Monday 2 May 2022

God on the Cross

My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

—Jeremiah 4:19

I was reminded of this lament from the book of Jeremiah when I recently read it in the thesis of an ICS master’s student, retired CRC pastor Fred VanderBerg. Whereas all the commentaries I have consulted say that in this passage it is Jeremiah who weeps over the coming destruction of his people, a destruction he understands to be punishment from God for their iniquity, pastor Fred instead boldly argues that the forces of sin and death do not need God’s help to wreak their havoc. He goes on to suggest that in this passage it is God, not Jeremiah, who weeps in anguish over the harm that will come to God’s beloved people as they are seduced by and ensnared in the world’s evil. God never stops loving and being with these people, and so shares their suffering.

Fred’s interpretive tweak profoundly shifts our understanding of God’s relationship to a suffering and broken world. God the punisher becomes God the compassionate fellow sufferer, the one who helps carry us through our suffering and who eventually sets our broken hearts aright.

During this Eastertide, I have been pondering another observation I recently heard to the effect that “Jesus is what God looks like.” I confess that I have been more inclined to think in terms of Jesus somehow becoming God (and thereby less like Jesus), rather than the other way around. Was that God on the cross? Was this the ultimate way for our compassionate Creator to enter the arena of human suffering and overcome it for good? Jesus himself told us that “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

As the world’s powers turn perpetually to war, now again in the Ukraine not to mention other places, we do well to remind ourselves of our Messiah’s message that God’s kingdom does not come into the world this way. We must look elsewhere, anywhere else. The God who suffers the abject pain and humiliation of the cross heralds a different kind of kingdom, a counter-kingdom of shalom. This is a kingdom that comes into the world not through military might or economic power, but a kingdom that comes through—and is for—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). It is a tragic thing when people must take up arms to defend themselves and their homes from aggressive attack, and we continue to hope and pray for a day when all the world’s lions finally give up their destructive trust in the ways of violence and lay down beside the lambs who have shown them what God’s counter-kingdom is like.

These truths, which I have long professed, came home to me once again through Pastor Fred’s careful work, and powerfully reminded me of how easily my heart can come to desire things other than the coming of God’s glorious shalom. Please pray that ICS may long continue to be a school that encourages its students and teachers to bear witness to such foolish wisdom.

Shalom, my friends!

Ron Kuipers