haunts, lord

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. [1] 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.

Physical suffering

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).

Emotional suffering

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.

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Source: Beginning with Moses | Donald Macleod