the church, in its prophetic ministry, cannot keep a low pro me. At the moment, we are suffering from a gross surfeit of the wisdom that consists only in avoiding trouble. We are reluctant to speak out, terrified of giving offence and quite content to go on uttering platitudes within well-defined party lines. It was this mentality that allowed the church to pussy-foot its way through the Highland Clearances, the Robertson Smith case and the jingoism of the early days of the First World War. It was precisely because he refused to keep such a low profile that Christ was crucified. 'Jesus,' writes Moltmann, 'did not suffer passively from the world in which he lived but invited it against himself by his message and the life he lived.'  The cross did not simply happen to him. He provoked it by his own words and actions. His death itself was a priestly act. But he provoked it by his prophetic ministry and especially by his scathing denunciations of the self-appointed guardians of the law. His talk was, to say the least, 'careless'.
In its prophetic ministry today, the church must adopt an equally high profile and use equally careless language. We have no right to ignore the problems which lie at the heart of man's economic, moral and spiritual predicament. Nor have we any right to make the preservation of a formal peace our overriding consideration. There can be no low profile on political heartlessness, institutional violence, Protestant bigotry, Romish intrigue or Gaelic intransigence. Where elders bind congregations to arrangements suited only to the conditions 100 years ago; where traditionalism masquerades as orthodoxy or heresy as theological creativity; where ministers so lose their zeal that they look only for 'easy charges' or 'peace in my time'; where a liberal establishment discriminates fiercely against evangelicals while at the same time boasting of its tolerance: these are not situations calling for a low profile but for high visibility and plain speech. The way of the cross means telling the church and the world what neither of them wants to hear. It means disregarding the advice of friends who counsel silence and even running the risk of having our own special circle gnashing their teeth.
Thirdly, taking up the cross means being willing to be nothing. For Christ, the cross was the result of his self-emptying (Phil. 2:7). He made himself nothing. He was willing to have his glory veiled and his identity obscured. He became so utterly incognito that there was nothing in his appearance, in his circumstances or even in his achievements to compel recognition. Things will be the same for an authentic church. The world knoweth us not (1 John 3:1). Our election is a great comfort to ourselves. But it cannot be used to compel human recognition or to protect us from human hostility.
Christ went further than merely foregoing recognition and acclaim, however. He became in the fullest and most public sense a servant. He did not sit in the place of honour with those who were being waited on but chose, instead, to stand with those who were doing the waiting (Mk. 10:45) and whose service was totally unappreciated. Indeed, men were scandalised both at the kind of service he rendered and at the way he rendered it. He could not even vindicate himself. He was in the right and he knew that he was in the right. But he allowed himself to be put in the wrong and to be seen only as condemned, outcast, despised and defeated. Not all suffering involves such rejection. Very often the sufferer is upheld by the knowledge that his suffering is acclaimed and appreciated and that although he is hated by his persecutors he is lauded by his peers. For Christ, it was far different. He suffered without admiration and without compassion.
For the church, this means an end to all imperialism. The moments when the world shouts Hosannas and scatters palm-branches in the path of the people of God (John 12:13) are to be rare and exceptional: and dubious. The normal attitude will be hatred, contempt and persecution. When the church finds herself sitting at the top table with the politicians, the academics, the sportsmen and the pop-stars, it is virtually certain that she has abandoned the way of the cross.
It is easy enough to see this imperialism in others and notably in the pretensions of the papacy. The claims to infallibility, universal primacy and temporal supremacy are glaring contradictions of the Christian ethos. It is much more important, however, to recognise the problem as it affects ourselves. The Disruption church in Scotland was born amid universal acclaim. Its leaders, as Hugh Miller pointed out, were 'some of the ablest and most eminent men that ever adorned the Church of Scotland'. A church born in such circumstances and led by such men expected (and got) the respect and even the adulation of the nation. They were part of the Scottish Victorian establishment, if not indeed its very creators. It is tempting to covet the same role and the same prestige for ourselves today. But our more immediate roots lie in the testimony borne by the 26 'Wee Frees' of 1900 - a pathetically small group of unknowns, rejected not only by the world but by the church of their day. Lord Balfour of Burleigh said that there was not a man among them 'of large ideas or of knowledge of affairs'. Yet they were men of enormous courage and the photograph which shows them locked out their own Assembly Hall is probably a more fitting symbol of a crucified church than D. O. Hill's famous painting of the Disruption.
