MAYBE GOD JUST DOESN'T CARE
††††††††††† God is.
††††††††††† God is near.
††††††††††† God invites us to pray.
††††††††††† God is able to answer our prayers.
††††††††††† God is good. God is Father. God is kind and not cruel.
††††††††††† God is holy. God hates to see people hurt...
††††††††††† Yet, even though I believe all these things are true, I still puzzle over the question of why so many of my own specific prayers are not answered. My own daily experiences conflict with my beliefs. The tension between the two leaves me in confusion and quandary. I believe. I pray... and yet I hurt.
††††††††††† What's wrong?
††††††††††† A creeping suspicions arises in my mind: could it be that God loves people in general, but does not answer my prayers because he does not have much use for me in particular?
††††††††††† The Bible tells me that the answer to this horrible suspicion lies in the Cross of Jesus.
The Cross as jewelry
††††††††††† The only piece of jewelry I own is a tie clasp shaped like a hammer. My Grandfather gave it to me for my 11th birthday. He had won it as a prize for a project he submitted to some carpentry magazine's woodworking contest.
††††††††††† The silver plating wore off it years ago, but I still treasure my little hammer. Nevertheless, I do not believe in Christians owning or wearing jewelry. I view jewelry as a gaudy vanity smacking of worldliness.
††††††††††† Naturally, everyone else in my family views me as a party-pooping, hopelessly-out-of-date old fogy. They bedeck themselves with all sorts of costume ornaments,† tacky babbles, glittery rings, shiny plastic pins, ropes of multicolored beads, sparkling things shaped like dead fish that dangle from their ears...
††††††††††† And every one of them often wears some kind of cross -- filigree crosses, celtic crosses, glass crosses, embroidered crosses, etc., etc.
The cross around Donald's neck
††††††††††† Even my six-foot-three-broad-as-a-door teen-aged son wears a cross. It hangs on a long raw-hide thong. Donald's cross consists of two heavy square-cut iron nails welded together at right angles.
††††††††††† He says that a cross symbolizes God's love and that envisioning a cross† as he prays helps him remember to pray in five areas: The head of the cross reminds him to adore Christ. The left arm reminds him to confess sins; the right arm, to thank God for the good things in life. The point where the timbers intersect reminds him to pray for the people whose lives crosses his own. And the foot of the cross is the place to lay burdens and make requests known to God.
Donald Cowart, martyr-in-training
††††††††††† Now, in order to conserve money (for the family to waste buying more jewelry, I suppose), we heat our home by burning wood. We have a big fireplace and here in Florida wood is certainly cheaper than fuel oil.
††††††††††† For a fire to burn it needs three things: a source of heat to start with, fuel and oxygen. Without all three it smoulders and peters out.
††††††††††† Of course in our house, everybody likes to feel the fire's warmth, but nobody likes to feed the fire. So one day last winter, the fire died down to a glowing bed of coals.
††††††††††† To build it up again, Donald chunked on a few more logs. It started smoking up the room. As a certified genius and a nuclear physics major with a full academic scholarship to college, Donald realized the problem was lack of oxygen.
††††††††††† He got down on his hands and knees to blow into the fireplace as the rest of the family stood around offering helpful suggestions like, "Hurry up! It's cold in here!" and "Move. Your big butt blocks all the heat".
††††††††††† Ignoring our help,† Donald pushed his head deeper into the fireplace to blow on the coals; and as he did, that cross of iron nails he wears dangled out of his shirt and nested in the glowing embers.
††††††††††† At last the fire re-ignited.
††††††††††† Donald stood up.
††††††††††† Grabbing the leather thong, he dropped the cross back down inside his shirt...
††††††††††† When that hot cross touched his bare skin, he hollered and danced and pounded his chest like Conan The Barbarian on a roll.
††††††††††† We all saw it happen. And as a nurturing Christian family, filled with compassion, harmony, tenderheartedness and love for one another, we laughed ourselves silly at his pain while we called out words of charity and comfort ranging from "You're on fire for the Lord" to "You Dweeb!"
††††††††††† Donald claims that this "suffering for the faith" entitles him to be considered a card-carrying Christian martyr.
††††††††††† By now his scars have healed but he still wears that cross as a symbol of his faith -- and as a reminder to pray.
The Cross symbolizes God's love -- and pain.
††††††††††† In another chapter a bit ago, I said that we don't know what Jesus actually looked like -- we don't. But archaeologists have discovered one very ancient picture representing† him.
