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At the Cross

ONE OF THE traditional ways of presenting the death of Jesus is to describe it as a sacrifice. That is problematical for many people in contemporary society.

The church’s great theologians through the centuries proposed various theories to explain how the death of Jesus saves us.

Some of these old theories survive today and are still used to test a person’s orthodoxy.

For myself, I find those old atonement theories brave in trying to explain the mystery of the cross. But I find none of them completely satisfying.

The fault in most of them is that they drive a wedge between God and Jesus.

They make it sound as if a ruthless God had to be bought off by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

As if God made the demand that “someone’s got to pay for the sins of the world”.

They make it appear that God then let his Son pay the full price God demanded to “save people from their sins.”

I find that offensive.

Any wedge between God and Jesus does not help my understanding, nor is it faithful to the whole witness of Scripture.

So what are we left with? We are left with Jesus on the cross.

We are left with a man in whom God was fully present, dying as a result of our shared human evil and the feral ways that flow from our alienation from the Creator of life.

On the cross, I believe that God is fully present in Jesus Christ to the bitter end.

On the cross I see God in a man who experiences not only physical agony but spiritual desolation.

Therefore I am left with a God who will die for us. A God who, in loving us, will bridge the gulf of alienation at all cost.

After many decades of faith, and professional theological study, I still do not understand the “mechanics” of God “reconciling the world to himself”.

I have no neat theory to replace the old ones, though people like Jurgen Moltmann, James Allison and other contemporary theologians are attempting new “theories of the atonement”.

At the cross I am forced to live with a wonder I cannot explain.

Many of our old hymns have atonement theories that less than adequate. However Brian Wren’s graphic hymn, ‘Here hangs a man discarded’ (Together in Song 356) is worth contemplating.

Can such a clown of sorrows
Still bring a useful word
Where faith and hope seem phantoms
And every hope absurd?

Life emptied of all meaning,
Drained out in deep distress,
Can share in broken silence
My deepest emptiness;

And love that freely entered
The pit of life’s despair
Can name our hidden darkness
And suffer with us there.

God with us and for us. A gulf bridged, a world saved. I cannot comprehend it or explain it, but I dare to believe that much.

Thanks be to God.

Rev Rod Horsfield is a minister in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article first appeared in Crosslight, the newspaper of the Synod of Victoria
and Tasmania