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Although we feel economically depressed…

Everything around us seems to tell us that we need more and that we do not have enough. As a result, we carry this strange sensation of “poverty” and sometimes fantasize about “if I were rich…”

But it helps to take a step back and get some perspective. If you make $25,000 per year, you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population. If you make $50,000 per year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world’s population. We are sitting luxuriously in the top of the wine glass.

Most of us are extremely wealthy but by looking at the super rich we feel poor. If we look, rather, to those who lack, we see that 6.7 billion people in the world and almost half of them live on less than $2 per day. Not only are we rich, but we can afford to help them live. But sadly, the  gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

Today 40% of world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population. In fact, the richest fifth of the population receives 82.7% of the total world income.

A World of Work Report from 2008 shows that, between 1990 and 2005, approximately two thirds of the countries experienced an increase in income inequality. The incomes of richer households have increased relative to those of the middle class and poorer households.

Likewise, during the same period, the income gap between the top and bottom 10 per cent of wage earners increased in 70 per cent of the countries for which data are available.

The gap in income inequality is also widening – at an increasing pace – between top executives and the average employee. For example, in the United States in 2007, the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the 15 largest companies earned 520 times more than the average worker. This is up from 360 times more in 2003. Similar patterns, though from lower levels of executive pay, have been registered in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong (China), the Netherlands and South Africa.

Most of us don’t realize how great the disparity is. But when we see these trends, we must ask ourselves how we can change them and how can we create a more just world.


Misperceptions of Wealth in America

Note. Pie charts depict the percentage of wealth possessed by each quintile; for instance, in the United States, the top wealth quintile owns 84% of the total wealth, the second highest 11%, and so on.

The myth of “trickle-down wealth” is still largely held in the U.S., especially by the right-wing, even though Reagan’s own budget director, who promoted this economic policy in the ‘80s, advocates against it today. A new study on American’s beliefs about the U.S. economy shows that American’s perceptions do not match reality.

The study, facilitated by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, discovered that:

  • Respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality.
  • Respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution, believing that the wealthiest quintile held about 59% of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84%.
  • All demographic groups – even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.

Respondents were presented with the three pair-wise combinations of these pie charts (in random order) and asked them to choose which nation they would rather join. A large nationally representative sample of Americans seems to prefer to live in a country more like Sweden than like the United States.

Given the consensus among disparate groups on the gap between an ideal distribution of wealth and the actual level of wealth inequality, why don’t more Americans – especially those with low income – advocate for greater redistribution of wealth? First, our results demonstrate that Americans appear to drastically underestimate the current level of wealth inequality, suggesting they may simply be unaware of the gap. Second, just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States

Finally, and more broadly, Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes towards economic inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences, suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that would narrow this gap. Hopefully, the same wll not be true of the church.

Perceiving the American Church’s Approach to the Poor

Before receiving our sabbatical this past year, I had not spent more than three weeks at one time in the U.S. since coming to Romania 10 years ago. While I noticed changes on every visit to the States, there is only so much you can see and sense in such a short time. Having the opportunity to spend an 6 months in the U.S. allowed me to get in tune with the deeper changes in American culture.

One of the most obvious changes that I observed was in the church’s attitude towards the poor. When I lived in the U.S. in the 1990s and was becoming aware of what Scripture said about the poor, I felt like I had to convince friends in the church that responding to the hungry, naked and poor is Christian. It seemed to me that serving the poor was seen as a special call for certain individuals or organizations. It was seen as something secondary to or the means for converting people and growing churches, or it was dismissed altogether as liberal or communist. I was deeply encouraged to see that in the various churches that we visited in different parts of the U.S., “caring for the poor” is part of the church’s regular vocabulary and that it is not seen as optional but an inherent task of the church.

Although this represents a fundamental change in the church’s mentality, I still often heard aggravating statements like this: “Make sure you don’t just care for the poor but that you also lead them to Jesus.” While I agree that Christian ministries among the poor should be explicitly Christian and distinguish themselves from non-Christian social work, the prevalence of statements like this seems to show that the church’s turn towards the poor is superficial or partial. There are a few reasons why this disturbs me.

