Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cry Uncle

I can’t believe that I am writing two posts in one day. I came to work this morning intent on writing this post, but I got interested in the idea of The Environment below. But, this post was the one running around the most in my head.

I tell my Principles of Economics students that even though they are new to Economics, I hope they have learned enough by Thanksgiving break to hold their own with their uncle who will proceed to lecture them over turkey and dressing about what’s wrong with the economy. It is humbling to realize that when I write about something as purely religious as this post that there are pastors and professors of religion for whom I am that uncle. Once I heard a guest pastor give a sermon on Psalm 29. I was fascinated by that, and did a lot of reading of the Psalms in which I came to the conclusion that Psalm 29 looked liked the ending of a sequence of early Psalms that mirrored the salvation history of the entire Bible. My inner academic thrilled at this little insight, which lasted a couple of weeks until I read exactly the same point in a footnote of my study Bible. Scoop Isaac had struck again. So I hope that it is with this expanded sense of humility that I present the following discussion that I have been thinking about a lot recently.

Consider the central passage (this from Mark 8, ESV) “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” A common popular interpretation of this verse leads to the idea that “this is my cross to bear.” Jesus spoke on many levels, and I don’t rule out this standard interpretation. Anyone who has had to work 9 – 5 while dealing with a disabled parent or a friend on drugs can be comforted that this trial is just a small part of God’s bigger plan for our walk with Him. Many people in these situations are denying themselves comforts and pleasures in order to be loyal and patient friends and family members. But I’ve begun to doubt this standard interpretation, and the reason is the idea of the cross. This has been particularly weighing on me as I have been reading about the Reformation reconsiderations of the Lord’s supper. The idea that we are following Jesus to the cross with our own cross of someone else’s burden bothers me because we are not Jesus. Jesus carried the sins of the world to the cross, and that has been done once and for all. There’s nothing we can add to that.

Another idea I had was that the cross represented the condemnation of the world. Only the Romans could order crucifixion. When I looked at it this way, the verse says to me: “If the world says that you are too ugly, or too nerdy, or too lonely, or not a good enough brother, then take up that condemnation and follow me. But this wasn’t satisfying, not because I don’t believe that Jesus is the friend of the too ugly and too lonely (I do), but rather precisely because of this I think he would want us to throw away those condemnations of the world, not drag them along.

So what I’ve come up with is a third interpretation. Here, the cross represents our own true sins. We are judged guilty because God is a just God, and the “wages of sin is death.” The justice of God demands our death, and so we already have our cross, like a criminal on the way to the hill. But God is also a God of mercy, and he has turned his sinless son over to the cross as a substitution for the atonement of our sins, and has resurrected Him to proclaim the permanent victory of eternal life over sin. I believe that this third interpretation of this verse is that Jesus is saying to us “I know you are sinful. But pick up the cross that you deserve for that sin and follow me to your salvation when I take your place on the cross.” This emphasizes to us that Jesus calls us exactly at the place of our sinfulness. This is not about carrying the burden of the sins of our friends or relatives, nor the sins of the world against us, but of our own sin. And this immediately precedes the “whoever will save his life/soul/self will lose it….” passage, which implies that what will die as we approach the cross with Jesus is our own sinful self.

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