All posts from "April 2012"April 30, 2012
With news of yet another school shooting, why are our hearts no longer moved?
I was at a conference when those precious lives ended. The conference center was secluded with only small links to the outside world, so I didn’t hear the news until the following day while I was on a shuttle to the airport.
While the news took my breath away, I was surprised to discover that the shock lasted only a few minutes. Information was limited and after a moment of silence, the bus filled with laughter and friendly chatter. It wasn’t until later when I read the account on the internet and saw pictures of innocent faces that a lump formed in my throat. When I read about a young mother and her goals for her child, a tear finally rolled down my cheek.
I try to be thoughtful. I send birthday cards to friends. I visit the sick. I call my aging parents daily. I even comforted a distraught friend who ran over a squirrel in the street. Yet it took a photo and a sad story for me to “feel” the pain of seven murdered victims.
As I thought more about my response, I started to talk with others about the overwhelming pain each victim’s family must be feeling. While Christians aren’t protected from desensitization, I was saddened that their feelings were among the most detached.
Among some of my Christian friends a reoccurring comment was, “That’s awful but at least their parents know where they are.” One woman admitted, “I prayed for everyone involved, but then I stopped listening. I do better when I don’t get so involved.” The most alarming comment came from a pastor: “That’s what happens when people pretend to be Christians. We need more theologically sound preaching.” Then he turned and walked away.
I felt cold and empty. I’m positive thousands of Christians stopped, listened, cried, and prayed for the victims and their families. But why aren’t we all crying? Why has the news of such a tragedy made us sigh sadly, shrug our shoulders, and then go about our business, unconcerned and desensitized?
In 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, Paul reminds us of the importance of not becoming detached, and that as Christians we have an important and powerful responsibility toward those who mourn: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (italics added).
I have a friend who embodies Paul’s words. When I hurt, she hurts. When I share some mental or physical pain, tears roll down her cheeks as well. Her compassion is a source of great strength for me. In fact, I’m never quite mended until Vikie has helped me cry over some problem.
Some comfort comes in the form of being in a hurting person’s presence, offering a shoulder to cry on, or just simple silence. Some comfort comes in the form of a letter or email. And some comfort comes only through our prayers.
And how often do we not pray? Not just a quickie, “Oh, Lord, help that person,” but a serious prayer, reflecting on what that person may be experiencing.
Think for a moment about the mother who may have flipped on the TV to watch the weather forecast. She heard the name of the school and put her hand to her mouth. Tears flooded her eyes as the newscaster talked about the shooting. Her tongue caught in the back of her throat when she tried to swallow. She couldn’t breathe. Her knees wobbled as she searched for her cell phone. She dialed her child and waited.
She dialed again.
Still no answer.
With one eye on the news she petitioned God, “Please, God, not her. She’s such a good girl.” “Please God, not him. He wants to work for you.”
Before the prayers were finished and she could dial her phone again, the home phone rang. Her hand trembled when she reached for the receiver. She swallowed hard and prayed for the voice of a friend. Instead she heard, “This is the Alameda County Sheriff’s office . . .”
Do we take the time to understand a victim’s pain and to offer sincere prayers of comfort?
After the tragedy of Oikos University, I spent time considering my own desensitization. The brain destroys fear by repetition. We overcome fears by facing them until the brain decides they’re no longer important.
Bombarding our senses with graphic images will sabotage our ability to “hurt” for others. While I limit violent images on television and movies, my desire to be an informed person can flood my senses with violence. With few restraints the media shows violence and pain that may grab our attention for a few seconds but is followed by a commercial that jerks our emotions away from compassion.
I need the gift of compassion and I pray continually for God to let me see the world through his eyes.
The world is broken and violent, so we know another tragedy will be just around the corner. When violence occurs I pray that I, along with the body of Christ, will flood heaven with prayers. When the gunfire ends and the silence of dead bodies turns our stomachs, I hope the body of Christ will cry. When my hand covers my mouth in disbelief, I pray that God’s love will surround my heart with his compassion inspiring me to respond with his love. I hope I, along with the body of Christ, will diligently petition God to protect his people worldwide.