First, it assumes that because our community includes caring for the physical and social aspects of a person that we exclude spiritual aspects. So, the question itself betrays the inquirer’s modernist compartimentalization of a person – a perspective that is not only non-biblical but anti-biblical. Think of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes, healing bodies and forgiving sins. These actions, for Jesus, were unified not compartimenalized. Likewise, in our community, we seek to minister holistically.

Second, the very question is dehumanizing to those who are already socially and economically marginalized. The question implies that our friends, who are in need, are the objects of ministry. It assumes that it is all right to help them with their needs as long as you tell them how to be saved. But Scripture doesn’t set up these false dichotomies. Rather, we are called to love. We don’t see the beaten, robbed and dying man on the roadside and give him a tract. We tend his wounds and care for him. Why? Because we love. Likewise, we tell the poor the Good News that God has invaded our world and paved a way to salvation. We don’t do this because that is the goal of our ministry but because we love them. And the authenticity of our love can be tested by whether or not we continue to love even when our message and our God is rejected.

It seems to me that the view that separates Christian proclamation from Christian presence can only be held by those who are isolated from relationship with the needy. I have, for example, painful memories of sitting with young children in coma and dying with AIDS. I could hold their hand. I could sing to them and pray for them. But I could not give them the 4 step plan of salvation. If the church’s message of salvation has any traction at all, it must confront and give hope to those suffering from disabilities, disease and hunger.

Lastly, those that are making these statements, asking me to “remember the disembodied souls,” are not saying to those who focus on teaching, evangelistic campaigns, or other media based forms of church activity, “Make sure you remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). This reveals a lingering mentality that holds a hierarchy of needs and, thereby, values Christian ministries that claim to tell and teach above those that serve and care. But, if feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked is an inherent part of Jesus’ gospel, then why don’t demand this from all Christian ministries? Somehow it is accepted that we go around telling people how to get saved from sin without caring for those impoverished by our sinful world. James condemns this behavior flatly saying, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:14-17).

Although we may moved further into the realization that the church is called to respond to the poor, we still have much further to go.

Icoană și idol

Un comentariu bun despre diferența între idol și icoană:

A Roma Church I visited last week

These video clips give a better sense of the spirit of the church in Toflea than anything I could try to say:

Standing in Prayer on the 8th Day – St. Basil the Great

We all stand for prayer on Sunday, but not everyone knows why. We stand for prayer on the day of the Resurrection to remind ourselves of the graces we have been given: not only because we have been raised with Christ and are obliged to seek the things that are above, but also because Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses does not call it the first day, but one day: ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day’ (Genesis 1:5), since this day would recur many times. Therefore ‘one’ and ‘eight’ are the same, and the ‘one’ day really refers both to itself and to the ‘eighth’ day. Even the Psalmist follows this usage in certain titles of the psalms (e.g. Psalm 7 and 13). This day foreshadows the state which is to follow the present age: a day without sunset, nightfall, or successor, an age which does not grow old or come to end. It is therefore necessary for the Church to teach her newborn children to stand for prayer on this day, so that they will always be reminded of eternal life, and not neglect preparations for their journey (On the Holy Spirit, chapter 27).

Holy Sonnet X – John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Soneta Sfântă X a lui John Donne

Moarte, să nu te mândrești, deşi unii te-au numit
Puternică şi înfricoşătoare, căci tu nu eşti  aşa;
Pentru că cei pe care tu crezi că îi răstorni,
Nu mor; sărmană Moarte, dar nici pe mine nu poţi să mă omori încă.
Dacă de la odihnă şi somn, din care imaginile tale se văd,
Vine multă plăcere, atunci de la tine mult mai multă trebuie să curgă,
Şi cît de repede cei mai buni din ai noștri oameni cu tine merg,
Odihnă pentru oasele lor, şi izbăvire a sufletului.
Ești sclav al soartei, al întâmplării, al regilor, şi al oamenilor disperaţi,
Și locuiești doar cu otrava, războiul, şi boala,
Şi macul sau farmecele ne pot aduce un somn ușor,
Şi mai bun decât lovitura ta; de ce te îngâmfi atunci?
Un somn scurt trecut, ne trezim veșnic,
Și Moartea nu va mai fi; Moarte, tu vei muri.

