about the symbol of the cross

I just downloaded an iPhone app called Hipstamatic. (Sure, it’s been around for a while, but I just got it, so back off.) It’s a camera app that allows you to change film, lenses, flash gels, etc. I’m obsessed with it. If you know me at all, you probably know I love to take pictures of random things and make collections out of them. Shoes, for example. Or signs. Or textures. My latest collection happened on accident: pictures of crosses hung on walls. Everywhere I go, people have collections of crosses on their walls. We have two on our living room wall and one in our kitchen. I’ve mentioned wanting to get more for the living room. I’m not sure why, I think because there’s something strangely comforting about a wall full of crosses.

Other well-known fact about me: I love Perry Noble, the pastor of Newspring Church. I regularly watch his sermons and love just about everything he says. He’s commented before, as I’ve heard others comment, how the cross is only popular in our day. How the idea of displaying a cross would be offensive in Jesus’ day. Ray VanderLaan mentions something similar in terms of why Jews aren’t Christians. It’s offensive to Jews, he said, to wear a cross around your neck. It’d be the equivalent in our society of wearing a necklace with an electric chair pendant. There’s nothing beautiful or good about that.

And yet somehow the cross has become such a regular symbol that we see it and rarely think twice about it. People who claim to be Christians, people who are devoted followers of Christ, and people who really don’t care one way or another all display crosses on their cars, their necklaces, their clothing, their cars. Even Eminem wore one in one of his recent music videos and, sure, he’s come a long way lately, but what does he hope to convey by wearing it? The cross is nothing more than a meaningless fashion statement at this point.

So it’s gotten me thinking: do I really want to have a bunch of crosses on my wall? Do I want to wear one around my neck? What purpose do I hope to achieve in proudly displaying a cross in my house, on my car, or on my person? Is it meaningless now except as a fad? What does the symbol of a cross even mean to me?

If you bear with me as I continue to blog and, God willing, crack down on this book he’s directed me to write, there’s something I mentioned in my last blog you’re probably going to hear over and over: God’s good plan doesn’t always feel very good. But God is always good.

For a nice, scriptural example, let’s talk about Isaiah 53. Starting with verses 2-9:
“My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!
 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.
 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.
 Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.
 He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.”

Let’s just be honest here: that sucks. A lot. This perfect man was mistreated, despised, rejected, all for others’ sins. Go back and read it again. He had done no wrong, never, ever, and he was treated like a criminal and murdered. Seriously, that’s messed up. We can probably all agree on that.

And then you read verse 10:
“But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.”

That was God’s good plan?! I feel like if this were a Roland Emmerich movie and a group of people were throwing out ideas on how to save humanity and someone said, “Let’s take this perfect person and murder him,” everyone else would be like, “Dude, what are you talking about? Someone call Will Smith. He’ll know what to do.” It just doesn’t make sense. Not to me, not to us.

Finish up with verses 11-12:
“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.”

It really did work. It was a crazy plan, but somehow it worked out in the end. Somehow a perfect sacrifice did the trick. And Jesus was satisfied, he was honored, he became a savior. I don’t know that I would have been satisfied with such a plan, but this is the happy ending. All the suffering is over–for him at least; for us it’ll come later–and God’s plan turns out to be really as good as he said it would be.

Think for a moment about the worst day of your life. The worst, most unimaginable thing you’ve been through. The thing that came closest to ruining you. If you’re a believer (and by that I mean a dedicated follower of Christ), was that day before or after you became a believer? Maybe that day was what spurred you on to accept Jesus, to truly follow him. Think about the suffering you’ve been through since believing. Think about the pains, the rejection you may have felt at others’ hands. Think about those days when everything seems to go wrong and you wonder where all the sunshine and butterflies and magic genies are that the televangelists promised would come if you only believe.

My worst day came after I was a believer. In fact, I was a devoted, almost fanatic believer, spending over an hour daily with God, working for a church, volunteering in almost every area of the church, and suddenly it hit. I wasn’t naive. I didn’t expect sunshine and butterflies and magic genies. I already knew about spiritual warfare. I knew to expect it and be prepared to fight against it. But I was not expecting it to come in the form of a 14-year-old boy who died right in front of me, his head in my hands, while I was sponsoring a youth small group. I wasn’t the only one in the room with him, but we were both utterly helpless to save him. That night was a nightmare, and it wrecked me. I almost walked away from everything. When I chose to stay, I repressed all my emotions for several months. They came back, and they came back hard. For the first time in my life, I admitted I needed help and went to see a counselor, who diagnosed me with PTSD. This is the short story version of it. That whole year was rough, way more than I’m comfortable admitting. But the wisdom God taught me as a result of that one night, that worst day, that most unimaginable thing, is priceless. What his good plan was for that boy I’ll never know. In fact, what his good plan for anyone is, I’ll never know. But he had me there, in that room, because it’s part of his good plan for me. And if nothing else about that night makes sense, I have to trust in that one fact.

Think back to the worst moment of your life. Now think how God has used that moment to teach you, to draw you closer to him, to reach out to others. Think how maybe–just maybe–that moment was part of God’s good plan.

That’s what the symbol of the cross means to me: God’s good plan. And maybe the cross has lost meaning for most of our culture. Maybe it’s just a decoration for some people. Maybe it’s offensive to others. But I’m going to keep crosses around me as a reminder that God’s good plan doesn’t always look the way we expect it to look, but it’s still good. God’s good plan doesn’t always feel very good, but God is always good.