I have a long list of complaints against Christianity. They range from mere mistakes to grand acts of evil, through history and across cultures. But my most bitter complaint is the way Christianity has often shrunk God down to its own size. Christianity and church, as its most visible expression, can become a way to avoid God, in teaching and practice—all in God’s name and with good conscience.
Secular science and anti-religious philosophies are not the largest threats to Christianity. Too often, Christianity is to be blamed for its own defeats. Nothing has dulled the effectiveness of Christianity like its attempts at pinning God down with a dogma or collapsing God into a formula. Instead of learning to live under God, Christianity has repeatedly tried to manage God.
This inability to contain the mystery of life and God is true of all religions and even non-religions, which have their own simplistic answers, settling the eternal questions into dogmas, institutions, and formulas of their own. Fortunately, sooner or later, the mystery of God finds a way to spill out of our categories, like living water gushing from a well.
We can disagree about anything and everything. But there is something none of us can deny: there is a transcendent sweep over our existence. We are all stunned by the fact that we simply are. We understand that we derive our existence from something greater than a product of our own hands. We are all here, and in spite of all of our unanswered questions, this mystery of life is larger than us and reaches deep into every one of us, whether religious or not.
Everything in this life—a child, a cloud, a quark—holds part of the great secret. And certainly none of our schools, governments or churches can credibly claim to be able to contain and parcel out this mystery we live in. This ultimate reality cannot be hijacked by any one of us. It is deeper than Christianity, larger than any container such as religion can ever be.
But I have not given up on Christianity. I realised making Christianity serve a good larger than itself is the only way Christianity can be redeemed today, transformed back from a world religion into the global revolution it once was.
And I am far from ever giving up on Christ. Christ never wanted anyone to add “–ianity” to His name and invite the world to join it. Instead, Christ not only died for but also lived for this Mystery so deeply, so thoroughly, and so selflessly that for me, like millions of others through history, Christ turned this mere Mystery into The Mystery That Can Be Known, and—for short—called it God.
Somehow, in Christ and through Christ, this Mystery has revealed itself to us. And not only revealed, but reached to us, mending our brokenness and inviting us into participation in life greater than our own.
Which brings us to the symbol most closely associated with Christ—the cross. Symbols have power to communicate better than words. Words wind up being explanations, arguments and proofs that limit meaning. Instead of communicating facts, images evoke ideas and feelings beyond their obvious interpretations.
The symbol of the cross has meant many things to many people. As a dedicated follower of Christ, I don’t know whether to sing and dance when I think of the ways the cross has inspired some people, or to weep and fall on my knees in shame when I think of the ways it has been abused by others. But I invite us to suspend our mistrust of religious symbols for a moment and allow the cross to represent something larger than our opinions about Christianity, to evoke ideas and feelings beyond our hasty and limited interpretations.
The symbol of the cross stands for the entire “Christ event,” a story of how God broke into human history through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The obvious question begs to be voiced: Why would this grand Mystery of the universe reveal itself through a specific person, place and time—Jesus, 2000 years ago, Palestine? Why would something so grand, powerful and perfect choose to reveal itself in something so small, weak and broken? It seems God is attracted to and revealed in what is least powerful. The cross of Christ sheds light on the unexpected character of the God of the universe: humility.
Jesus Christ held that this apparent foolishness and weakness of God, revealed on the cross, would cause people to awaken to God’s life beneath the surface of everything. And because no-one will be able to grasp this mystery on their own, our walk to the mystery of God is never to be a solitary journey. The cross would draw and gather people around the mystery of God, forming communities that hear and see more than any of us could hear or see on our own.
We gather around this mystery of God with awe and wonder. That’s why we look at the skies, listen to children, read books, watch movies, sing songs, talk with friends in cafes, walk the beaches and ask our elderly to tell us stories. If we attempt the journey toward the Mystery depending only on our own senses, we will find distortions and illusions. And as we help each other discern and live out this Mystery, we embody it for others to see, participating with Christ in making the Mystery known.
We have this one world, and something is right with it. But something is also wrong with it. We have this one life to live, without all the answers we want. The Bible—an accumulated account of the interaction between humanity and the Mystery—says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror [mirrors of the time were very dim, made of polished bronze]; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12, 13).
So, we walk on by faith, hope and love. Faith and hope sustain us through finding or yearning for the answers to our questions. They help us prize uncertainty on our journey to God more than any other certainty on a journey to any other destination. But love is in a category by itself. Christ and His cross do not give all the answers, but they show what love is. In the mystery of life, love is the answer that matters more than any other, because learning to love well is the greatest achievement of human life.
The cross remains an inexhaustible mystery, each one of us coming to it from within our unique life stories. Our discussions about God are very much like analysing the maps of a journey. No matter how detailed, maps can never portray the beauty of the landscape. Similarly, God can be understood only while walking the actual landscape of life. Those who seek God in all of life will learn to love well, and those who love well can see the meaning and the beauty hidden under the surface of everything.
The invitation of the cross is an invitation to humility, for this Mystery seeks to reveal itself to the humble.