Scandalul Slujirii: Iisus ne spală picioarele

Una dintre celebrările stilului de viața ale comunităţii noastre este slujirea: sărbătorim slujirea care împlineşte părtăşia în comunitatea noastră. În fiecare dimineaţă ne întâlnim pentru părtăşie şi rugăciune. Este un timp când putem veni împreună înaintea lui Dumnezeu ca să ne concentrăm asupra dragostei Lui şi planurilor Lui, când putem să ne rugăm pentru ca slujirea noastră să fie motivată de Duhul Lui. Copiii care vin la Centrul Comunitar „la Vale” au multe nevoi: mâncarea, haina, adăpostul, educaţia şi, nu în ultimul rând, dragostea. Ne străduim să răspundem la aceste nevoi, dar ne gândim la chemarea noatră care nu este în primul rând să-i slujim pe aceşti copii, ci să-L slujim pe Dumnezeu şi să facem tot ca şi cum îi facem Domnului. Ne rugăm ca slujba noastră duhovnicească să fie prin aducerea trupurile noastre ca o jertfă vie, sfântă şi plăcută lui Dumnezeu.

Din păcate, este uşor de vorbit despre această dorinţă, dar e mai greu ca aceasta să fie practicată. De multe ori, nici nu suntem conştienţi de lucrarea lumii care încearcă să dicteze relaţiile noastre şi să ne modeleze după valorile ei. Prea uşor comunitatea noastră devine o instituţie şi slujirea noastră doar un serviciu. Încetul cu încetul valorile noastre devin statice şi structura noastră o ierarhie de domnie. Prin harul lui Dumnezeu, putem recunoaşte că suntem infiltraţi în modurile lumii. Cu toate că ne stăruim să-L cunoaştem pe Iisus şi să-L facem cunoscut în lumea pe care o iubeşte El, ne adâncim prea des în lumea întunecoasă a egoismului, a mândriei şi a abuzului de putere. „…Odată venită Lumina în lume, oamenii au iubit mai mult întunericul decât lumina, pentru că faptele lor erau rele” (Ioan 3:19).

Vedem iubirea întunericului nu numai în cei care urăsc Lumina, ci şi în proprii ucenici ai lui Iisus. „Între apostoli s-a iscat şi o ceartă, ca să ştie care din ei avea să fie socotit cel mai mare.” Trebuie să mărturisim că această ispită ne înfruntă şi pe noi adesea. Vrem să fim cel mai apreciat, cel mai cunoscut, cel mai de seamă. Vrem să locuim poziţiile înalte: preşedinte, director, pastor, lider. Şi de multe ori ne deosebim prin caracteristicle care ne identifică cu aceste locuri de sus: familia noastră, şcoală noastră, casa noastră, maşina noastră, hainele noastre. Întrebăm, împreună cu apostolii, cine este cel mai mare, cine este cel mai bogat, cine este cel mai sigur? Iisus dă aceste valori ale lumii peste cap şi combate într-un mod activ manipularea egoistă a lor.

În al 13-lea capitol din Evanghelia după Ioan, Iisus vorbeşte despre coborârea lui Iisus în micime şi slăbiciune, care culminează apoi în condamnarea şi moartea Lui pe cruce ca un defăimător, un marginalizat şi criminal. Până în acest capitol, Iisus este puternic, e ca un „om” de sus. El face minuni, vindecă pe cei bolnavi şi porunceşte vântului să se liniştească, şi vorbeşte cu autoritatea cărturarilor şi a Fariseilor. Arată ca un mare prooroc, poate chiar…Mesia. Puterea lui Dumnezeu este cu El. Din ce în cei mai mulţi oameni Îl urmăresc, sperând că El îi va înlătura pe romani şi va elibera pe Israel reînnoind demnitatea poporului ales. Timpul de Paşte se apropie iar muţimea şi prietenii lui se întreabă: „se va face cunoscut la Paşte?” „poate atunci vor crede toţi în El”. Toţi aşteaptă să se întâmple ceva deosebit însă în loc să facă ceva extraordinar, Iisus alege calea joasă spre slăbiciune. Se pare că astfel îi lasă pe ceilalţi să-L biruiască. Călătoria aceasta în jos şi în slăbiciune are ca început momentul în care Cuvântul s-a făcut trup în pântecele Mariei  şi continuă într-un mod vizibil pentru ucenici la spălarea picioarelor. Se sfârşeşte cu răstignirea, agonia şi cu moartea. Aceste fapte „slabe” ale lui Iisus îi scandalizează pe ucenici aşa cum ne scandalizează şi pe noi.

