A Journey Into Earth: from a theology of glory to a theology of the cross
"The crucified God takes believers on a journey into earth, into its pain and suffering, and finds in that journey not the holiness of pain but the wonder of life's power to persist and transform. The way of the crucified God seeks God in earth's humanity, which has been abandoned, rejected, and despised, the people who know life amid their struggle." -Mark Lewis Taylor (The Executed God, 3).It's one of the most difficult theological moves to make. The move from a "theology of glory"--a theology which takes the believer on a journey up and away to a holy God above, away from the earth, away from suffering, and away from humanity--to a "theology of the cross" which, as Dr. Taylor says it, "takes believers on a journey into earth..." and allows them to discover God in the midst of the pain and in the midst of that which has been rejected and abandoned. It's so difficult, but so necessary.
When our conception places God somewhere out there separated from and reacting to our suffering, perhaps even causing it, rather than actually experiencing it with us, then the cross becomes a means to an end, a transaction of God in purchase of the souls of humans, an exchange for the purpose of justification. Ministry itself then becomes a means to an end. Since God is somewhere else, people need to be taken somewhere else, people need to be changed, transformed, justified, and ministry becomes the means for change and transformation. People are subjected to an ideal. We elevate those who have succeeded rather than affirming those who suffer and those who struggle.
But when our conception allows us to see God on the cross, to see the crucified God, then the cross itself needs to be transformed. The bodies which hang on the crosses of history are affirmed as God joins them in their situation. God is discovered in rejected humanity. The transformation of people is not a goal reached my means of a transaction but a reaction to the realization of the empowering solidarity and presence of a God who has resurrection as God's future. Justification happens indeed because the crucified God is a coming God whose openness to creation and whose restored relation to humanity is essential to God from God's very origin. In other words, who God is in the end is who God is in the present and who God has been from the very beginning. Justification is just part of who God is, and so when God meets us in our suffering and in our sin, justification meets us there as well. Ministry is not a means to an end, but an experience of God in the sharing of humanity.
We don't have to get people somewhere else. We ourselves don't have to get somewhere else. We simply need to open our eyes to the presence of the God who is with us.
Indeed, this is a difficult theological move to make... when Martin Luther stumbled upon the realization of the crucified God, not everyone was ready for it. Some found it literally liberating and others wanted to kill him over it. When everything you know has been built around the "theology of glory," when ministry has always been about getting people out of their sin and into heaven, when God has always been too holy to bear the presence of sinners, then the theology of the cross, the transformation from influence to presence in ministry, and the very suggestion that God might not be any holier than a withered body on a cross will be almost impossible to accept. But "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). Impossible as it may be to accept, we are empowered through faith to see that the crucified God meets us in our suffering with grace. We are free from transactions and exchanges, free from coercive ministry, free to encounter God as we share in the humanity of our neighbor--indeed as we love one another. We are free to go on that journey, the journey into earth, to discover God in our midst.