We say that God on the one hand is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, a benevolent creator who sustains “all things visible and invisible.” Then we claim that this all powerful being became a helpless child wholly dependent on is mother’s care for survival. This claim means
that we believe that this God-man spent a significant amount of time doing the things all children do. We believe that tears, tantrums and teething are therefore just as much the works of the one true God, as are the making of “the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 4:24).
If that were not challenging enough, we say that this God-man as an adult was tortured and murdered, subjected not even to some glorious death but the death of a common criminal, the same execution experienced by countless slaves, bandits and enemies of the Roman state. Just the method if his death alone is the cause of so many interesting questions about the kind of God we are dealing with.
The God who became a child, the God who died on a criminal’s cross
is an inconceivable God. Who would ever imagine this story?
That’s the whole point – it is incredible and purposely so.
God wanted to shock us! What’s truly astonishing is that so many people who know the Christian story are not shocked. The birth of Christ and the death of Christ - these two fundamental teachings, these two events – are surely among the wildest and most outrageous claims ever proposed in human history. And yet we who claim them as true completely take them for granted. Somehow, in the course of 2,000 years, these events have become so familiar, so tamed and domesticated, as to seem hardly worthy of comment, let alone wonder or puzzlement, among those who profess them. Amazing!
This was not true of the early Church.
St. Paul once said: “We proclaim Christ and him crucified, a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). A crucified Messiah was blasphemously scandalous for a Jew. No one was expecting a crucified-and-raised Messiah remember the disappointment of the two disciples of Christ walking the road to Emmaus. For the gentiles, as St. Paul said, the entire assertion was folly. The very idea that the Son of God – the savior of the world – would be born in and grow up in one of the most obscure corners of the Roman Empire. Surround himself with a motley assemblage of peasants and fishermen and would be arrested and crucified as a common criminal before miraculously coming back to life a few days later as the savior of the universe—surely these were the ravings of crazy people!
Yes these claims are inconceivable and that is precisely why they have shocked and challenged and inspired people for centuries. Once you accept them to be true and the motivation for our God’s outrageous humility is for love of us - individually – it changes you forever. God humbled himself to come into the world and die - for you and me! But somehow in the last few decades we have lost the wonder and shock of it all.
Christians apathetically think – a diaper-clad creator? Fine.
A god who gets tortured and murdered for me? No problem.
A carpenter who picks a bunch of fishermen saves the universe? Whatever.
We act as if these are the most boringly obvious facts one has ever heard. And sadly Christian preaching, in the present day, only seems to feed this apathy. By presenting “Christ and him crucified” as something commonplace and uncontroversial we not only condition others to be uninspired but lull ourselves into some bored disbelief. Who will be encouraged to turn their life around for a belief that is so uninspiring to those of us who do believe?
The Crucified God, in all honesty, is often better recognized by non-Christians and atheists than by religious Christians, because it astonishes and offends them. The problem with Christians is that we are too familiar with our story. We've ceased to be shocked, and thus inspired and challenged. It is one thing to believe that Christianity is true. It is quite another to feel amazement and to build (or rebuild) one’s life around it.
Our evangelizing must focus on the amazement of what we believe. People are drifting away who know the story of Christ because they have not been challenged to form their lives around this faith. The story of Christ is in their heads but not in their hearts.
Shocking the non-believer
with the power of God’s love for them
and igniting a fire in the hearts of the believer
that is what we are called to do!