The temptation to triumphalism is particularly acute for those of us who are in the ministry. It is all too easy to misconceive our role, seeing it as a juridical and authoritarian one rather than as a caring and pastoral one. We seek not so much to serve but to be recognised, supported and obeyed. We entertain expectations of revival which reflect only the hope of greater power and influence, and the longing for a day when the church will sit in the world's places of honour. The vision of church dominance of education and politics and the concern for a closer church-state partnership can all too easily become protests against the way of the cross. We have to keep on reminding ourselves that the church is in the community not to lord it over it but to serve it: and if the community fails to appreciate us, that is no sign that we are living in a particularly cloudy and dark day. It is only a sign that after the heady days of the 19th century, with their Hosannas! and palm-branches, things are now very much back to normal - back to what Christ meant them to be.
Caution Two words of caution must be spoken, however, when we refer to the Christian life as the way of the cross.
First, the cross of Christ himself was utterly unique. We take up our cross, not his. Because he was the Son of God his cross was an outrage in a sense that ours can never be. Furthermore, it was unique in its (redemptive) effect and above all, in its content. He suffered the curse. He was put outside - to the far country. He was deprived of the one thing which could comfort the crucified - the sense of the presence of God. The summons to cross-bearing is not, for us, a summons to accursedness because the very reason for Christ suffering it was that we should be exempt.
Secondly, the cross must not be made the archetype or the excuse for our own weakness. The temptation is very strong. An impotent ministry, declining attendances, failed church extension - our self-pity can easily project these as 'our cross'. Before we know where we are, we are comforting ourselves with such thoughts as that Christ made no impact, that his attendances fell away and that people ignored what he said.
But these are only half truths. Christ's death does not belong to the same order of reality as our pastoral and evangelistic failure. His cross was the sign of his involvement whereas our failure is often due to our noninvolvement. We fail because we refuse to run the risk of being crucified. Not only that. His cross was an instrument of victory. It destroyed Satan and put the Lord's enemies to an open shame. His weakness became the power of God. His foolish decision to be crucified became God's wisdom. His servitude - even his servility - became the ground of his lordship. His dying released the spiritual forces of the last days and the word of his cross became the saving power of God. The sign of a crucified church is not failure but success. But the success cannot be defined in worldly terms, as if it meant prestige, recognition and acclaim. It means, instead, that the word which men hate to hear brings them salvation; and that the people men despise become the salt of the earth and the light of the world - without ceasing to be - despised. When we pretend to be somebody, we are impotent. When we are willing to be nothing, God's grace is made perfect in our weakness.
The cross tests our doctrine of God
We can look only very briefly at the second area illuminated by the fact of the cross, namely, our doctrine of God. Theologians have traditionally regarded it as an axiom that God cannot suffer. The church in the West spoke of him as impassibilis. The church in the East spoke of him in terms of apatheia. The question is whether, in the light of the cross, we can continue to speak in this way. There can be no doubt that in Christ a divine person suffered. It was the son of God who experienced hunger, thirst and weariness, was crucified, died and was buried. Even more, it was the Son of God who in the moment of his dereliction was denied divine support and comfort. But according to the doctrine of the impassibility of God, these experiences referred only to our Lord's human nature. God the Father did not suffer. Nor did the divine nature, which, to quote the Secession theologian, John Dick, is 'fixed, immovable and unaffected by external causes'. 
There are some aspects of this doctrine which one can accept unhesitatingly. For example, God could not suffer physically because he has no body. Nor could God suffer any internal emotional disturbance or upheaval of the kind we experience as a result of unresolved mental conflicts and imperfect integration of our personalities. He cannot lose his composure or show symptoms of stress and agitation. Further, there cannot be in God any merely passive suffering - suffering of which he is only the victim without being also its Foreordainer and Controller. Suffering cannot 'come at' him or, to use James's phrase, he cannot simply - 'fall into' it (Jas. 1 :2). He can only experience it if he takes it and goes towards it. For God, suffering can only be a form of action.