„Iisus, fiindcă ştia că Tatăl Îi dăduse toate lucrurile în mâni, că de la Dumnezeu a venit şi la Dumnezeu Se duce, S-a sculat dela masă, S-a dezbrăcat de hainele Lui, a luat un ştergar şi S-a încins cu el” (Ioan 13:3-4). Toate lucurile sunt în mâinile Lui, dar El le pune la o parte. Evanghelistul Ioan foloseşte această acţiune în legătură cu viaţa şi moartea lui Iisus (Ioan 10:11,15,17). „Nimeni nu Mi-o (viaţa) ia cu sila, ci o dau Eu dela Mine. Am putere s-o dau şi am putere s-o iau iarăş…” (Ioan 10:18). A-şi da jos hainele înseamnă a-şi da viaţa. Hainele au o semnificaţie importantă. Exprimă identitate, demnitate şi autoritate. Mă gândesc la ce simt copiii noştri atunci când primesc hainele noi. Prin hainele lor curate şi noi, ei au o demnitate nouă nemaiputând fi identificaţi aşa de uşor cu copiii străzii. În cultura evreiască, îmbrăcămintea era consituită dintr-o cămaşă care se putea purta doar în intimitate şi o haină pe deasupra pentru locurile publice. Iisus ne porunceşte „Cine are două haine, să împartă cu cine n-are nici una” (Luca 3:11); „Dacă îţi ia cineva haina cu sila, nu-l opri să-ţi ia şi camaşa” (Luca 6:29); „Şi să nu luaţi nimic cu voi pe drum…nici toiag, nici traistă, nici pâine, nici bani, nici două haine” (Luca 9:3). Vedem în Ioan 19:23-24 că după ce îl răstignesc pe Iisus, soldaţii romani Îi iau hainele „nevaloroase” pe care le împart printre ei. Cămaşa însă, făcută dintr-o singură ţesătură, este prea frumoasă şi de aceea ei trag la sorţi pentru ea. Vorbim despre hainele Lui iar la spălarea picioarelor Iisus se dezbracă de haina care îi distingea identitatea. Îi invită pe ucenicii Lui la intimitate. El se dezbracă de demnitate, Îşi pune deoparte autoritatea (Fil 2), renunţă la statutul Lui social: El-rabinul, învăţătorul, stăpânul. Apoi…spală picioarele uceniciilor Lui.

Această muncă era atât de josnică încât nu permitea nici robilor evrei să o facă. Era muncă pentru un  sclav, pentru o femeie faţă de soţul ei sau pentru un copil faţă de tatăl său, dar o ruşine pentru un bărbat, mai ales pentru unul de seamă. Iisus se plasează în această poziţie josnică (Fil 2). Tot El afirmă: „Cei dintâi vor fi cei din urmă şi cei din urmă vor fi cei dintâi.” El este cel mai din urmă, de aceea El este cel mai dintâi. Iisus a pus deoparte ierarhia puterii şi a răsturnat-o, făcând din aceasta o ierarhie de egalitate. Iisus le spune uceniciilor Lui: „V-am numit slujitorii mei, dar acum vă numesc prietenii mei.”

Cum ne organizăm noi familiile, comunitătile, instituţiile? După prietenie, dragoste şi respect reciproc sau după putere, control şi manipulare din cauza fricii noastre şi din cauza dorinţei de a fi „cineva”?

