I woke up this morning thinking about Christianity without a cross…not sure what prompted the thought but here it goes…
In my recent journey I have come to the conclusion that the cross is not some sort of master plan but rather it is the response of heaven to humanities disease. This line of thinking will drag you to ask “Could God save us without a cross?”…which of course leads to the obvious question of “save us from what? Whats the disease?
Before we start unpacking the questions lets sweep away the debris left over from our fundamental thinking…which shows up in questions like “What about all the prophecies about the cross in the OT?”
Well…there aren’t exactly any direct references to a “cross” as a form of execution in the OT, just some general references to suffering and being pierced and etc…we have to read the cross back into the text and we do it in all kinds of ways like using “tree” to refer to a cross, and even Paul will dip into this metric a bit suggesting Jesus was hanged (the reference in the OT says “hanged” not nailed)…which should make you stop for a moment and ask if the blood of Jesus would have the same salvation quotient if Jesus was hanged and not nailed?
Well would it? What if not one drop of blood had been shed but instead Jesus was executed by common hanging? Would you still be saved and how would that work? We need to dig down into what it is we are saved from and to…
As I look at the remains of the theology I grew up with there are many building materials that suggest we are all born sinful and in need of a pure blood to cleanse away this sinful nature and of course this was figured into the plan all along and the cross was the perfect intersection of Gods love and justice where he could pour out his blood to cleanse us without getting his own hands dirty by killing an innocent pure blood victim (himself) but as I look at the pieces I realize, nope those things never fit together as perfectly as I imagined and there are places where the puzzle is “forced to fit” and it does not in fact fit together all neat and nice, and frankly all this talk of “pure blood” sounds a bit mythical sort of like we are talking about Vampires or other creatures of legends…now if you are one of the folks who reads this and thinks “Mark has lost his faith” let me smack you upside the head and say:
“Stop letting others think for you, use your mind and sort through the hard questions yourself and stop labeling those of us who are being honest…you’re lying to yourself and you know it”
A good portion of my friends cannot even talk to me because these kind of thoughts and questions are “dangerous” or whatever, and let me be frank for a minute and say I think you are fake because if you cannot be honest and our relationship depends on us agreeing and you don’t value our relationship over your certainty then I find that incredibly immature, and gently suggest you grow the fuck up…asking hard questions is not the same as “losing my faith” it is far from it and let me go on the record and say what masquerades as “certain faith” is often just fear and the need to control by way of speaking loudly over the truth, I’ve seen it and done it myself for years…ie:
“By His stripes I am healed, and yet there I remain in pain, but that’s not how it works, faith is NOT magic”
I still believe in Jesus I am still very orthodox and believe the text where it says I am cleansed, I still believe in the blood of Jesus, I still believe in speaking my faith, what I do NOT believe in is magic, and if my faith looks like magic I am no longer content to just blow it off and not ask questions, if at the end of my questions it IS magic, then I will accept that, but right now I do not accept that as what I am supposed to believe, I believe in Gods love and that might be bigger than I can fathom but that does not make it magic.
Now that all the certain and religious folks have left the room lets get on with some questions.
Let me make my first really controversial statement that might seem a little convoluted, but it gets there trust me:
Christianity without the cross needs magic to work, and there’s no such thing as magic.
What do I mean by that?
Well first of all lets remove the idea that the cross of Jesus was a special event uncommon and “magical”…it was a normal execution in it’s time, it was standard operating procedure for the Empire to keep things rolling as usual, we have plenty of historical evidence for this fact, lets stop treating it as an anomaly, people still get crucified, it’s not nearly as common, true, but it still happens even in todays’ world.
But Mark you are saying “Christianity WITHOUT the cross” and here you are talking about it all the while…yeah I know kind of weird huh?
Let me explain my logic…when I suggest Christianity without the cross what I am saying is a form of faith that takes “normal” and makes it extra special with God-sauce and no way that it can be simply human…in other words it takes our violence to Jesus which is basically just normal human everyday behavior and turns it into some kind of one-off Divine special moment that is so unique it can have no real meaning outside of secret handshake knowledge and mystery and blood hidden in a dimension to cover sins hidden somewhere inside us requiring a special “cleanse” but with no real effect on the outside world.
