I recently introduced my friend Shivani to the story of Perpetua, a first century Christian martyr. While she was in prison awaiting execution, Perpetua’s unbelieving father visited her several times, begging her to deny Christ. Think of your mother and me, he begged. Consider your newborn son. But Perpetua boldly clung to her faith and was killed in the arena.
When Shivani understood the end of Perpetua’s story, she wrinkled her nose.
“She had all this courage and faith in God but she still died?”
After a moment’s pause she said, “I think… this is bad information for God.”
Shivani’s response made me think about The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The book begins with Pi, a young Hindu boy, exploring various religions. When Pi hears the story of Jesus, he compares him to the incarnated Hindu gods who, in the critical moment, “transcended… limited human frame with strength no man could have and weapons no man could handle.” Pi concludes, “That is God as God should be. With shine and power and might.”
But what does Pi find in Christ? A God who “goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad… anxious… heckled and harassed, who has to put up with followers who don’t get it and opponents who don’t respect Him…” Jesus, Pi protests, is “a god on too human a scale… a god who walked… – and in a hot place, at that – with a stride like any human stride… The Son is a god who died in three hours, with moans, gasps and laments. What kind of a god is that?”
Bad information for God, indeed!
What do we say to such protestations? Shouldn’t there be some simple, yet deeply theological answer that can make us comfortable once again with a nail-pierced, bloodied, murdered God?
I could answer that we celebrate Good Friday because we know Easter’s on its way.
I could say we honor our Lord’s suffering and death because it shows the depths of His love.
I could talk about how it reassures me that in this life, when I face humiliation, despair, pain, loneliness – I do so with a constant friend who knows those experiences in all of their depth.
I could say all this and more.
But I don’t really want to.
Because the vision of my God, hanging on a tree – naked and apparently defeated. My Lord exposed to the ridicule of the world. Gasping in death. Painfully human. The God who doesn’t make any earthly sense.
Well, in the words of the hymn, Sometimes, it causes me to tremble.
And while I went to Bible college and can explain to you all the various doctrines about why it had to be this way and the upsides of the God-man arrangement, none of those explanations will “sum it all up”. I can’t capture it all in a 600 word blog, nor in a 2000 word theology book.
You have to come and look for yourself on the sacrifice of the Servant-King. You have to wonder and waffle about in the profound conundrums of a suffering deity. You have to sniff after wisps of holiness and strain at echoes of heaven’s announcements.
You have to come to a vision that may just leave you trembling.