Probabil că ne asemănăm foarte bine cu Petru. El este scandalizat de Stăpânul lui care se aşează la picioarele lui ca să i le spele. La această masă a Domnului, Iisus îi avertizează: „Ce fac Eu, tu nu pricepi acum, dar vei pricepe după aceea” (13:7). Faptele lui Iisus nu se încadrează  paradigmei lui Petru de autoritate şi putere. Petru îi spune lui Iisus, „Niciodată nu-mi vei spăla picioarele!”  Dar răspunsul este: „Dacă nu te spăl Eu, nu vei avea parte deloc cu Mine” (Ioan 13:8). Petru recită valorile sistemului: Un om al puterii merită să fie slujit, un om al autorităţii îşi  hrăneşte şi îşi protejează puterea, un om al puterii profită de poziţia şi de privilegiul lui. Cuvintele lui Iisus sunt aspre. Ne aducem aminte de o altă convorbire între Iisus şi Petru. Petru auzise că Stăpânul lui va urma calea suferinţei şi că va muri pe cruce. Cu cuvintele lumii în gură, Petru îl mustră pe Iisus încerând să-i arate calea cea bună a autorităţii. Iisus însă îi răspunde: „Înapoia Mea, Satano: tu eşti o piatră de poticnire pentru mine! Căci gândurile tale nu sunt gândurile lui Dumnezeu, ci gânduri de ale oamenilor.” (Matei 16:23) Cuvintele lui Iisus sunt foarte aspre. El recunoaşte că aceste gânduri sunt de la Satana şi că îl vor împiedica dacă le ascultă. Putem vedea aceste lucruri chiar în zilele noastre. Satana provoacă pe liderii lumii să trăiască după valorile lui, bazate pe competiţie, înşelătorie, minciună şi luptă inhibând pe cei care încearcă să trăiască după valorile Împărăţiei lui Dumnezeu. Satana îi oferă lui Iisus împărăţiile lumii, dar Iisus răspunde, „Pleacă, Satano căci este scris: Domnului, Dumnezeului tău să te închini şi numai Lui să-I slujeşti” (Matei 4:10). Trebuie să acţionăm la fel. Trebuie să ştim că cea ce facem este spre întâmpinarea Stăpânului care va veni şi care se va încinge şi ne va aşeza la masă. „Mijlocul să vă fie încins şi făcliile aprinse. Şi să fiţi ca nişte oameni, care aşteaptă pe stăpânul lor să se întoarcă de la nuntă, ca să-i deschidă îndată, când va veni şi va bate la uşă. Ferice de robii aceia, pe care stăpânul îi va găsi veghind la venirea lui! Adevărat vă spun, că el se va încinge, îi va pune să şadă la masă, şi se va apropria să le slujească.” (Luca 12:35-37)

A Passover Meditation

The meditation before us is God’s dead body. We are in the paschal season, but we almost never think about the moment between the cross and the resurrection when God was in the grave. This morning I want us to begin contemplating the death of God. Briefly, I want to open our thoughts and our hearts to the Crucified Jesus in the grave, then the Risen Jesus who was in the grave, and then what the death of the Son meant for the Triune God. I want to conclude with some implications for our lives and ministry.

The Crucified Jesus in the Grave

As we think about Jesus suffering a cruel and vicious trial, torture and death, I want us to put ourselves in the place of those bystanders: Mary, Jesus’ mother, John, Peter, Mary Magdalena. How did they feel when the One who loved them was brought irrevocably to His end? What are we now to believe about this Man who has just died a criminal’s death? What did they think when the One who carried their hopes for life and a future was put in the tomb? What weight bore down on their souls as the stone was rolled over and sealed so that they could not reach His body? Here we stand with the disciples: scattered, ashamed, fearful. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. All we know is that everything we had fully hoped for was dashed and brought to its end. Everything stops. We wait in silence.

On the day after his death Jesus is no hero, savior or redeemer. He is dead and gone, convicted as a sinner, a rebel and blasphemer, who has paid the price of tragic failure. He simply died, and his cause died with him, quite falsified and finished.

I have placed before us the icon of “The Dead Body of Jesus in the Grave’, painted by Hans Holbein, because it realistically depicts God in the tomb. His face is swollen, His skin is darkened, and He is in decay. This was Dostoevsky’s center piece for his novel, the Idiot. Dostoevsky himself said that “one could lose his faith from such a painting.” And I think that this must be contemplated because in the malodorous tomb is the stricken, smitten, and now decaying body which has no correlates to the Jesus in whom we have believed. The icon has no vertical dimension because He is cut off from the heavens, from life, from the Father. It has only a horizontal dimension because God is no more humanly than on the cross and in the tomb: Ecce Home, Behold the Man!

