Jesus died on a cross. So why in the world would his followers choose the image of a cross to identify their faith?
The answer comes via a paradox. The cross is about two, superficially-contradictory realities. (1) Jesus bled, suffered and died on the cross. (2) On that very cross, Jesus purchased for all who call upon his name, eternal life.
This seeming paradox between simultaneous truths is sometimes referred to as a theological dialectic.
C.S. Lewis brilliantly illustrates this dynamic in his description of Death in his book Miracles.
On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.”
It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered (Miracles).
Thus, the grim suffering of Good Friday . . . becomes Good. It is not an accident. Nor is it a mistake. It was the necessary consequence of humanity’s fall and our costly, divine rescue. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves:
He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. . . .
Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.
Of course, this truth is only recognizable to those who have knelt before Jesus the Messiah and received his grace.
To unbelievers, “the world,” the cross makes no sense at all. Those in spiritual blindness reject it as the epitome of Christian absurdity.
Just such claims were made from the very beginning. Not long after Christ’s resurrection, these challenges were addressed by Paul, the Pharisee turned Apostle. Proclaiming the miracle of the cross, he reminds the young church in Corinth how they cannot expect the lost to comprehend its glory, its untainted goodness.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . .
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians).
The crucifixion and resurrection of the only begotten Son of God are the sole means by which you and I may be cleansed, healed, and restored to the unending life for which our Lord created us.