††††††††††† It may have been drawn as early as 40 or so years after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
††††††††††† After the great fire of Rome in A.D. 64, the Emperor Nero built a new palace which he named "The Golden House" on Palatine Hill northeast of the Colosseum where Christians, accused of setting the fire, were fed to the lions. The Roman writer Suetonius described Nero's magnificent palace:
††††††††††† † "Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the Emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house, all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl."
††††††††††† On Palatine Hill close to "The Golden House" Nero also constructed a building called the Paedagogium. It housed imperial offices as well barracks rooms where palace guards and gladiators lived while on duty.
††††††††††† The soldiers liked to scratch rough pictures and slogans, called graffiti,† into the plaster walls of their barracks -- you know the sort of thing, the First Century equivalent of "Call Diana for a good time... Sarge is a fink... Less filling: tastes great".
††††††††††† In 1856, among these drawings Italian antiquary R. Garrucci discovered a picture graffito with the inscription, "Alexamenos worships his God".
††††††††††† This graffito, now housed in Rome's Museo Kircheriano is the earliest known portrait of the Crucifixion.
††††††††††† The picture shows a small man, Alexamenos, praying; he stands with one arm extended toward our Saviour suffering on the cross.
††††††††††† The cross appears to be a Tau Cross, one shaped like a capital T, with a title board on top.
††††††††††† Our Lord's feet rest on a small shelf or crossbar, his body is taut, his arms stretch out on the hard wood of the cross with the nails fastening his hands visible.
††††††††††† In this crude picture, scratched on the barracks wall by some pagan soldier, Jesus has the body of a crucified man† -- and the head of a Jackass!
††††††††††† Although this mocking picture offends modern Christian sensitivities, such an artistic travesty would hold no shock for the writers of the Bible; they knew the cross as an emblem of shame. Look at some of the terms they use:
The Cross in Scripture
††††††††††† "...They are crucifying† the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."--† Hebrews 6:6 NIV
††††††††††† "Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith... endured the cross, scorning its shame..."-- Hebrews 12:2 NIV
††††††††††† "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the spirit of glory and of God rests on you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified." -- I Peter 4:14 KJV
††††††††††† "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."
-- Galatians 3:13 NIV
††††††††††† "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing... Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles."
-- I Corinthians 1:18-23 NIV
††††††††††† Public disgrace! Shame! Reproach! Evil! Offence! Foolishness! Stumbling block! Curse! -- these are the words Bible writers associated with crucifixion.
The Pagan View of Crucifixion
††††††††††† Crucifixion was a form of execution reserved for runaway slaves, rebels,† child molesters, thieves who knocked down old ladies, abusers of their parents -- the lowest criminal scum.
††††††††††† The Roman senator Marcus Tullius Cicero, a pagan,† wrote, "Let even the name 'cross' be kept away not only from the bodies of the citizens of Rome but also from their thought, sight and hearing...
††††††††††† "It is a grave offense even to bind a Roman citizen, a crime to flog him, almost the act of parricide to put him to death: What shall I than call crucifying him? Language worthy of such an enormity -- It is impossible to find!"
††††††††††† Is it any wonder that the pagan soldier associated crucifixion with repugnance and ridicule and so drew his picture of Christ on the cross with the head of an ass?
††††††††††† Pagans often made such an association. Tertullian mentions another such picture of the God of the Christians -- this one shows a man with an ass's head; he wears a toga and carries a book.
††††††††††† Minucius Felix said, "Audio eos turpissiame pecudis caput asini... venerari -- I hear they worship the very filthiest beast with the head of an ass".
††††††††††† The pagan word for the earliest Christians was Asinarii, which can be politely translated to mean "belonging to an ass".
††††††††††† Everyone -- Hebrew, Christian and pagan -- knew that crucifixion was a filthy disgusting ignominious way to die.
††††††††††† And so the man who mocked Alexamenos drew that picture of him praying to Christ crucified.
Jesus' View of His Own Crucifixion
††††††††††† Jesus himself spoke linking the cross with utter degradation coming before resurrection:
††††††††††† "Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, 'We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again."-- Luke 18:31-33 NIV
††††††††††† Handed over. Mocked. Insulted. Spit on. Flogged -- Crucified.
††††††††††† Yes, Jesus knew what he was getting into; on the Mount of Transfiguration, he said:
††††††††††† "The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory..."
