December 1, 2020

Holy Week Thoughts: A Cross-less Faith

Nailing of Christ to the Cross, Fra Angelico

Nailing of Christ to the Cross, Fra Angelico

…let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.

– Matthew 27:42

* * *

At Mockingbird, they have this helpful entry on the subject of “Theology of Glory” in their site glossary:

Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity and to life that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or else to defeat and move past them, rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. In particular, they acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end – an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to good things in the future, especially salvation, the transformation of human potential by God and the triumph of the Kingdom of God in the world. As Luther puts it, the theologian of glory ‘does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil’ (The Heidelberg Disputation, Proof to Thesis XXI). This is the natural default setting for human beings. A theology of the cross, by contrast, sees the cross as revealing the fundamental nature of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven.

That last sentence is striking. “The fundamental nature of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven” is the way of the cross.

People don’t like that. I don’t like that.

I want a God I can see, not a God who is hidden.

I want a God who will convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is living and active and on my side.

I want spectacular answers to prayer.

I want to witness remarkable events that can only be explained by God’s intervention.

I want tangible evidence that faith pays off, not only in the end but here and now.

I want a God who solves my problems, eases my pain, answers my questions, and makes me successful.

I want God to enable me to do good works so I can feel good about myself and my contribution to the world.

I want to be made strong, confident, optimistic, fit for the long haul.

I want insight into how life works so that I can follow the right steps and help others do the same.

I want a God who makes a way in the wilderness, not one who leads and leaves me there.

I want fulfillment in my work, health and happiness in my family, grace and cooperation among my neighbors, peace, security, and ample provision in my world.

I want to hear God speak. I detest silence.

I want God to show up when I need God. On time. Bringing what I need.

I don’t want a God who bleeds, who thirsts, who worries about his mother, who lets clueless, cruel people drive nails through his hands and feet, whose lifeless body is carried away by weeping women and timid men.

I don’t want a God who forgives people who do things like this. I want them to pay dearly.

I’m with the crowd here: “Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.”

Show us, God. Prove yourself. Let us see, let us hear, let us experience your power and glory.

And the one on the cross says not a word.


  1. WOW – words of wisdom! Thanks!

  2. And the ironic thing is, even proofs and glory, ultimately, are not enough. The Children of Israel saw miracles and glory day and night. They saw the Plagues, they saw the Red Sea split, they ate the manna from heaven.

    And what’s the first thing they did when they got to Sinai? They built a golden calf.

    It’s little use proving the existence and glory of God to someone who would rather be as God themselves…

    • We are a fickle people, aren’t we. So often we fall into the “what have you done for me lately?” mindset.

  3. “I want a God I can see, not a God who is hidden.”

    I want a God who I can believe has great power, though he is hidden from me, not a God who can be plainly seen hanging on a cross, naked and suffering and dying and powerless.

  4. ” As Luther puts it, the theologian of glory ‘does not know God hidden in suffering’.”

    I appreciate the theme of this post, and I appreciate Luther’s development of the theology of the cross. More and more, I’ve come to understand that Jesus’ cross is not simply a means to an end, but reveals, no, embodies the essential truth about the heart of God, that it is cruciform. Creation itself comes out of the cruciform heart of God.

    What I don’t understand is why Luther talked about God as being hidden in suffering. It seems to me, rather, that the life and passion, the cross of Jesus Christ, reveals and exposes God in suffering, and declares that all we need to know about God is revealed and embodied in Jesus’ cross. Jesus’ cross, then, would not be a means to any end beyond itself, “an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to good things in the future, especially salvation, the transformation of human potential by God and the triumph of the Kingdom of God in the world.”

    It seems to me that God is revealed, not hidden, in Jesus’ suffering, in his cross, that we can look to Jesus in his passion and trust that there is nothing of God hidden that is not consonant with this naked, suffering, tortured, dying figure who, with almost his last breath, extends forgiveness to his enemies. And it is exactly because God’s heart and character are truly revealed, not hidden, in Jesus’ incarnation and passion that we can look to him with trust and faith, even from within our limited knowledge and vision.

    Christian faith is the gracious gift of God that endows us with eyes that see the formerly hidden God revealed and embodied in the crucified Jesus, and that allows us to trust that there is nothing in all of God’s infinity which contradicts what we now see.

    • I think because suffering is not how we think a God should act (be revealed).

      But in reality…you are correct. He IS revealed there…in suffering and death. They (we) just couldn’t see it…until after the 3rd day.

    • Aidan Clevinger says

      I think the point is that the cross is both a revelation and a hiding. God “hides” from people so that they can’t find Him *unless they find Him on His terms, by faith*. It’s God saying to the world, “I’m going to give you forgiveness, life, and salvation, but only through the broken and bloody body of my Son, dying an ignominious death; you can only find me and my blessings if you find them in Him, and especially in His crucifixion.”

