A Sin-Sick Soul
“Christian or not, I think many of us have significantly distorted ideas about the purpose and meaning of the cross,” Stuart McAllister writes. “We do not seem to understand our true state and our profound need for God’s mercy and love.”
As a young man growing up in Scotland, I was exposed to Christianity and the symbol of the cross. It was a point of confusion, a mystery at best, and at worst, an object of scorn and disgust. I did not know what it meant or why religious people thought it important, but I knew I wanted nothing to do with it.
Alister McGrath, Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, writes,
Just as God has humbled himself in making himself known “in the humility and shame of the cross,” we must humble ourselves if we are to encounter him. We must humble ourselves by being prepared to be told where to look to find God, rather than trusting in our own insights and speculative abilities. In effect, we are forced to turn our eyes from contemplation of where we would like to see God revealed, and to turn them instead upon a place which is not of our choosing, but which is given to us.1
In other words, nothing in our history, experience, or knowledge can prepare us for God’s means of drawing us to Him. At the cross, something we are not expecting is revealed, something scandalous unveiled, something we could never have articulated or asked for is given to us: God’s marvelous love and merciful forgiveness. As the Scriptures declare, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Philip Yancey, the renowned author, offers more on this:
Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who take his cloak, who prays for those who deceitfully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to Kingdom, nor is it even the way to the Kingdom; it is the Kingdom come.2
Christian or not, I think many of us have significantly distorted ideas about the purpose and meaning of the cross. We do not seem to understand our true state and our profound need for God’s mercy and love. When we think of “sin” or the human condition before God, what comes to mind is perhaps something like the image of a child caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Such a situation might well be understood as disobedience or maybe even naughtiness, but is it really that important? It is certainly not bad enough to justify extreme reactions. Rather, our moral reflections on sin tend to foster incredulity or disgust. The response seems totally out of proportion to the offense.
But let us shift the metaphor. Supposing one day you go for a routine medical examination and that your doctor discovers you have a deadly virus. You did not do anything. You were not necessarily responsible, but you were exposed and infected. You feel the injustice of it all. You are afraid. You are angry. Yet most of all, you are seriously sick. You are dying and you need help.
The cross—the gospel story—is not a slap on the hands for children refusing to heed the rules of the cookie jar. It is not mere advice to get you to clean up your life and morals. It is not a set of mere ideas to inform you about what it takes to be nice. It is restoration and recreation, a physician’s mediation; it is about human flourishing and discovering life. The Great Physician has the cure and he tenderly offers it to each of us. As the African-American spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead” so beautifully puts it,
How lost was my condition
Till Jesus made me whole!
There is but one Physician
Can cure a sin–sick soul.
The cross may seem an extreme and offensive measure to the problem of sin and death and sickness—but what if it is the very cure that is needed? McGrath describes our options at the cross of Christ. “Either God is not present at all in this situation, or else God is present in a remarkable and paradoxical way. To affirm that God is indeed present in this situation is to close the door to one way of thinking about God and to open the way to another—for the cross marks the end of a particular way of thinking about God.”3
The cross may seem an extreme and offensive measure to the problem of sin and death and sickness—but what if it is the very cure that is needed?
Shockingly, thoroughly, scandalously, the cross depicts a God who throws Himself upon sin and sickness to bring the hope of rescue and forgiveness miraculously near.
Some find it shocking, some overwhelming, some almost too good to be true. It is, however, for all.
Stuart McAllister is Global Support Specialist at RZIM.
1Alister McGrath, The Mystery of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 104.
2Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 196.
This article appears in the 27.3 edition of our award-winning magazine. Click the button below to download a PDF of this edition.