Debbie Jansen is an author and speaker. www.themommydetective.com
I need perspective and balance in this difficult outreach.
Gloria (not her real name) was such a person. She’d come from an extremely dysfunctional background and as a result suffered from severe depression and almost daily anxiety attacks. After becoming a mom, these symptoms increased. When I met her, she’d become a Christian but was floundering in how to raise this new baby who was entrusted to her. She could barely manage her life, let alone guide someone else’s.
But at this crucial time, God brought her into my life. We moved into her neighborhood and I, too, was a new mom. As we connected over our children, we began to get to know each other, and I discovered that I had just what Gloria needed—daily guidance from a mature believer and immersion in the Scriptures.
We lived in that neighborhood for only three years, but in that time Gloria began to start on a road to healing. When I left, she’d become established in a local church, began to meet regularly with a counselor, and was finding the help she continued to need.
Similarly, I got to know Marsha (not her real name) when she came to our Bible study with her parents. Just 22 years old, she had two children and had been divorced twice. During her second pregnancy, she found a relationship with Christ. When I met her she was in that new Christian euphoria that believes life will be rosy from now on.
Just a few months later, her mother called me in tears. Marsha was pregnant again and could not face being the single mother of three children. She’d decided to get an abortion. Her mother pleaded with me to talk to her.
My heart sank. Nothing sounded harder than getting involved. But I met with her and talked about God being the creator of life and that he never makes mistakes. Marsha only wanted to know one thing: Did God forgive her and could she ever return to him again? She felt that since she’d blown it so completely after coming to Christ, he could never want her again, so she might as well keep on sinning. I assured her that Jesus waited for her with open arms to come back to him.
I met with Marsha weekly throughout her pregnancy—even during the last few weeks when she was hospitalized in order to keep the baby. She became a fighter for this child’s life that she’d wanted to destroy a few months earlier. Although the world would consider Marsha a failure at her young age, I think of her with delight.
But reaching out to the hurting hasn’t always turned out so well. I began meeting with Esther (not her real name) when she came to our church after her partner had died suddenly. I felt sorry for her because she was so sad and seemed so alone. I invited her out for coffee and we began to meet weekly.
At first it was going well but suddenly a switch flipped. She began calling me in rage, screaming at me because something hadn’t gone her way that day. When I tried to move our relationship beyond just having coffee to a more discipleship relationship, she agreed to meet with me, but after months she had no interest in God and his Word, or in becoming healthier. It was clear she just wanted to use me as a sounding board for her woes, but in no way wanted to own up to or take responsibility for her problems. She just wanted someone to blame and take her anger out on. In the course of our conversations, I discovered that she’d been seeing a counselor for years and had been arrested for violence against another woman. Eventually, I had to quit taking her phone calls for my own safety and sanity.
Reaching out to the hurting can be a tricky business. As in all ministry, we need to be carefully attuned to the Holy Spirit so we can discern which people to get involved with as he brings them into our lives. What have you learned from being involved in ministry to those who are hurting?
What it means for us when the daily deals website offers a tour to visit Kink’s Studios
You read that right—guests 18 and older are lead through five floors of historic armory . . . and elaborate adult film sets, possibly during filming. Groupon’s release of this tour coupon set into motion a public boycott against the daily deals website.
The Mission Armory, the building offered for tour, was once meant for national security—it housed the California National Coast Guard Artillery, the naval militia, and later, was a social center for the city’s national guardsmen. But eventually it fell out of use, and after being left vacant for several decades, it was converted into an adult film studio in 2007—specializing in “torture porn.” According to the boycott site, www.waronillegalpornography.com, Kink’s studios touts their videos for specializing in:
“Live filming of ‘young sexy teens who are overwhelmed and outnumbered . . . who need to learn a lesson by multiple men’; of women being ‘bound, whipped, objectified, and humilated. They are immobolized, caged, and humiliated as objects’; of women ‘suspended and tied in rope bondage . . . tormented beyond all reason’; and of women ‘naked, tied up, bound, punished, exposed in public . . . who are taken to public bars for public sex and public humiliation. . . .’ ”
It is incredible how quickly something can become perverted once it loses its purpose, whether it be a building, a business—even a person. The Prince of Darkness is continually at work.
