Maybe you sang this in church…
If you’re anything like me, you’re 6’4 and have curly hair. Also, you grew up singing this chorus at church…
He could have called ten thousand angelsTo destroy the world and set him freeHe could have called ten thousand angelsBut he died alone, for you and me
The nonviolent grace of Jesus…
While this song attempts to capture the power of Jesus in his Divinity, I think it misses the power of his counter-cultural humanity. You see, it’s us who loves violence. Even potential violence. The idea that Jesus could destroy the world is more enticing to us than him loving the world.
Here’s what I mean. When we sang this song at my church, it was a proud thing to say that the Jesus we follow could defeat in battle. To sing it with gusto was the tradition. We wanted a mighty warrior Jesus. We wanted a destroyer of worlds. We can relate to that. We’ve all pretended to be super heroes. At least as boys.
In our culture, a culture bent on war and violence, Jesus is best portrayed as violent, even if only potentially. We want Jesus to be victorious, but that means he must be stronger, physically, than everyone. But I don’t see that as the strength of Jesus and the cross.
That’s power. That’s the power of love, if I may quote the 80s song. But that kind of power must be minimized in our world of hyper-competitiveness. We must win at all cost or we are losers. And nothing is worse than losing. We kill, steal, lie, and step on whomever we must to win. Violence, in reality or in our heart, drives us. Especially when it comes to revenge.
Grace is stronger. Forgiveness is greater. This is the counter-intuitive message of the cross.
Retaliation is our knee-jerk, natural reaction. Violence is our entertainment. Even as Christians we all too often desire a physically strong, powerful God who excises wrath on anyone not like us. We want Jesus to return violently. And we want to imagine that the man on the cross, humble and meek, could destroy his accusers and tormentors.
Yes, the chorus ends with the truth that Jesus stayed on the cross, abstained from violence, and did so for us. But what if that’s not the only or even best way to look at it? What if Jesus did all of that because that’s who he was and is? What if he was showing us what Divinity actually looks like? What if he was showing us how to live by dying.
I think this is more plausible. Even John, the one and only disciple who watched this sacrificial act described Jesus this way…
“No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” [emphasis mine]
Yes. The same man who washed his follower’s feet and ate with sinners and taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, died on the cross because that’s simply who he was. And it was his way of showing us God. A loving God who has “compassion on the just and the unjust alike.” A God who is “kind to the wicked.” A God who would not destroy the world but would save it.
Today is “Good Friday” for many in religious circles. It’s good because Jesus loved. He loved his followers, his accusers, his tormentors, his killers, and the world along with them. It’s good because God loved us enough, in that moment in history, to show us what the Divine really looks like…LOVE. Sacrificial. Nonviolent. Humble. LOVE!