But even after these concessions, serious question marks remain against the doctrine of impassibility as traditionally formulated.
First, the idea that God is a passionless, emotionally immobile Being is totally unscriptural. The Bible reveals him as a God of wrath and jealousy. It also reveals him as One who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11) and therefore, by implication, as One who is grieved when human beings destroy themselves. The New Testament even describes the Holy Spirit specifically as capable of grief (Eph. 4:30). Similarly, God is revealed as One who is passionate in his love, loving the church as a husband loves his wife, extravagant in his devotion and tormented by her infidelities. These are all fundamentally important parts of the biblical portrait of God and quite irreconcilable with the view that he is emotionally inert.
Secondly, the idea that God is unaffected by occurrences outside himself is inconsistent with the divine pity. Pity means by definition that one is stirred by the spectacle of human misery, temporal and spiritual. God cannot pity and yet remain unmoved. Indeed, for God to remain unmoved would raise serious questions as to his morality. The pain and grief which we feel when confronted with inhumanity, deprivation and squalor must have its counterpart (and indeed its source) in the God whose image we bear.
Thirdly, the idea that God is impassive and apathetic is inconsistent with the cross (which is the test of everything). We cannot say that Christ is our greatest word about God and yet say that we do not mean the crucified Christ. Nor can we say that the crucified Christ is the image of God and yet say that the cross is only a word about his human nature. It is precisely the crucified Christ who is the revelation; and what he reveals, in being crucified, is God.
Consequently, when the New Testament appeals to the moral force and constraint of Calvary, it is on the involvement of God the Father that it frequently focuses. The cross is the expression of his love and of his pity (John 3:16, Rom. 8:32). He is the One whose conduct is the model of self-denial and cross-bearing. He is the One who bore the cost of redemption. Indeed, if he is so immobile and so passionless that Calvary cost him nothing, all talk of him must cease because our language about him is meaningless. If Calvary was painless for him, we are not made in his image and he does not love with our love. When Abraham offered Isaac, there was pain; when Jacob lost Joseph, there was pain; when David lost Absalom, there was pain. If things were different when God gave up his Son then either he does not love his Son or his love is so radically different from ours as to be meaningless. We cling therefore to the belief that not only did God the Son suffer crucifixion, but God the Father suffered the pain of delivering him up. The Father was as really bereft as the Son was forsaken: and the Father suffered the loss of the Son as really as the Son suffered the loss of the Father. The Father did not suffer what the Son suffered (He was not crucified). But he suffered seeing the Son suffering and the even greater (and quite unfathomable) agony of being the One who had to bruise and forsake him. He had to steel himself not to respond to the terrible cry from the far country, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'
Yet Calvary was not an isolated moment of pain or pity in the experience of God. Its roots lay in the primaeval and permanent concern of God for his creation. The cross does not inaugurate that concern. But it does show how deep and passionate it is, and how far God was prepared to go.
In the last analysis that concern is triune, shared equally by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as the history of the cross (involving the Father, the Son and the eternal Spirit) clearly testifies. The agony of each is different, yet equally real. And the resulting understanding of human grief is as much a reality for God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as it is for God the Son. The trinity is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
 J. Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM Press, 1974)
 J. Moltmann, as above, p. 51
 Cited in A. Stewart and J. K. Cameron, The Free Church of Scotland 1843 - 1910 (Edinburgh: William Hodge and Company, 1910), p. 285.
 John Dick, Lectures on Theology (Edinburgh, 1838), Vol. 1, p.361
This article is taken from Donald Macleod's book "From Glory to Golgotha: Controversial Issues in the Life of Christ", pp. 85 - 108, (Christian Focus Publications, 2002, ISBN 1 85792 718 4) and is used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from without the prior permission of the publishers. Contact Christian Focus Publications for further information.
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