      Hermann Sasse has a really good essay on the theology of the cross, from which I think I’m plagiarizing the above. :p

      • Yes, there is paradox involved. Certainly God is hidden in Christ to the degree that humanity naturally refuses to see God in the form of one hanging on a cross; but for those baptized into faith, however this comes about, the form of Christ crucified reveals the face of God as it truly is. Nothing that is in God is missing in Jesus Christ as he is shown and given to us in scripture and sacraments. What you see is what you get: to the eyes of faith, God is revealed, and not hidden, in Jesus Christ, the infinite heart of God is revealed in the finite frame of Jesus’ humanity, with nothing left out. If someone were to ask me, as they likely never would, what God is like, I would point to Jesus Christ on the cross and say, “God is there: that is what, and who, God is.”

      • Right.

        On His terms.

        On the Cross and raised from the dead.

        In preaching. In Baptism. In His Supper.

  5. This is a difficult post, which I think means there’s lots of truth in it. Very thought-provoking, CM! Thanks for sharing these thoughts and insights.

  6. Steve Newell says

    I find Holy Week an interesting week to see how various local churches focus Christ’s suffering in what services they have. Many will have only an Easter service. But how can you have an Easter service without also having a Good Friday service since the Resurrection is meaningless without Cross. Even fewer will have Munday Thrusday service since many do not have a sacramental view of Holy Communion therefore they do not place a great importance on this day.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The Liturgical churches do.
      Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the whole Triudium. With Lent before and Easter Season for the next seven weeks until Pentecost.

      But that’s too ROMISH.

  7. Thought provoking words to dwell on this week. Thank you.

  8. fix the elevator says

    Excellent article. A couple things:

    I mingle with the Orthodox on occasion, and one instance at a meeting one of the people there stated that Orthodoxy differed from Roman Catholicism on this very thing, suffering and the cross. The person stated that Roman Catholicism tends to focus much on the suffering of Christ (and death and atonement), whereas Orthodoxy seems to focus more on the Christian life and the resurrection and “theosis”–not the suffering and death of Christ. I wonder if this is an accurate assessment, given the multitude of Orthodox services this Holy Week. Maybe I am thinking wrongly?

    Any Orthodox or Roman Catholics care to respond and to give their personal thoughts?

    • I’ve heard this, and sometimes believed it. Perhaps it works as a rule of thumb. But I suspect a closer inspection would reveal more nuance.

      I’ve heard Protestant preachers lament that Catholics are so hung up on the sufferings of Christ that they barely recognise the resurrection (usually with a quip about crucifixes to the effect of ‘He’s not on the cross anymore!’), but I’ve heard Orthodox opine the same about Catholics and then add, ‘But the Protestants are worse- listening to them, it’s almost like we’re saved by His simply dying, not by His dying and rising!’

      On the other hand, I’ve heard Orthodox sermons dwell at length on Christ’s Passion and death, and redemption and atonement, etc. And the Paschal Vigil, when the resurrection is celebrated, is one of the richest and most beautiful liturgies in the Catholic repertoire, and one that I can say, as a Catholic, and without exaggeration, is the highlight of my year. Are these exceptions, or do they give the lie to the stereotype?

      • I agree with Glenn….as a Roman Catholic, I do not know enough about Orthodox theology to make a comment, but can say that from the Roman side, there is a balanced emphasis on both the suffering of Christ and His Resurrection. Without the latter, the former would have been the end of a faux prophet. Without the Cross, the Glory of God revealed in all His glory would never have been a bridge to humans and our suffering and stupidity.

        In other words, the entire mystery celebrated during the span of Holy Thursday to Easter is ONE event, and if any element of it were missing, it would not be true, and would not show us the path our God was/is willing to take for US!

  9. I am not a fan of the way of the cross. Who is? That’s why it’s the way of the cross. I’m beginning to think that, in some paradoxical way, God is in a state of suffering Himself. That is why when we suffer, lo and behold, we find Him hidden there. Our suffering actually enjoins us to Him in His suffering. I know how weird that sounds as we picture the Father, the source of all joy, in total bliss, and paradoxically so I don’t discount that but it is something I am investigating and something which oddly enough would bring dignity to all human suffering. I don’t know what God ‘suffering’ might mean but I think there is something there. Great love and great suffering are the two most direct portals to intimacy with God.

  10. Christiane says

    You are speaking of Catholics reflecting on the crucifixion of Christ.
    And of the Orthodox believing in the transformative power of Christ.

    I cannot think that Catholics and Orthodox are ‘divided’ by these two strong focal points;
    because, if there is a difference of emphasis, there are still deep connections between the two areas that are emphasized.

    One connection can be found here:
    ” I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. ”
    (Zechariah 12:10)

    The Paschal Mystery encompasses more than one event. . . . more than one response. Matters of emphasis are not the same as true divisions between Christian people.