In Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir, Night he describes a scene in a Nazi death camp where inmates are hanged for stealing food and the other prisoners are forced to witness.
“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing. And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished. Behind me, I heard a man asking:“For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where is He? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”
There is an unintended irony in this admission that God might be found in the most derelict of circumstances, the place of utter abandonment. It is why I wear the crucified man on a chain close to my heart. It also explains why I strive to find the crucified man in me, and I in him. He is my hope.
The Cross of Jesus Christ is an odd and unlikely symbol. In its day, crucifixion was considered so repugnant that it was restricted to slaves and political insurgents. Roman citizens were not even supposed to gaze upon a crucifixion because it was the very dereliction of human dignity.
In John Stott’s epic “The Cross of Christ” he states: “The Christians’ choice of a cross as the symbol of their faith is more surprising when we remember the horror with which crucifixion was regarded in the ancient world... How could any sane person worship as a god a dead man who had been justly condemned as a criminal and subjected to the most humiliating form of execution? This combination of death, crime and shame put him beyond the pale of respect, let alone of worship...
Many other symbols could have been employed to commemorate Christ’s life and ministry. Why not something less gruesome? The crib, or manger in which he was born, the carpenter’s bench, the fisherman’s boat, or the dove descending from Heaven? Many icons from the life and ministry of Christ could have been chosen. And yet we gaze upon the Cross, the instrument of death and torture.
A peasant in an obscure part of the world, sentenced to exposure, public nakedness, humiliation, and abandonment, on display as a mockery before the whole world. How odd of us all, to cling to this symbol which seems to radiate so much sadness, and so little possibility for good.
There is the issue of relatability, what Jordan Peterson has described it as “the worst possible thing happening to the best possible person”. There is nothing more relatable than suffering. A good portion of human life can be slogging through the desert, suffering in a myriad of ways, spiritually, materially, socially, emotionally, physically. You will end up in one or all of the above at some point. When you do you may look upon the crucified man and see him in some way as a friend. It is then, that you may have a glimmer of hope, that God indeed might be found in the most derelict of places.
Death bothers people. Many would like to do away with the death of Christ as part of Christian observance, but it is the substitutionary death of Christ that is at the heart of our identity as Christians. What would Jesus do? Die apparently.
Why a crucified saviour? As the book of Corinthians states, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
A crucified man, as God. Follow me if you can. We can, and we do, by the grace of God, who makes all things possible. That is why I am shilling for the crucified man, and with my last breath on this earth I hope and pray that the crucified man is shilling for me. I tried to come up with a better story but I could not. A crucified man as the face of God. Unbelievable.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
Isaiah 53: 3–5