-- Luke 9:21-26
††††††††††† Suffering...rejection... torture... ashamed.
††††††††††† Who was Jesus to take such abuse? And why? Why, knowing what lay ahead,† did he deliberately go to Jerusalem and crucifixion?
Who was this who was crucified?
††††††††††† "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son of God is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."
--- Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV
††††††††††† "At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. All creation took place through him, and none took place without him... He came into the world -- the world he had created -- and the world failed to recognize him He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him...So the word of God became a human being and lived among us."
-- John 1:1-14 J.B. Phillips translation
††††††††††† "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form!"
-- Colossians 2:9 NIV
††††††††††† The owner of all things? The Creator of the Universe? The shine of God's glory? The exact replica of God? The sustainer of all things? The personal expression of God. The fullness of the Deity!
††††††††††† That's what the Scripture says about Jesus.
††††††††††† But isn't he honored today mostly for being a great teacher?
††††††††††† Certainly. But what was it he taught?
††††††††††† "I am the light of the world," Jesus said.
††††††††††† "I am the door," Jesus said.
††††††††††† "I am the bread of life," Jesus said.
††††††††††† "I am the Good Shepherd," Jesus said.
††††††††††† "I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said.
††††††††††† He said that he saw Satan fall from heaven before earth's creation. He said he existed before Abraham. He said that he had the authority to forgive sin. He said he was Lord of the Sabbath. He said that he and the Father are one and the same... The Ancient of Days. The Lord of Hosts. The Prince of Peace. The Wonderful Counselor. King of kings and Lord of lords. Light of lights. Very God of Very God, begotten not made...
††††††††††† The night before Jesus was crucified, Caiaphas, the high priest, asked him:
††††††††††† "I charge you under oath by the Living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
††††††††††† "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied, "But I say to all of you: In the future, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
††††††††††† Now, when Jesus walked around saying he was God, the Mighty One, the light of the world -- stuff like that -- Was he telling lies? Was he crazy? Was he telling the truth? Are these the only three possibilities?
††††††††††† We know that Jesus is the Son of God because of the things he said and because of the things he did.
So, what did he do?
††††††††††† Jesus withered a fig tree. Jesus calmed a storm. Jesus walked on water. Jesus gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He fed the hungry, cured the sick, taught the ignorant, confused the proud -- whatever was wrong, Jesus made it right.
So, what did we do?
††††††††††† One of us betrayed him. One of us smashed a thorny crown on his head. One of us whipped him. One of us whacked him on the head with a stick. One of us stripped him naked. One of us held his arm down while another hammered a nail through his hand -- We crucified him.
††††††††††† And then, while he hung on the cross in agony, we mocked him:
††††††††††† "So! You who are going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" one said.
††††††††††† "He 'saved' others but he can't save himself," another said.
††††††††††† "Let's see if Elias comes to take him down," called one.
††††††††††† "If you are the Christ, come down now -- We'll believe when we see that," said another.
††††††††††† "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross," shouted another.
††††††††††† "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself," mocked one.
††††††††††† If you're such a Hot Shot, why don't you do something?
††††††††††† So Jesus did something...
What did he do then?
††††††††††† He forgave them.
††††††††††† "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," he said.
Why did all this awful stuff happen?
††††††††††† Why did he suffer all this mockery, this humiliation, this shameful treatment?
††††††††††† If Jesus really was the Lord God Almighty come in the flesh and if he really had the power to call legions of angels to his rescue, why did he stay on the cross?
††††††††††† He'd have to be crazy to put up with all this if he didn't have to!
††††††††††† That's right!
††††††††††† You hit the nail on the head.
††††††††††† God is crazy about us.
††††††††††† He endured all this for love of you and me.
††††††††††† "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:6-8 NIV
God Came Down
††††††††††† The God we pray to, The High and Holy One Who Inhabits Eternity, Who Dwells between the cherubim, Who has His throne in the heavens and the earth as his footstool, Who holds the entire universe, small as a hazel nut, in the hollow of His hand, The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Bright and Morning Star, Emmanuel, God with us -- Jesus somehow lowered himself, emptied himself, reduced himself to enter the world he had created:
††††††††††† "Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal."
