The God of the Cross

Yesterday, I reflected on the forgotten insight of Luther: not his development of the theology of the cross but rather his development of the idea of the theologian of the cross.   Behind this idea, however, lies an even more profound and revolutionary idea: that of the God of the cross.

The final theological thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation is certainly the most profound and quite possibly the most beautiful statement that Luther ever penned:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

In this statement, Luther concludes his articulation of the logic of the cross by using it to turn on its head received notions of the love of God.  The love of human beings is fundamentally reactive: the lover sees something intrinsically lovely in the beloved which draws out his love towards her; her loveliness precedes and indeed causes the love of the lover.  That is how the theologian of glory thinks of God's love: I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men....

The God of the cross, however, is far different.  He delights in setting his love on the unlovely and thereby making them lovely.   That is the logic of 1 Corinthians 1: the church, built in the midst of a port town, undoubtedly contained a high proportion of those who would have been regarded as the scum of the earth - the poor, the weak, former prostitutes, the sexually profligate; yet God chose these, the things that are not, to shame the things that are.   The logic of the cross itself is manifested in the fact that God's love is no respecter of persons as society respects persons; God delights rather in loving those that are most despised.

Again, this is a word both of grace and of judgment on the contemporary church.  Of grace, because it reminds us of God's promise that He - He and not we - will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.  Only a God of the cross and of creative love can make and keep such a promise.  Surely there is nothing greater that can give us confidence than the thought that it is ultimately God who gives the increase.

Yet it is also a word of judgment because it reminds us that our temptation to be preoccupied with those that our celebrity-aesthetic society finds lovely - the young, the artistic, the talented, the famous, the trendy, the brash, the bold, the beautiful, the cool, the self-promoting and the hip - does not reflect the priorities of the God of the cross. He is more likely to build his church with precisely those that this world considers weak and despised.   Indeed, he delights so to do; and our attitude, our self-understanding, our theology, our proclamation of who God is and how he acts, must all reflect that fact if we are to be true theologians of the cross rather than theologians of glory.

The love of God does not find but creates that which is pleasing to it.  And such were some -- no, such were all -- of us.