Not many people are offended by the message that God loves them. They might find it old-fashioned or naïve, but usually not offensive. Almost everyone, however, is offended by the message of Christ crucified. It implies we are all sinners. Regardless of how good we are, what kind of salary we make, what kind of education we have, the cross says we are all sinners who need a Savior.
[Note: this essay was first published by Catholic Exchange and is reprinted with permission.]
A startling claim of Catholicism is that we are born under a curse. The idea doesn’t exactly imbue the warm cozies, does it? But we will never feel the truth of the Gospel unless we feel the truth of the curse. If we hope to catch even a glimpse of glory in the light of the crucified and resurrected Christ, we need to feel the truth of the curse. It’s not enough to admit that all creation is good or that Adam and Eve were made to bring God praise. We need to own up to the fact that sin has entered the scene.
We are in pieces
What is humanity but a lavish outburst of the beautiful, unfathomable, all holy greatness of God. What a God he must be! But how miserable and wretched is humanity because of pride and disobedience. How pitiable we must be! Because of sin, God’s original design for male-and-female creation is warped and confused. Humanity is a broken institution. We are in pieces. Broken people get married and become broken parents who make broken kids. Broken people run countries, work for employers, manage companies, and cook dinner. Because of sin, being human is a broken thing.
Marriage has made sin a lot less abstract for me. In my first book, Mud & Poetry: Love, Sex, and the Sacred, a book written back in my Protestant days, I said: “I used to think I was the perfect boyfriend, but that was before I had a girlfriend.” Well, I used to think that I was the perfect husband, but that was before I had a wife. Brittany sees the straight, unvarnished truth about who I am. She sees me to the bottom in a way that I can’t see myself. For her, my sinful nature is not an abstract theological hypothesis. She knows I am selfish because I am selfish to her. She knows I am proud because I am proud to her. And, though I do not deserve it, without a shred of superiority, she forgives me. She doesn’t close up. She doesn’t stuff and hide what she feels. Rather, she speaks the truth in love. My wife’s frank, unself-righteous exposure of my selfishness and pig-headedness does not make me feel small. But it does remind me that it takes grace to live with me.
Marriage reminds me that I live only by the forgiving grace of God. I am so sinful and flawed that Jesus had to die on the cross for me. He saw my heart to the bottom but loved me to the skies. He forgave me, putting away my sin. And the joy and freedom of knowing that the Son of God did that for me has given me both humility and wealth to exercise power and grace.
Of course, the world cannot make any sense of this at all. “When we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense” (1 Cor. 1:23).Sometimes, even Catholics think its unhealthy to “remember that you were once separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We do not want to remember why Christ had to die on the Cross. We only want to talk about grace and the hope of the new creation. So when we talk about what it means to be a man or a woman our pride is not broken and our posture is not lowly. We forget the world is in “darkness” (John 1:5). So we do not look with longing to the Light that shines in the darkness to understand the great aims of God’s creation.
Brothers and sisters, we need to feel the truth of the curse. Otherwise the cross will be boring, and our vision for being men and women will be bland. We’ll have no taste for eternity.
Christ puts us back together
I admit I felt like a bit of a Grinch as I wrote this, as though I had a scowl on my face as I typed, “remember, remember the curse.” But I promise you, remembering the curse will not steal Christmas! In fact, it’s the other way around. It’s when we forget about the horrors of sin and death that we lose the joy of Christmas, the incarnation of Jesus. When we do not remember the truth of the curse, the gospel is not longer good news. It’s simply…news.
But read a newspaper. Spend a weekend with your relatives. Pay attention to the secret motives of your heart. Something is wrong with humanity, and we know it. Yes, God created us to reflect his glory and to bring him praise, but sin has entered the picture. Sin has spread like a cancer. The problem is not just our behavior. The problem is inside us. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). The brokenness of creation breaks God’s heart. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that he made man on earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen. 6:5-6). This is the first time the Bible mentions God’s heart, and his heart is breaking. Why isn’t yours and mine?
Sweet friend, wherever you are, we need to feel the truth of the curse. We will never leap for joy in the inexhaustible mercy of God if we do not let our knees get weak as we remember why we need mercy in the first place. We might be in pieces, but Christ puts us back together. He makes us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). The curse is real. But the cross is more real.
Read it in the Catholic Exchange.