The Crucified God

Posted on 01 April 2008

Evangel 23:2 (Summer 2005)

The Crucified God

Evangel 23:2 (Summer 2005)
Charles Wesley had the habit of slipping words into his hymns that are, to say the least, ‘lexically challenging’. Among them are the sublime sentiments, ‘Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man’. Yet in this one sentence of poetry is captured the heart of the Christian confession of the incarnation: the union of deity with a human life in the person of Jesus. Such is the message of Christmas Day; the proclamation of Immanuel, God with us.
  However, these words are written in the shadow of Boxing Day 2004: the day when many of us learned a new word, Tsunami. The day when the greatest natural disaster in recent times engulfed hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings, leaving countless numbers dead, injured, deprived of family and friends and of every possession. For many of us it has generated questions and doubts and has demanded of many Christian leaders the emotionally-draining need to bring comfort and consolation to the bewildered and angry.
  The Christian Church has fought, not always successfully, the Nestorian heresy. The temptation always exists to divide the person of the God-man. Not least is this true of the crucifixion. The modern church is indebted to Jurgen Moltmann and others who have reminded us that to confess the Chalcedonian faith of ‘two natures’ indissolubly united in ‘one person’ means that deity has taken into itself the experience of human existence, even of suffering and death.
These theologians were trying to ‘make sense’ of the holocaust and to answer the question, ‘Where was God at Auchwitz and Belsen?‘ The same questions had occupied those who witnessed the appalling loss of millions of young human lives, ‘frittered’ away in the trenches of Picardy during the First World War. One of their poets, Edward Shillito could comment:
  The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
  In all the universe we have no place.
  Our wounds are hurting us, where is the balm? He could add,
  We know today what wounds are, have no fear.

Yet amid this experience of overwhelming pain and incomprehensible loss, faced with the brazen-like skies that appeared to witness to the indifference (or non-existence) of deity, he, too, recognized that the incarnate and crucified God, and he alone, provided the answer to the question, Where is God in the midst of indescribable horror?‘
  Shillito concludes,
  The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;
  They rode, but thou did’st stumble to a throne;
  But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
  And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.

Where, then, was God in Auchwitz, Belsen, the trenches… the tsunami? Incarnational Christianity replies, he was lying wounded with the wounded, a fellow-sufferer with those suffering cruelty and injustice, abandoned with the abandoned, helpless amid the helpless, weeping with the desolate, dying with the dying. Christmas Day gives the answer to Boxing Day!

All of which reminds us that belief in the incomprehensible’ incarnation is an indispensable part of vital Christianity and marks out the unique relevance of faith in the God-man as distinct from all other faiths. Many questions remain. Only fools seek to offer a foolproof theodicy. However, the fact that God has taken into himself the pains of humanity and shares the fragility and weakness of the human frame reminds us that he is not the unconcerned god on some distant Olympus but the fellow-sufferer in all our pains.

If ever, then, the world needed a robust presentation of the incarnation, it is now!