This Groupon deal brings into question how something so embarrassingly inappropriate and twisted could be sold in such a mainstream venue. What bothers me more, though, is how not surprised I was when I read about it. My reaction was, Wasn’t it about time for something like this to come up? Isn’t this where society is headed anyway?
Although this Groupon deal raised a ruckus and led to a boycott, I wonder if it will cause the same reaction in another 50 years. It brings to mind that metaphor, so often used from the pulpit, of the frog that boils to death because the heat is raised slowly enough that it doesn’t recognize the danger it’s in. I fully expect things to get worse and worse.
As a culture, we seem to be living defenseless, lazy, entertainment-hungry lives. We’re submersed in a world that’s continually swaying toward distortion—“envelope pushing,” it’s called. So much of our society swims in sickness, because just like the Mission Armory, we’ve lost our purpose. But unlike the Mission Armory, our purpose wasn’t lost because of a lack of need—our purpose was lost when Adam and Eve chose the fruit over the goodness of God. It’s been a downhill slide ever since.
It makes me wonder what will become the next cultural norm.
But for children of God, it’s a different story.
We know our purpose. Because through it all, we serve and follow God, who was, is, and forever will be good. God remains holy. James 1:17 sums it up this way: God is the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (ESV). He is unchanging. He is unswayable. And that is the greatest news we could ever receive. While our culture continues its downward slide into depravity, we hold onto the hand of the One who remains steadfast, good, and holy.
There is hope in God where there is no hope in humankind. And the more depraved society becomes, the more we are able to bear witness to God’s goodness in contrast. As followers of Christ, we represent the light that shines, that cuts through the darkness. God’s holiness finds its hands and feet in the church collective, and in individuals—we who want to live our lives differently from the rest of the world.
So in light of events like this Groupon offer, yes, we can take action. We can sign petitions and speak up against depravity. But more important, we can get to work living and modeling holy lives, resting in the truth that we worship an unchanging God, regardless of what this world throws at us. God uses all things to bring glory to him—and he can use his children, living in a land of darkness, to point others to him.
What do you think? How can we best be the lights of the world in a society continually pressing toward darkness?
Ashley Moore is the editorial coordinator for Kyria.com and Discipleship Resources for Christianity Today. You can view her blog, where she writes and rants about God and life, here.
It was Sunday, after church, and our family was grabbing a bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. We were sitting outside, trying to enjoy the sunshine, but Chick-fil-a was looming large right in front of us—literally across the street.
“Mom, I really, really, really want Chick-fil-a!” (Can you hear the high-pitched whining?)
“I love Chick-fil-a. Why can’t we go there?!” (Can you hear it yet? Add to your mental image: crossed arms, bottom lips stuck out.)
“Chick-fil-a is closed on Sundays,” I pronounced. “So just eat your quesadilla and stop whining, okay?”
“But why, Mom? Why are they closed?”
A store being closed one day a week is incomprehensible to my kids, especially when every other store and restaurant in our city seems to be open and bustling with business. It’s bold and countercultural of them to stand by their closed-on-Sundays commitment, though Chick-fil-a founder Truett Cathy says this policy is the best business decision he ever made. It’s a profound way for the company to honor their employees, allowing their workers a sacred day “for family, worship, fellowship, or rest.” Chick-fil-a’s darkened restaurant windows stand out and proclaim: Today something else is more important than commerce.
The reality is that many of us don’t take the fourth commandment seriously; compared to the way we seek to keep the other nine commandments, you’d think the fourth was written with an asterisk next to it! (As in, *Don’t worry, you don’t really need to follow this one.—God.)