We are left to gasp: Was He really who He said He was? There is faith which has forgotten what it is to doubt; a way of hearing which no longer listens to the silence; a certainty that God is close, which dares not look into eyes that are still haunted by divine remoteness; a hope for some glory other than a crown of thorns.

The lonely godforsakenness of his dying and the hellish godlessness of his burial combined to confirm one of two unthinkable conclusions: either that he had never been God’s love and power enfleshed – which left the desperate world still waiting for the coming near of justice and of peace; or, worse still, that this had been God’s last, best effort against the tyrants, and that sin’s hatred and the power of death had proved impregnable against the fragile flower of grace incarnate.

If at this moment a person who lived so close to God is lying in a criminal’s grave, rejected, relation-less, and God-betrayed, what reason has the world to believe that even on the best of days God is with us, comforting the weak, resisting the tyrants, vindicating the innocent, battling the demonic? And if it is only through the eternal Word and Son that we see, know and have access to the  Father and Creator, then the silencing of the Word and the terminating of the Son hellishly certify the world as an emptiness wherein no God is visible, knowable, or touchable, or quite possibly even present.

The stone is rolled away. The grave is emptied. Jesus is resurrected. The Spirit vindicates and verifies Jesus, proving that Jesus was and is, in fact, the Son of God. As at first, bringing form out of chaos, calling existence out of nothing, so now the Lord is again self-justified as creative in barrenness, life-giving in the midst of death; and far from being abandoned, we, too, may be persuaded now that nothing in life or death shall finally separate us from God’s love.

The Risen Jesus in the Grave

What does it mean when we reread the story knowing that Jesus is resurrected, knowing that He is God? We now know the full scenario, and we can see with hindsight that the Friday had not been the last day of Jesus after all, but the first day of a new, unfinished, never-ending history.

It is given to Thomas to name Jesus eleven days after Calvaryas Lord and God. We usually condemn Thomas of doubting when we should see rather his passionate conviction, the archetypal Christian confession He sees that Jesus is not just alive in victory and triumph over death but by the fact of His gaping wounds which confirm His earlier death. Thomas didn’t doubt. He believed that the pierced one who was dead, is God!

And if Jesus is God, then how can we fathom the extremity of the story that unites the Lord God with a human corpse – with a man who has in some eyes been murdered by criminals, and in others executed as a criminal? What a grotesque display of inept miscalculation, the boundlessness of human folly, the myopia of hatred! We have to wince, with embarrassment and shame, at the charge of blasphemy, the mock trappings of monarchy, the taunting challenge to prove himself the “Son of God,” when we know that the object of this self-righteousness and scorn – which is our own – will, on the third day, be vindicated and affirmed precisely as the righteous one of God and his anointed, kingly Son.

What does it mean for us when we learn that it was in fact God that we crucified and buried? How can we contemplate a dead God? The answer is that we cannot. Even for Christians, the history of the church has shown our inability to fathom God on the cross and God in the tomb. The explanations came: Jesus became the Son through His resurrection (adoptionism); God suspended His incarnation at the point of suffering and death; or, simply, Jesus was not God.

These heretical, yet sometimes accepted, ideas were imports from Platonism and Gnosticism, which presupposed the immutability and impassibility of God, eternity as opposed to God’s future, and the immortality of the soul. Even today it is scandalous to propose that God is movable, feeling, open to His future for the world and not simply immortal but resurrected. How could anyone fathom God in the grave? God is brought to His end in the silent tomb. God dies.

Either we decide that the place of human death is so demonic and destructive that not even God would have the power to survive and overcome it; or it seems a place too despicable and lowly for the God of power and glory to be found there. But we must pay heed to the story and let it critique our philosophies and presuppositions.

Crucifixion of the Trinity

The Trinity is a community, a family. Each person of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Spirit are equal interrelated and self-differentiated. The openness and space between the persons within the Godhead is room held open for others outside the family. So the Father sends the Son into the midst of our humanness, our captivity to pain and suffering, and our distance from our Maker. The Son is the messianic One, whose life, death and resurrection promise the world its liberation and us our intimate place within the fellowship of the Trinity. And God sends the Spirit also, in whose power these hopes for the world’s transformation and our own are already being realized, as we look toward the end when, the Son delivers the kingdom to the Father.

