The Implications of the Cross (TDTCTW 15)

According to the Bible human beings are not simply imperfect creatures that need improvement, we are rebels who must lay down our arms. The only way out of our human condition is to “lay down our arms,” acknowledge that we are on the wrong track and allow God to work whatever changes are needed in our lives. This is our ultimate jihad, our ultimate struggle to overcome evil.

This “repentance” is not fun. As the chapter on my personal jihad illustrated, accepting the reality of our brokenness is something we naturally shy away from. Acknowledging failure is humiliating and repugnant. But it is the necessary path toward redeeming our lives from the downward spiral of the evil that besets us all. It is the only way to bring our lives into the sunshine of reality. This “repentance” is simply recognizing the truth about ourselves. The day that changed the world can never change us unless we are willing to be changed, unless we recognize that change is needed.

The neat thing about God’s plan is that He understands what this struggle for authenticity is all about. In submitting Himself to the humiliation of the cross, Jesus experienced the kind of surrender we need. In the Garden of Gethsemane He struggled to give Himself up to God’s plan. And the Bible teaches that if we follow Him in His surrender and humiliation, we will also share in His conquest of death and find new life in our present experience (Rom 6:3-6).

September 11 was more than just the work of a few kooks and fanatics, it was a symptom of deeper issues that plague us all. As we have seen, the struggle toward authenticity is not an occasional necessity, it is fundamental to the human condition, whether we acknowledge it or not.

A fundamental need of human beings is to have a sense of personal value, that who we are truly matters. This need is in stark contrast to the reality (described in the jihad chapter) that the more we know about ourselves the more we dislike ourselves and the worse we feel. We need a sense of worth, yet authenticity seems to lower our value. How can we elevate our sense of self-worth without escaping from the dark realities within? That’s where the cross comes in.

How much is a human being worth? It depends on the context. If they were to melt me down into the chemicals of which my body is made, I understand I would be worth about twelve dollars (make that thirteen, I’ve gained a little weight). But the average American is valued by his or her employer at a much higher level than that, something like $50,000 dollars a year. But suppose you were a great basketball player like Michael Jordan. Suddenly the value jumps to tens of millions of dollars a year. And if you were the nerdy designer of the software everyone in the world uses, you would be valued at tens of billions of dollars (Bill Gates)!

You see, we are valued in terms of others. But according to the Bible human value is infinitely higher than the value we assign to each other. According to the Bible, Jesus was worth the whole universe (He made it), yet He knows all about us and loves us as we are. When He died on the cross, He established the value of the human person. When the Creator of the universe and everyone in it (including all the great athletes and movie stars that people often worship) decides to die for you and me, it places an infinite value on our lives. And since the resurrected Jesus will never die again, my value is secure in him as long as I live .

So the cross provides a true and stable sense of value. This is what makes the story of that Friday in Jerusalem so very special. The cross is not just another atrocity. It is about God’s willingness to take on human flesh and reveal Himself where we are. It is about the value that the human race has in the eyes of God. It is about God’s plan to turn the human race away from evil and hatred and violence. The original day that changed the world, therefore, provides hope for a better world in the aftermath of September 11.

It is clear that none of the great faiths have lived up to the ideals of their sacred texts. Followers of each have, at one time or another, succumbed to the temptations of earthly power and wealth. Followers of each have thought so highly of their thoughts as to feel justified in destroying individuals who thought differently. After September 11we must beware our own personal tendency to judge others, to despise those who think differently, to marginalize those who look different, talk different, and pray different.

The best hope for this world after September 11 is an authentic walk with God that not only takes the “terrorist within” seriously but sees in others the value that God sees in them. If every one of us is flawed yet valuable, all other seekers after God become potential allies in the battle to create a kinder and gentler world. Armed with a clear picture of reality and a sense of our value, we can become change agents in the world. And the seeds of that change were planted one Friday in Jerusalem.

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