Author and theologian Dorothy Bass writes about her own similar sense of conviction as she began to realize, “Our approach to the Sabbath commandment was different [from our approach to the other commandments]. We had become so captivated by our work, so impressed by its demands on us and by our own sense of indispensability, that it had vanished from our consciousness.”
My own vanishing sense of Sabbath began with good reason. Having observed many stuffy, rule-keeping Christians who turned Sundays into a day of zero fun and church overload, I bristled at their rigid legalism. We don’t worship a stuffy God of rules and “no’s,” after all, but a God of love and grace! So I consciously rejected the Sabbath-keeping habits of the legalists. But unfortunately for me, and perhaps for you too, the Sabbath-baby has gotten thrown out with the legalistic bathwater!
So what are we to do with the Sabbath? How can our lives stand out and proclaim: Today something else is more important than commerce, busyness, my to-do list, or my kids’ extracurricular activities? And how can a proper understanding of Sabbath rest infiltrate and influence the way we live and work throughout the rest of the week?You can explore these issues and many more in a special Kyria e-book, which includes:
• Insights on meaningful Sabbath habits and how to practice those habits in an attitude of grace.
• Suggestions for how you and your family can more deeply connect with God during your day of rest.
• Considerations on how you live the rest of the week—how the all too common breakneck pace of multitasking can actually do spiritual damage.
How do you practice the Sabbath? How have you learned to rearrange your priorities to follow this commandment better? And if you haven’t, what’s keeping you from doing it?
Long before the launch of Earth Day or modern-day debates over environmental politics, God’s people declared the truths of creation and creation care.
Long before the launch of Earth Day or modern-day debates over environmental politics, God’s people joined in song to declare truths like . . .
“The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all” (Psalm 89:11).
And, “Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! . . . Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the LORD” (Psalm 96:11–13).
And, “He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. . . . Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker” (Psalm 95:4, 6).
Since the days of the psalmist, songs proclaiming God’s rule over nature, praising God for the beauty of nature, and declaring God’s presence in nature continued to be written and sung throughout the church’s history. Today, our rich treasury of hymns can ground us in central biblical truths about our Creator and the world he made. These soul-stirring hymns remind me that . . .
• God created it all! The Bible begins with the poetic description of a central theological truth: God made this universe. In Nehemiah, the leaders of God’s people proclaimed it this way: “You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them.” As we spend time in nature, we’re centered by the obvious and worship-inspiring truth: “All things bright and beautiful, / All creatures great and small, / All things wise and wonderful: / The Lord God made them all.”
• Nature reveals God’s power and beauty. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” David wrote. “The skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). The stunning magnificence of thunderstorms, meteorite showers, canyons, and mountain peaks promptly puts us in our place: God’s power is beyond what we can ever fathom. Like the hymn-writer more than a century ago, we can sing: “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, / Thy power throughout the universe displayed: / Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:/ How great thou art! How great thou art!”
What is even more amazing is how God’s power is tempered with tenderness, revealed in beauty and intricate design. Consider, for example, how the laws of mathematics infuse the created world: Fibonacci’s sequence revealed in the spiral of a nautilus shell, the Golden Mean displayed in the concentric circles of seeds in a blooming sunflower, and fractal patterns that adorn each unique snowflake! And so in awe we sing, “All fairest beauty, heavenly and earthly / Wondrously, Jesus, is found in Thee.” This marvelous beauty draws us to worship the true source of all beauty: “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies . . . Lord of all to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”
• God is the sustainer of all life. Psalm 65:9–13 paints a beautiful picture of God’s sustenance of life; from quarks and electrons to beating hearts, God is the ultimate source of being and Christ himself “holds all creation together” (Colossians 1:17). Indeed, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NIV). As we spend time in nature, we are reminded that like all living things, our life—our next breath, our next step—is entirely dependent upon God’s sovereignty and sustenance. And so we sing, “All that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care; And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”
• We can uniquely experience God’s presence in nature. Walks outdoors. Digging deep into garden soil. Staring at clouds. Bird-watching. Sitting still to observe a sunset. As we spend time outdoors in God’s world, we learn to quiet our hearts and seek God’s presence through a kind of listening-prayer; we’re drawn by nature’s beauty to join in the created world’s worship of God; and we begin to sense in a special way the truth that God is present. Our perspective is recalibrated, our sense of who we’re made to be and who we’re meant to trust is put right, and our hearts and minds are quieted enough truly to “hear” from God. And so we can sing, “This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; / In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; / He speaks to me everywhere.”