What then does it mean for the Trinity to experience the death?

Death in God.

This is the Son, very God of very God, dead in the grave. This is the crucified and buried God.

This means that we can no longer casually say that God is immortal as if it’s a given attribute because He has experienced mortality. He drank the dregs of humanity and died like all men and women. He conquered death by dying. He became immortal through mortality. God has taken death into Himself. The death of Jesus meant death in God.

This is not the death of God because the Father and the Spirit do not die. But this is death in God, since through the cross death and its division does pierce the life and heart of the triune family.

We do not perceive this as God against God (i.e. the Son saving us from the Father) because not only does the Father so love the world that He gives His only Son (John 3:16) but the Son also loves us and gives Himself up for us (Rom. 8:32 and Gal 2:20). This is the unity of the Godhead forged in the surrender of the Father and the submission of the Son for the sake of their love for one another and their love for us.

Death of God.

We know that the victory is proclaimed in the resurrection. But the empty tomb does not cancel out the cross or the occupied tomb, but rather confirms beyond all earlier doubt that God was there, upon that cross and in that tomb. That One who was dead and repulsive, executed, scandalously murdered, and perished. He is God. (Mark15:39)

If this man Jesus is the humanity of God, then God’s humanness has given in to inhumanity and dehumanization. The one who made us has, when human destiny lay in the balance, yielded to those who would unmake us, to the perverters of justice, the corrupters of truth, the annihilators of life. In a world of oppression, poverty and victimization, we affirm our seeming godlessness. In fact, we acknowledge a world in which it is possible to live without God and thus be godless. In fact, in the words of Bonhoeffer, God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross and Christ helps us not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.

In the silence we hear the voice of atheism, not as the denial of God, but as no God: godlessness. As Dostoyevsky said, “This would cause anyone to lose his faith.” We must listen to this voice because it iconoclastically crushes our idolatrous concepts about God. We must also let the voice articulate our own words when we feel abandoned by God or left alone in a world seemingly abandoned by God.

Not just death in God but the death of God allows us to speak about God in the grave that contradicts all false theisms. (His death annihilates; negates the negative.) We need to sit from within the grave and point out the false gods that need to be deposed in our world today.

God’s willingness to die in solidarity with our death is just what prevents humanity from becoming divine – the ultimate idolatry (Gen 3:5). Rather, the cross releases us from the original sin of wishing to be Gods and liberates us at last to be truly human. The being of the dead man defines God’s own being. God no longer wishes to be the living God without this dead man. Through His death, God points to a “becoming” through perishability.

In His death, the Triune God reveals love’s power as its weakness; frail, selfless, surrender to the other is the way it flourishes and survives. Love carries death within itself. The one who dies to self in love is all the more fully alive.

How else could we contemplate the deaths of our loved ones, the deaths of our friends living on the streets, and our deaths without God? We could not. For as the patristic axiom rightly reads: What is not assumed cannot be healed. God assumed all of what it means to be human, thus healing humanity.

The suffering of the Father.

If Jesus is given over to death, what does the Father experience? Is then the absence of God in the death of Jesus the failure of divine love, which subjects the Son to unmerited judgment and an outrageous fate? Or is it the failure of divine power, which deserts the Son to helplessness before the onslaught of overwhelming evil?

For if God is his Father, and if he is truly forsaken in his death then we are dealing with a real and not just a felt abandonment.

What kind of God does this? Here God is forsaken by God. This is even the breakdown of the relationship that constitutes the very life of the Trinity: the Son does not merely lose His Sonship; the Father also loses His fatherhood.

In the death of Jesus, the deity of his God and Father is at stake. Divine presence in the diabolic grave simply implicates God as colluding in divine absence.

The Father also suffers the death of His Son, not by dying but by the absence of the Son. Hear the words of a father who lost his son to a premature death: “Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God. It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps sorrow is splendor. God, instead of explaining our suffering, shares it.” This is the suffering love of the Father separated from the Son because the Son died.

But God’s raising of Jesus on the third day announces loudly to the world which killed him that every word spoken by this despised, rejected, and afflicted one was true. Who but God, the Maker of all, can bring the dead to life? Thus does the resurrection not only authenticate God’s powerful deity and loving fatherhood; it also confirms and vindicates the divine Sonship of the risen one, which was so in doubt while his body lay interred throughout the second day.

