August 26: Towards A Theology of the Cross

2 Corinthians 4:12. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul has been taking us deeper and deeper into the crucified life. He has had much to say about glory, and much to say about suffering. It is imperative for us as Christians to understand how glory and dying work together. For Paul suffering brings glory. Death brings resurrection. There is no glory without death.

Martin Luther developed Paul’s thoughts into what he called a Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross.

Theology of Glory.

For Luther, the “theologian of glory” seeks to skip the cross in order to get to glory. It’s glory without death and resurrection. Moving out of pain. Getting over difficulties.

Of course this is not to say that glory is bad. We come from glory and are bound for glory. The question is, “what is the path to glory?” Most Christians look at suffering, pain, and difficulty as a temporary glitch. Somehow we are off the path to glory and we just have to work hard to get back on the right path.

But this is something that Luther pointed out – the theologian of glory will always choose works over suffering. Why? Because the theologian of glory does not see God hidden in suffering.

And so the Christian reaction to suffering often sounds something like this:

In the break-up: “It wasn’t a good relationship for me anyway.”

At the job loss: “I know God has a better job waiting for me.”

In the difficulty: “I’ve learned so many things about myself.”

Each of these is actually just rationalization. It is calling a bad thing good. Instead of looking at our suffering and accepting that God may be in the middle of it, we want God to simply moving us away from it. Rather, Paul sees death as at work in us. It is not something to leave behind or escape. We see life as self-improvement. God sees life as self-denial. Our suffering in our weakness offers us a chance for this life.

Most of the time as Christians we fail to let suffering reveal our deeper desires and thus our sinful desires. We don’t see suffering as a chance to die, but only as a chance to gain more glory – usually by good works, or living by “Christian principles,” or seeking a religious experience to boost our morale. We don’t see death at work. We are Palm Sunday Christians.

Thank God there’s grace for this.

Theology of the Cross

For Luther, the theology of the cross allows us as humans to embrace our suffering, our sorrow, our weakness, our failings, yes even our sinning (not in enjoyment, but in acceptance of its reality). Why? Because this is death at work in us. It is the path to true glory. The glory of grace.

God only works in the humble. The contrite. The weak. The foolish. The sinner. The failure. Victory comes from defeat. Life comes from death. This IS the cross. This is the upside down reality of God.

The cross is not a means to an end for us. It is the end. The glorious, resurrected life that we have been freely given by God takes us back to the cross. To carry our cross. To put to death the deeds of the flesh. To sacrifice for others. To allow death to work in us so that life may be at work in others, so that they too might go back to the cross for themselves and find true life.

What “To live is Christ” and 2 Corinthians 4 keep telling us is that the cross is not only what saves you, it is also what sanctifies you. It is what transforms you. The cross is the glory of the Lord that we behold (3:18). A theology of the cross never lands on “try harder.” It always lands on grace.

Do you see yourself as a theologian of glory or a theologian of the cross (yes that’s a deep question)? Do you tend to try to work your way out of suffering or do you let it work in you? How does union with Christ and his death show us that death is at work in us?

“The power of the Lord is the meekness of the Lord.”




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