Could you still believe in Jesus if he was hanged and not bled to death like some animal, could he save us without being drained of his blood? Some say “No” others like myself need to ask it before we dismiss it.
A religious model that takes this blood sacrifice to such an extreme that two well known TV preachers can sit and talk about needing jets to fly in because they are so pure by this secret blood cleansing they cannot fly with common demon covered folks because the contamination will hamper the invisible prayer connection they have to this secret blood splattering God…(never mind these same two preachers have told us for years about their “authority” over demons by this same extra special cleansing, never mind that the accepted notion of “all those demons” were defeated by the same cross, never mind the obvious lavish lifestyle and narcissism embedded into this kind of thinking), its like the magic blood only works some of the time and your mileage may vary depending on the size of the donation affixed…okay then, this kind of thinking, this model needs to be examined, is it real or is it magic?
This is exactly where the “cross” is missing…when you turn the cross event into such a special magic moment that it no longer has any application in your own life you are living in Christianity without the cross, you have replaced the cross with some supernatural event so large as to be unknowable, you have turned the cross (a purely natural human execution) into such a special event as it loses relevance and meaning and might as well be dragon breathed unicorn poop because there’s no way to access it or apply it.
Think about it…how do we access blood shed over 2000 years ago, is it in a special prayer jar in some other dimension? Some people hint and believe this and I am not belittling it just asking serious questions here, think about it a minute, if the blood of Jesus is the substance that is so vital to restoring humanity then why was it not captured into some basin and preserved in such a way as every newborn from then on had access to it and thus we would never have had Hitler or murderers or the Holocaust or well…sin.?
If picking up your cross and following Jesus gets smeared to mean flying coach instead of owning your own private jet you have basically turned the cross event of Jesus into such an unusual human event it has no meaning for you, you are not living with a cross event what you are describing is magic…and that is not the cross of history, that is not the cross of Jesus.
Well what about all those verses about blood and being cleansed and you know, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” and whatnot?
Great question but we still haven’t answered what it is we are supposed to be saved FROM…what is it exactly that we need cleansing from? What contaminates us? What does it even mean to be unclean or contaminated, does it mean being covered with unclean demons, or our own sin, and why does blood of all things cleanse that, why not a good soul bath?
At some point we have to stop letting our assumptions lead the conversation…we have assumed meanings for “unclean” and “sin” and “cleansing” and these assumptions have led us to some rather magical explanations…but lets remove the unicorns and fairy dust for minute because Jesus NEVER speaks like you need magic, if we are going to accept Jesus as some kind of sacrifice lets at least get his perspective on it.
I haven’t sorted it all out yet, I have some ideas but will leave those for a minute to say this:
If your idea of the cross makes it so special that you can get away with pride and greed and selfish narcissistic and abusive behavior because you are somehow “cleansed” and “redeemed” but you have no responsibility or accountability to the rest of humanity (not to God, he doesn’t have to live with you the way we do) then what you are living with is not the cross but instead a magical get-into-heaven-free-card and it has no meaning in this world you are currently polluting with your arrogance…it is not the cross Jesus went to or even suggest you carry, it is a special magic bullet for bad behavior that makes it OK, and I am not OK with that.
If Jesus’ death means anything at all it MUST mean that our bad behavior is not OK, it CAN mean it is forgiven and we should likewise forgive each other but it cannot mean “free pass act however you want God’s got your back”
I suspect it means something more like “Really? You’re going to go ahead and be so selfish and stubborn and blinded by your own systemic violence that you will willingly watch MY blood pour out for your own amusement, you know this means my death right? Still gonna go through with it? Ok if this is what you choose I forgive you, now what?”
And then God waits three whole days to let it sink in…
And I’m gonna follow His example and stop here for as moment…lets let the question hang there bleeding out for a while….