To begin with, a quote about what happened on the cross from one of my favorite theologians, N.T. Wright:
It is all too possible to take elements from the biblical witness
and present them within a controlling narrative gleaned from somewhere
else, like a child doing a follow-the-dots puzzle without paying
attention to the numbers and producing a dog instead of a rabbit.
This is what happens when people present over-simple stories with an
angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t
much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent. You’d have thought
people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s
deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so
angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the
world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting
recent song ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’, and we come to the
line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’,
I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the love of God was
I found this helpful in my thinking about the cross.
I just finished Patrix by Nadia Bolz-Webb, which I enjoyed a great deal. Bolz-Webb is a Lutheran minister who is unorthodox in how she presents herself in the world (lots of tattoos, lots of piercings), and in many ways orthodox in her faith (though not entirely, which is why some people have problems with her). One of my favorite chapters in the book was about her stint as a hospital chaplain, which she had to do in order to be ordained. Her first day on the job she was called into an E.R. trauma room, where the doctors were trying to save a man's life. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked one of the nurses. The nurse looked at her and said, "Your job is to be aware of God's presence in the room while the rest of us do our jobs."
Your job is to be aware of God's presence in the room.
What a great job! What a difficult job in these times of one distraction after another!
More than once I've sat in a hospital room feeling like I had to make small talk or comforting talk ("everything will turn out for the best, I'm sure," that sort of thing), either of which, in the face of the patient's prognosis, seemed at best clueless and at worst vaguely cruel. But in spite of the monitors and the carts rolling by and the TV noises leaking in from other rooms, there's so much silence to fill up on these visits, and you end up filling it with a lot of nonsense that's neither comforting or meaningful.
What if instead of talking, I made it my job to be aware of the presence of God in the room? What if being aware of the presence of God means holding someone's hand and being present for her the way God is present for both us at that moment?
I know that from time to time when I'm in a stressful situation, if I can remember to ask God if he's in the room, and if so, could he give me a little help, He makes himself known. This happened last year at Easter, when my children were being terrible at church--bored by the service, clearly ready to go--and I asked God for peace, right there, right now, before I did something that would get Social Services involved in our lives. And the peace came.
And then last summer at the beach, when we were at a restaurant, when Jack was being awful to Will, and Will was starting to cry, and I was like, "Jesus, feel free to intervene at any time, buddy." And suddenly, I knew we should leave. No doubt in my mind about it. We canceled our orders and went to another restaurant. We started over, and we had a lovely dinner.
The problem is, I keep forgetting to do this. I forget that this help is available to me whenever I need it. I forget that my job is to be aware of God's presence in the room. Always, always, always.