How have you experienced God’s power, beauty, and presence in nature? What in nature most draws you to God? How does God’s created world inspire you to worship him?
Making it, so simply, a reality.
Over this past Easter holiday, I spent time reading from the Book of John. Jesus’ prayer in John 17, in which he prayed for us, the church, really convicted me: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (vs. 20–23).
How many times have I questioned someone’s faith just because they didn’t agree with everything I believe? Forgive me, Lord.
How many times have I judged or said something unChristian toward a brother or sister? Forgive me, Lord.
How many times have I not prayed for, comforted, or helped one of my brothers or sisters in Christ because I was too busy to feel their pain? Forgive me, Lord.
My hope for the church is that we would rise up in unity—with full acknowledgment that we have many differences. That we would allow those differences actually to make us more strongly bonded. That we would practice daily the kind of love that sees one another as beloved creations of our Father.
I pray, I hope, I long for unity. In my own circle of friends, in my community, in my church, in my country, in the world. That is my hope for the church.
And it begins so simply. It begins with me.
What is your hope for the church? Our parent company, global media ministry Christianity Today, recently created a new initiative that encourages Christians to share their hopes for the church. Check it out and share your hopes too.
I beat myself up over my weakness, but then I discovered an important aspect of Lent and Easter that I hadn’t realized before.
This isn’t a unique experience for me. In fact, it’s happened at least three times in the past 40 days. Oops.
You see, about 40 days ago I committed myself to spending at least one full, uninterrupted hour with God each day during Lent. I picked one hour because it sounded like enough time to force me to rearrange my schedule. I needed to shake things up, and this “radical” commitment was, I thought, the perfect way to do it. It would look like . . . well, like my other, non-biblical reading turned out looking.
But I failed. More often than not, I said yes to the invitation, or I went to the gym, or I read. Sometimes I just mindlessly watched TV, waving off the voice in my head saying, Remember that commitment you made? Now would be a perfect time . . .
I’m trying not to beat myself up over my Lenten failure—at least, not too hard. Throughout this season, as I’ve frustrated myself over and over at my inability to do anything of worth, I’ve kept in mind this great article Christianity Today ran back in February. In it, Mark Galli reminds us that “failing” at Lent is sort of the point, and when looked at this way, Easter “becomes an occasion to celebrate the fact that my self-respect does not hinge on my self-discipline, and that my very lack of discipline is the paradoxical sign of the gospel.” He goes on to write, “Indeed, while we were gluttons and prayerless, while we didn’t give a rip about the poor, Christ died for us. It’s not for the spiritually fit and healthy that he came, but for the unfit and unhealthy. We may be faithless in areas small and large, but he remains faithful through and through.”
Hallelujah! The ultimate temptation of Lent, it seems, is to fall prey to the belief that our hope is in ourselves, and our ability to accomplish lofty goals. But then 40 days of struggle and, perhaps, failure, or even better, success, remind us that this just isn’t so.
Whether you look back at this Lenten season as a time you drew closer to God by developing a new discipline, or as a season you were reminded of your failings, may you be pointed to the fact that it is only by God’s grace we can do anything meaningful at all.
We chatted with the author about his bestselling book-turned-film, Blue Like Jazz, and what we need to know about writing our own life stories.
When Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson initially came to you with the idea of making Blue Like Jazz into a movie, what were your initial thoughts?
I wasn’t sure at first, since the book is a series of topical essays. But when we decided to fictionalize a story loosely based on the principle characters of the book, tackling the issues we wanted to discuss, it flowed naturally.
