“For Jews demand a sign and Greeks demand wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.” The 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 who came and died on the cross is a problem for us. The cross is a stumbling block still.
The March 4, 1991, issue of the Presbyterian Outlook has a report that Occidental College, a 103-year-old Presbyterian-related college in California, removed the two crosses from the outside of its campus chapel. The crosses on the chapel were removed because the faculty members were afraid they gave false signals to the community as to the nature of their commitment to Christianity. In a sense, the crosses on the chapel were considered a stumbling block to the kind of liberal, pluralistic, educational community Occidental College wanted to be known as. The crosses were bad for their public image.
The cross, the crucified Christ, is a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to the Greeks, and a pain for the relativistic, liberal, open-option-keeping twentieth-century person. The proclamation of the crucified Christ commits us to a very personal, a very definite understanding of the mystery and love of God.
There is a very, very old story told about a young student who came into the office of that grand old preacher of the Second World War, Harry Emerson Fosdick. The young student was agitated, worked up; he had prepared himself for this visit. He had come to Fosdick’s office to announce a major decision in his life. After the pleasantries, the young man said, “Dr. Fosdick, I don’t believe in God.” Fosdick accepted the statement, then said, “Why don’t you tell me about the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe in Him either.”
There are lots of different understandings, different pictures, different versions of who and what is God, and the crucified Christ commits us to one very clear understanding of God.
Some do not want to suggest to the world they have accepted the Christian understanding of a God who will die to be with His children. For there are still lots of different versions of God competing with each other in the world.
It was fascinating to me to see the results of the Grammy, the music awards, this year. For those who suggest the contemporary music is full of evil, I would point out that the only evil in contemporary music is that — like our culture — it reflects the variety of images of God.
The song that received the award for best written song, “From a Distance,” suggests that God is high and lifted up, God is transcendent creator, God has made this wonderful world, and now watches us from a distance. God is exalted and apart from us “watching.” There is God the Observer.
On the same night and at the same time, the song that won the award for the record of the year, “Another Day in Paradise,” tells about a beggar in the street asking “can you help me, isn’t there some place you can send me,” and the man walks by “embarrassed to be there.” Phil Collins’ refrain is: “Think twice, another day and you’ll be in paradise” suggesting you will be judged by how you treated the poor, the needy, the hungry. A musical version of Jesus separating the sheep and the goats by how they treated the poor. God as Judge of how we treat each other.
There are many other suggestions of Who God is and how God works. Yet the Christian faith preaches the crucified Christ, the God who comes to earth to show His love for creation by being willing to share and to take upon Himself our pain and our suffering.
We are always tempted to believe that God is supposed to make sense to us according to our definition of the term of logic. We fought a war against a nation and a leader whom we call crazy because he does not fit our notions of sanity. We cannot understand how he could ruin the Persian Gulf by turning loose an oil spill when our environment is so fragile and so critical. We cannot understand how he could kill his own people and gas his own citizens. He just does not fit into our mind set and so we call him mentally unstable or crazy.
We attempt to measure God by the same kind of standards. The Greeks seek wisdom. They want a God who makes sense. God as the pinnacle of their philosophical system of explanation. God as the explanation of all mysteries. And the proclamation of a God who suffers and dies just doesn’t fit into that system.
Even during the middle ages, when philosophy was coming up with the five proofs for the existence of God, the crucified Christ was a problem. There is the definition that God is the best thing you can imagine. God is perfection. You can imagine God as wonderful but suffering, yet that is not the best because you can also imagine a God with all the good stuff and not the suffering. So if God is the best you can imagine, a God who comes to earth to suffer and die for those He loves does not fit in with the philosophical argument of God as the best you can imagine. We can imagine a God who does not have to suffer.
The disciples of Jesus see the man blind from birth and ask the question for all of us, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” We want God to make sense of life for us. We want God to be understandable from our perspective; that demand for logic, for reason, is always heard in the midst of bur suffering.
“O God, why did this have to happen to me? What did I do to deserve this pain? Why did my son have to die in the Gulf when so few people died? I never smoked, I watched my weight, I exercised — why did this heart attack hit? The Greeks seek wisdom. We seek wisdom, explanation, a God who makes sense and who makes sense of our lives, and the cross is folly to our way of thinking.
If there are those who want God to make sense, there are those who expect God to do something. We come to worship God because we want God to fix things. We take care of our duty to worship because we want God to take care of His business, which is to take care of those who worship Him.
The Jews look for signs. They look for visible evidence of the coming of the power and might of God. They want to see some action. When God comes as the Messiah the ground will shake and the skies will turn dark.
God has made Himself known to them in the past by what they remember as the “Mighty Acts of God.” There are the plagues in Egypt, there is the dividing of the sea. There is the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. There is the making of the Covenant on Mt. Sinai. This God whom the Jews await as the Messiah is not a God who slips into life in some place in Bethlehem with only a few shepherds seeing angels. God will not come and live on earth for eighteen years unknown. God will not ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. They want signs. They want evidence. They want action.
The cross is a stumbling block, for it declares a God who simply came into the world to share the life of the world. To be tempted in every way that we are tempted. To identify with us so that we can be sure that “Nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.” God comes in Jesus, not to eliminate suffering or to overcome injustice, or to establish His kingdom; God comes in Christ to bear with us our suffering. What kind of God is that?
The Crucified Christ is God’s way of coming into creation and fully sharing our humanity with us so that by becoming human God might be able to share with us a gift of love and mercy which we refuse and resent from one who did not really know us. As Flip Wilson used to have Geraldine say, “Get your hands off me, you don’t know me that well.” You and I would resent the offer of help or salvation from one who did not know us that well. So God in Christ shares our suffering.
Douglas John Hall describes the suffering and pain of the life of Jesus this way. The young man of Nazareth, still no doubt strong of limb and certainly in possession of all His mental faculties, experiences the whole range of human suffering. As one who had to endure the fickleness and weak loyalty of His closest friends, as one who knew the loneliness and alienation from family and friends, no home, no place to lay His head, as one driven by a destiny, as one who was constantly disappointed by the failure of his closest friends even to understand what He was saying, betrayed by one He trusted, and then the full range of physical and mental pain at the cross, God came in Christ and was crucified, for only through God’s solidarity with us in all the reality of suffering is God able, from within the center of life, to affect the redemption and restoration of the healing love and purpose.
The cross, the crucified Christ, commits us to the understanding of a God who became one with us in our humanity, suffered under Pontius Pilate, in order that we might become one with Him in the resurrection of New Life. Why one with us in suffering? Who knows? Perhaps God did not come just to save the wise and the clever, for not all of us are philosophers. Perhaps God did not desire to redeem us by mighty acts or signs because no one likes to be coerced or forced into anything. God shares our suffering because we all, in one way or another, know the pain and suffering of living. By sharing our suffering, God knows the suffering each of us has seen and can speak a word of hope, a word of courage, a word of comfort, a word ultimately of victory, through Christ’s rising from the dead.
The cross is still a stumbling block to those who want to see God act in power and might. The cross is still a folly to those who want God to be the crowning jewel in their philosophy of life, but it is still the power to save and renew those who need a God who knows them and loves them and is willing to be with them, and who has shared their pain in order that He might be our friend.

Share This On: