the psychological value of the cross

Today is Good Friday, so (I hope you don’t mind), I will share some related thoughts with the handful of people who will read this.

Here’s my half poem for the day.

A hypocritical host
declared blameless, [at] great cost.

Perfect love died on a cross
my sinful self to save
Owner of all suffered [my] loss;
think about what he gave! 

One day I may write more about the atonement and how it makes sense; I haven’t thought about it philosophically enough yet.

One point perhaps worth sharing is that Christ’s death on the cross has psychological value, at least for me, and for a few reasons. Prominently, it strikes me that God has experienced, in first-person ‘qualia-d’ depth, real agony and pain and isolation which excels anything I have gone through – and I know that!

Our nature is to want to 1) earn our way to God by ourselves (grace is discomforting; see the quote below) and 2) see justice done for everyone else.

But considering the cross can reshape our desire for justice and our felt need for self-validation. If we trust in Jesus, we have been declared righteous not for what we have done but for who he is and what he has done – and this is freeing in a way that I doubt pixels on your computer screen are really capable of communicating.

In Jesus, we can begin to appreciate that his perfect grace is not a miscarriage of justice. God’s forgiveness was not a mere matter of divine forgetfulness concerning the offensive details of our sins (contra, on my reading, Islam!), but an unmerited assumption of them all upon the person of his beloved Son, for our sake – “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) At the cross most paradigmatically, justice and peace embrace – God’s sovereign will for our reconciliation is expressed here in costly love.

Now for the quote that got me thinking about this again today; it’s from Justin Barrett’s “Born Believers – The Science of Children’s Religious Belief”, a book I’m really enjoying, with a bunch of delightful anecdotes about young children’s theories of mind and related things. I recommend it – and I’m keen to lend it out! While the book is well-written and some quotes from it may appear in future posts, this one is actually ultimately from “If Grace Is So Amazing, Why Don’t We Like It?” by Donald McCullough. Anyway, I take the quote from p. 145 of ‘Born Believers’:

“Grace set to music is one thing, but what about grace itself? What about grace as an idea? Grace as an act? Grace as a force? We don’t like it …. To be sure, we appreciate brief encounters with it, such as when we forget to pay the health insurance premium and we’re told not to worry because there is a “grace period.” … We’re thankful for these minor reprieves, for Grace Lite. But if the real thing happens, if we’re seized by a full-bodied, take-no-prisoners grace, we have far more ambivalent feelings. When a muscled arm of mercy lifts us by the scruff of the neck and sets us in a new place, a better place we neither earned nor deserved, we’re likely to protest that, given time, we could have gotten ourselves there, thank you very much, and without the rough treatment. Even worse, if grace happens to someone else, someone we know doesn’t deserve it, someone we can’t stand, then we don’t want to hear about grace, let alone see it in operation. In such circumstances, grace seems more like a miscarriage of justice.” 

Happy Easter.


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