(This post first published in April of 20-9.)
How do you explain God’s love to someone with no concept of it? Someone who’s only known manipulation, conditional and temporary relationships, or partial acceptance coated with the threat of rejection?
I asked that question to a church friend maybe ten years back, and she quickly responded, “You tell them about the cross.”
And I thought, ‘She doesn’t get it.’
She didn’t understand what it felt like to be betrayed and abandoned by the ones who were supposed to protect you and hold you close. She didn’t know the sting of trusting someone, believing they truly loved you, or at least hoping they did, only to have them leave or discard you, without a backwards glance. Or worse.
Our world is filled with those who’ve experienced deep hurts by those who were supposed to love them most, and they carry the scars and distrust, which often presents as anger and skepticism, today.
It’s filled with men and women going through life with deep wounds only Christ can heal and aching holes only He can fill but who, because of past hurts and scars, can’t see Him.
Though He reaches out day after day in a thousand different ways, their hurt-tainted perceptions distort His hand. We keep proclaiming Jesus, but our words seem to have little effect, and we wonder why.
So again I ask, how do you explain the cross to someone who has no concept of true, sacrificial love? How do you help them understand that Christ died not for a cause or movement or to make a statement but for them, so that they could live?
The longer we’ve been followers of Christ, the more removed we can become from this question. We can begin to take His death and resurrection for granted, and in our familiarity with the Good Friday story, we can forget it’s depth. Though I suspect we’ve all wrestled with its implications, at least, if we truly grasped what Christ did and have owned His radical deed for ourselves.
Did you see the Passion movie? I did, and walking in, I felt certain I understood Christ’s sacrifice, what it cost, and the gift I received through it. I knew I was a cherished, redeemed, child of God destined for heaven. But I hadn’t a clue just how loved–unfathomably, deeply and radically–I was.
Then I saw His flesh tear as the metal tipped whip scourged his back. I saw the agony on His face as His executioners hammered nails into His hands and feet. And I saw Him hang, exposed, abandoned and rejected, until, with a final word, “It is finished,” He relinquished His life.
That was all I could think, as I sat in that dark, quiet yet crowded theater. He did that for me.
Jesus died so that I might live.
Me. Sinful, selfish, and prideful Jennifer Slattery.
Suddenly, what I knew to be true became all the more real. And my only response was, “I’m sorry. Forgive me, Lord, I’m so sorry.”
There was nothing else to say. No promises or declarations or pious acts could compensate for what He’d done.
Jesus showed me, through that film, what true love looks like. A love that gives of oneself completely, until one has nothing left. A love that chooses to die so that others, like me and you, might live.
So again I ask, how do we explain the cross to someone with no concept of love? Someone who’s only known the manipulative, conditional, temporary love often displayed in our culture?
Sure, we could take them to the movie, and we could tell them how Jesus died for them. We could even flesh the story out, doing our best to make it vivid and real.
But first, we must do as our Savior did for us.
We need to show them. We need to demonstrate a love that reaches, perseveres, endures, and sacrifices. A love that remains even when mocked, rejected, and pushed away.
That’s the kind of love our world needs to see. A kind of love that, quite likely, may not make any sense to those receiving it. It may confuse long before it illuminates. But with every kind word and gentle smile, it helps pave the way for a love even more radical and unfathomable than any we can display.
This isn’t the quick, easy answer my friend gave. Nor is it easy to display, but it’s more effective than any gospel tract.
Let’s talk about this. What are some ways you are actively demonstrating the love of Christ? What can you do this lenten season to be God’s ambassador and image bearer–someone who reveals who God is at His core and His heart for mankind? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all encourage and challenge one another!