When I was a kid, I was entrenched in church life. I went to a Christian school, Wednesday night services, and twice on Sunday. Images of the cross were all over the place. We saw them everywhere. In our buildings, on our walls, on our Bibles and around our necks. The cross stood for love, for sacrifice, and for power over death. It represented the gift of salvation for all.
There was something unique about this symbol in my American Evangelical world though. In every instance I can remember, the cross was empty. There seemed to be a thought in the Baptist church that a cross symbol or crucifix with Christ on the cross somehow represented weakness, and maybe not the good kind. In our minds “Our Christ conquered death.. the cross couldn’t hold Him.” We viewed these other representations of Christ as something the mainstreamers or the Catholics did. Not necessarily bad, but something stemming from “religious ritual”, not necessarily the “relationship” concepts of our evangelicalism. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s what it felt like to me. I never really gave it much thought.
Until I did.
You see, somehow in my submersion in the image of the empty cross, I missed half the story. I got the God half of the story. The part where God comes down as a man, and pays a debt we can’t pay, and offers us this thing we call salvation. I understood the power over death part. I understood that Jesus represented this unstoppable, all powerful and sacrificial character, who loved me. And I was humbled by that, and this half of the story shouldn’t be marginalized.
What I missed though, was the human half.
I missed the part where Jesus sweat blood. I missed the part where he was mocked in front of a crowd. I missed the part where he carried the weight of a burden that would eventually kill him. I missed the part where Jesus is thirsty, and cannot drink. I missed the part where he is stripped naked for all to see. I missed his vulnerability. I missed his weakness. I didn’t miss these things in the sense that Christ did them for me. I missed them in the sense that he does them with me.
If you are anxious, He is with you.
If you have been abused, He is with you.
If you are desperate for answers you cannot satisfy, He is with you.
If you have been taken advantage of, cheated, abandoned or betrayed, He is with you.
If you are a victim of bigotry, sexism, racism, and hate, He is with you.
If you have a burden you can no longer carry, He is with you.
If you are completely and utterly hopeless, He is with you.
If you are just hurt, deep in your soul, and have nowhere to go,
He is with you.
He is with you.
I don’t pretend to know what real suffering is. I’m a white guy in America in 2016. But whatever struggles, injustices, or pain I’ve experienced, I’ve taken great solace in this image of Christ on the cross. I know that I don’t have to marginalize my own suffering, because I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has felt this way. I’ve realized that this idea of salvation is far more grand than just a gift. For it is not just a status, but a mindset; a worldview. One that helps us love and heal the world. And while I still may not have an answer for why suffering is allowed to exist, or why Christ had to die in the first place, there is still great comfort, relief, solace, and refuge, and it’s at the foot of the cross.