-- Philippians 2: 5-8 Phillips
††††††††††† In the early days of computer technology, the machinery for a mainframe filled a whole room in a building; then came the microprocessors with microchips so small that the same power can be found in a laptop... Well, God's love motivated him to† sort of microprocess himself, to condensed himself down so he could squeeze into this world to get to where the problem was -- that's us.
††††††††††† In his essay "The Grand Miracle" C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of a diver to illustrate the idea of God's entering the world to save sinners -- what theologians call the Incarnation:
††††††††††† † One has the picture of a diver, stripping off garment after garment, making himself naked, then flashing for a moment in the air, and then down through the green, and warm, and sunlit water into the pitch black, cold freezing water, down into the mud and slime, then up again in the green and warm and sunlit water, and then at last out into the sunshine, holding in his hand the dripping thing he went down to get.
††††††††††† Down. Down. Down to the very bottom to get us -- that's the Incarnation; then up, up, up, back to where he came from -- that's the Resurrection!
††††††††††† "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father".
-- Philippians 2:9-11 NIV
††††††††††† All the degradation, filth and mockery we subjected him to -- like unruly, spoiled, vicious brats pounding on a sofa cushion -- hardly left a dent, save for the nail prints in his hands.
††††††††††† You see, God has no shame.
††††††††††† For love, there's virtually nothing he won't do. He wants princes and princesses for his kingdom and he'll go to any lengths to get them.
We're talking here about a God who'd kiss frogs!
††††††††††† The least intelligent man I ever met was a Christian -- just like me.
††††††††††† Jerry cleaned animal cages for a rinky-dink circus making the rounds of shopping centers years ago.
††††††††††† He concentrated on his work to get it just right. He beamed when talking about his job. He felt proud because the boss trusted him to hose out the tiger cage. He liked to be called "Tigerman".
††††††††††† The 32-year-old retarded worker prayed about his job. He held essentially the same religious beliefs I do.
††††††††††† One day I asked Jerry why he was a Christian.
††††††††††† Screwing up his brow in intense deliberation, he painfully tried to remember a Bible verse someone had taught him:
††††††††††† "For God so loved the world, that he... that he... That he did something or the other!" Jerry said grinning.
††††††††††† The smartest woman I've ever met was also a Christian.
††††††††††† Joyce, a person with an astronomically high IQ, had earned her doctorate while still a teenager. She spoke fluently in dozens of foreign languages and translated documents for the United Nations.
††††††††††† When I asked her about why she was a Christian, she replied without hesitation, "The Love of God".
††††††††††† And she quoted the same Bible verse as Jerry:
††††††††††† "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
-- John 3:16 KJV
††††††††††† God reached into the world to save people not on the basis of how smart we are, or how good-looking we are, or how rich we are, or how strong we are: few are smart, few beautiful, few rich, few strong -- He loves us all and saves us all on the basis of his love.
††††††††††† But it's not because we are lovable -- there's not a single teddy bear in the lot of us.
††††††††††† God loves because it's his own nature to love.
††††††††††† I once knew a man in Kansas who collected paper matchbook covers. To get one for his collection, I've seen him pick it up straight out of the gutter and treasure it. Now empty matchbook covers have no intrinsic value -- except to the person who values them because of a kink in the collector himself.
††††††††††† God has that same sort of kink concerning people.
††††††††††† He'll stoop to pick up one up that you or I wouldn't even notice. He'll dig through the world's trash to get one of us and brush us off and display us in his collection as a treasure.
††††††††††† "How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!"
-- I John 1: 3 NIV
††††††††††† The cross demonstrates how God lavishes his love on each one of us... but his love does not stop at the cross. Jesus rose from being dead but the his love does not end with his Resurrection. Forty days later, Jesus went back to where he had come from originally, but his love did not stop with his ascension.
††††††††††† Where did this path of love -- down to mockery, torture and death, up again to heaven -- lead him?
††††††††††† To prayer for us.
††††††††††† "He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them!"-- Hebrews 11:25 NIV
††††††††††† Right now Jesus is interceding for us. He prays for us. He links his prayer with the prayer that you and I offer. He joins us when we pray... He has paid dearly in order to do this. He paid the price of love.
††††††††††† So, when your prayers are not answered to your immediate satisfaction and you feel hurt and confused and can't understand what happening...
††††††††††† Know that God loves you.
††††††††††† Why else all that humiliation?
††††††††††† Why else all that anguish?
††††††††††† Why else the mockery?
††††††††††† Why else the cross?
†You have been reading Chapter Seven of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Eight