What would you like people to take away from this movie?
Hopefully that we’ll be a less stuffy culture. God is interested in helping people connect and not be so lonely, and in helping people confess and not hide who they really are. The church often creates a culture that encourages hiding. I think the movie will encourage people to admit their struggles and help them connect with one another. It’s good for people to process their doubt. I don’t want them to doubt their faith but not be able to tell anyone.
So how can viewers get the most out of watching Blue Like Jazz?
You need to go into it with an open mind. This isn’t your average Christian movie. If you look for a specific message, you’re not going to find it. You’ll find many messages and they’ll probably be different depending on who you are and what your story is. This is principally a story about a kid who loses his faith and gets it back. I think that’s what a lot of people experience. His journey isn’t going to be the same as most of ours, but it’s similar.
With most Christian films, you expect a sermon. Ours isn’t a sermon. It gets rough in places, but the story is true to how the Bible tells stories. The Bible isn’t a family-friendly book. People get drunk, have sex, cheat on their wives . . . they even murder each other. God has no problem presenting us as totally depraved. I think that’s why I like the Bible. I believe we made a movie from a biblical worldview. But it’s not a “family-friendly” film.
In your books you talk about writing a good story with your life. Unpack that a bit.
A great story has a character that wants something and has to overcome conflict to get it. Americans don’t understand that life is supposed to be hard. God has designed life in such a way that it’s difficult, and we should be engaging the challenge rather than running from it. Have a vision for your life and let that vision guide you. If you want to have a family some day, then in your daily decisions think of your life as a movie. For example, in dating, ask yourself, “Would this girl or this guy be a scene I’d want in the movie about a family someday?”
How much do we really control our stories?
We have more control than we believe we have, and God gives that control. Do we have complete control? No. We don’t have control of other characters. We don’t have control over our gender or height, for instance. We don’t have complete control, but we have a lot of it. We’re handed the pen and we get to write whatever story we want. I think we’re programmed from an early age to defer our responsibility onto others and not own our lives, own our story.
I had dinner with a friend the other night. She said she had this great time back in college, where she and her friends traveled around the country and visited all their parents. She said, “I’d love to do that again.”
And I said, “I don’t understand why you don’t. You go out to your car and you drive away. That’s all that you do.”
She looked at me like, Oh, I guess you’re right. There’s no reason not to.
When you get to the big things, when something’s going on in a certain country and you start looking for a solution rather than being the solution, you’re not taking full ownership of your story. We can actually do something. It’s not complicated. God has given us “shared agency.” He has shared power with us to affect our stories. We don’t have to have ugly marriages or ugly relationships. We don’t have to be lonely. We can go meet somebody. But our culture has learned to nurse off of commercialism rather than owning our own lives.
I’m amazed that people I visit in prison all have the same thing in common: They didn’t have a vision for their life. They lived in the moment. They reacted in the moment. They were unwilling to sacrifice for the sake of a longer narrative, and it got them into trouble.
So I figure, the more we can teach people to think in stories, the better off we are.
*photo of Donald Miller credit Travis Shields: ShieldsFilms.com
Ashley Moore is the editorial coordinator for Kyria.com and Discipleship Resources for Christianity Today. You can view her blog, where she writes and rants about God and life, here.
Why did Jesus have to die the way he did?
In the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria, written in about 320 or 321 A.D., is a whole passage on the incarnation. In it, he talked about the mystery, the question of why Jesus had to die the way he did. What it comes down to is this: “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He had to die in order to go into the lair, the domain of the evil one, the devil, in order to destroy the devil.
Theoretically, Jesus could have died by any means. Why couldn’t he have died in bed? Why couldn’t he have died of old age, or of an illness? St. Athanasius said that because Jesus was going into a contest against the evil one, he was like an athlete, allowing his challenger to choose the mode of contest. So Jesus didn’t choose how he would die. He let evil be the one to choose.