Here is divinity, ultimate reality, not self-sufficient but existing for the sake of others; not self-preserving but fulfilled through self-expenditure; not invulnerable but exposed to opposition and resistance; not static and immobile but subject to novelty and change!

Learning to Die

God in the grave on the Sabbath between Good Friday and Easter Morning demands us to follow Him. He says, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” This we do but only because God has gone before us, taking it all up on Himself, suffering, dying, waiting and rising.

We are the Body of Christ. And we are only the Body as we are sent. But we should not quickly spiritualize the Body but rather look at the actual Body of Christ: broken, swollen, bruised, dead. God is the one who knows how to die and knows that in accepting death there is life, and life only through accepting death. We are the Corpse of Christ sent into the world, not without the wounds, but bearing them as healing for the nations.

We are the Body of Christ sent into a world that is re-crucifying God (Heb. 6:6). They crucify God by denying His existence and by pushing Him out of the world and out of history. The also crucify Him by crucifying those created in His image, namely, the poor and oppressed.

The guilty despair and cold forsakenness of the second day give way on the third to joy, relief, deliverance. Today the mood is similar to that of guilty prisoners, sentenced to die, hearing the word “no condemnation”, which means reprieve and pardon; of the terminally ill miraculously restored to health and vigor…

Likewise the victims of the world’s godlessness, those bruised and crushed beneath the heel of the powerful, have cause, on hearing Easter’s story, to raise their heads in dignity and hope. By raising Christ, the weak and helpless victim of unjust cruelty, the Father not only vindicates the Son but verifies the faith for which the Son died – the self-promoters who destroy others cannot prove victorious in the end; for the way of life leads only down the path of risky, loving self-expenditure and humble servitude.

We also live the experience of God in the grave in our praying. For prayer is power in utter powerlessness.

Prayer in powerlessness is prayer from the tomb where Jesus’ dead body lies. This is not prayer as the last resort but prayer as entrusting ourselves totally to God who works powerfully through the powerlessness of the grave. In prayer we are postured to denounce any idolatry of self-reliance and glorify the name and character of God as the world’s sole maker and redeemer, before whom we are powerless, empty and guilty, but in whom we find grace, our needs met, our sins forgiven, our fears quelled, our foes conquered, and our hopes fulfilled. But how do we pray to a crucified and buried God?

We pray through self-surrender. For if the surrender of power is the form, and the only form, that God’s power takes, and if vulnerable self-abandonment is itself the creative energy which is bringing history powerfully to its fulfillment, we discover that prayer which leads to obedient action is our only response. To pray to the crucified God is, therefore, to affirm and practice radical dependence and surrender to the point of death itself – which may be why so few of us truly know how to pray or even wish to do so.

But how can God, who’s sovereignty and power are realized through suffering and contradiction, answer our prayers in power? Here, the God before whom in prayer we bow, mysteriously bows to us – finite creatures and sometimes destructive enemies – resolving not to be God without us but with us, exercising lordship only through us.

When we renounce our claims to power, independence, do-it-yourself, prestige and authority, which are all claims to be God, we open ourselves up for the power of God to work through us.

Our prayerfully acknowledged dependence on God, in short, frees the God who depends on us to direct the surpassing power of dependent, self-negating love against our self-sufficiency. Here we affirm our dependence, which our culture abhors, on God to give us our daily bread and to deliver us from evil. This prayer iconoclastically destroys our pretensions to be God-like.

We cry out with the psalmist:

O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep. (Psalm 88:1-6)

While we thought that darkness, loneliness, godforsakenness, and death were our experience, we turn to see that they are also God’s. This is the reality of Jesus’ experience. This is God in the grave.

Couched within the agony and lament, the psalmist asks:

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave…?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

Although the queries echo pain and unbelief, the very articulation of the questions indicates a deep faith, the faith that Someone is there to answer. And the answer comes: “Yes.” Yes, God works wonders among the dead and brings forth praise from the grave, but only because God dwelled in the darkness, experienced it and absorbed its wrath. God’s wonders are known in the darkness.

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