And of course evil chose the very worst death that could possibly be. Athanasius said Jesus couldn’t have died of old age or sickness, or all alone. It had to be a public death so people could see him die, and he had to be demonstrably dead so there would be no question that perhaps he just fainted and then came back. This was the will of God.
Athanasius depicted all the details of Jesus’ suffering as the evil one’s expression of hatred against the human race rather than the wrath of God, for example, or the cost of our sin. This suffering was what the Lord had to endure to go into the domain of the evil one, and the price of that was death.
One of the great mysteries is that because of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can begin to approximate Christ’s mind and predict his ways to a certain extent. We can grow to apprehend and to understand the mind of Christ. Just as Jesus, after his resurrection, opened the disciples’ minds so they could understand the Scriptures, he opens our minds and helps us understand as we begin to gain the mind of Christ. We can better understand the meaning of his incarnation and crucifixion, and as we do so, we want to know him more and more.
We pursue knowledge of God because we hunger for him. Humans have a built-in desire to communicate with God and with each other. This desire can be muted if we think only about personal pleasures and our concerns and our worries. Instead, we should pursue God. We should hunger to know him better, though he is veiled in mystery. Our hunger for community, for love, and for interaction with other people is the reason one of the worst punishments is a sentence to solitary confinement. We’re not meant to be alone; we all have a great inner burning bush that is our desire to be in communion with God. We need one another, and underlying all of that is our profound hunger to be in communion with God.
So Jesus’ incarnation is as important as his crucifixion. His becoming part of the human race is where our salvation begins, and continues through his going in human form into the realm of death. That was how he was able to set the human race free.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is a contributing editor for Christianity Today and a movie critic for Christianity Today Movies, as well as an author and “Khouria” (spiritual mother) of Holy Cross Orthodox Church near Baltimore, Maryland.
Amy Simpson is managing editor of Gifted for Leadership, a freelance writer, and author of numerous resources for Christian ministry, including Into the Word: How to Get the Most from Your Bible (NavPress). www.AmySimpsonOnline.com
It’s so much easier—and less painful—not to think about the reality of what Jesus went through. And yet, it’s essential.
And so the Cross—the mind-numbingly painful and brutal reality of it all—well, it’s hard for me to swallow.
Several years back when The Passion of the Christ came out on DVD, we bought a copy. My bright idea was to watch it every Good Friday as an aid in contemplating Christ’s suffering and death.
It literally took me four years to follow up on that idea. For four Good Fridays in a row, despite my determination to go through with it, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. (I’d seen it in the theater, so I knew—very distinctly—what I was avoiding.)
The Crucifixion was not pretty and worship-inspiring, like some beautiful serene-faced marble sculpture of Christ on the cross. The reality of the Crucifixion is intense pain, blood, and gore—complete agony.
But it’s not just the violence itself that’s upsetting and unsettling. It’s why that violence happened that can be so difficult to come to terms with.
Here at my desk, it feels somewhat safe, spiritual, and academic to think and write about the Crucifixion—how through that act Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and vanquished death’s power in our lives. How on that cross Jesus bridged the gap between humanity and God, enabling us to have a restored and intimate relationship with our Creator.
But I write from the safety of distance and time. I’m not in first-century Palestine, watching it. Hearing it. Indeed even smelling it.
When I really face off with the Cross, I’m brought to my knees in my own agony over what I’ve done—what I still do—that put him there. I’m chastened, put right, and reoriented by the Cross. As Isaac Watts so poignantly put it, “When I survey the wondrous cross . . . [I] pour contempt on all my pride.”
Last year on Good Friday I finally got up the gumption to do it: I watched The Passion of the Christ and contemplated what Jesus did for me that day. It was just as horrible as I thought it would be.
But I’ll be doing it again this year . . . because I need the reminder that there’s no safe PG-version of the Cross. It’s not tame or palatable, but in its gravity we get a glimpse of the incomprehensible depth of Jesus’ love. We cry with Mary at the foot of the cross . . . but, wonderfully, we also join Christians across the centuries in proclaiming, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”