One of the joys of teaching a christology unit this semester has been the excuse that it has occasioned to getting around to reading Michael Welker’s book God the Revealed: Christology, a book that’s been sitting relatively untouched on my shelves for a few years now. The chapters are short, intelligent, and deeply engaging. In other words, they are a busy teacher’s dream. In one of them, titled ‘The Cross Reveals Not Only the Suffering, but also the Judging and Saving God’, Welker offers seven claims about the significance of the cross as revelation. They’re worth sharing, not only because it offers a taste of Welker’s style, but also because his summary statements (in bold) are just such a wonderful witness to the evangelical faith of the church:
- The cross reveals the terrifying, godforsaken situation of human beings, a situation they themselves, however, do not recognise as such. The representative world, in a curious mixture of anxiety, fear, and aggressivity, turns against God’s presence in the life and ministry of Jesus. ‘The cross’, says Welker, ‘discloses a situation that could not but plunge the world into profound despair were the world truly to grasp it; as it is, however, the world is able simply to pass over or disregard it in dull unconsciousness, with a shrug of the shoulders, or even gleefully. The cross of Christ is the expression of the godforsaken condition of human beings, a condition they yet try to disguise even though they themselves have brought it about’.
- The cross reveals the diastasis of God and humankind, God and world. It ‘calls into question or … even puts an end to any and all lighthearted theologies that make their peace with the “dear Lord,” that try to engage God and human beings in a kind of enduring but unproblematic partnership, or that otherwise propagate a peaceful ongoing relationship between God and human beings’.
- The cross reveals the profundity of the sin of the world. It stands for the triumph of the powers of the world over the presence and revelation of God. It reveals that our efforts to understand sin solely or principally in individual terms dangerously downplay the cosmic and violent character of the powers that both parade and masquerade themselves under the guise of religion, law, politics, and public morality. In light of the cross, ‘it becomes clear’, says Welker, ‘that even God’s “good law” can turn into an instrument of lies and deception under the power of sin. Jesus Christ is crucified in the name of religion, of global power politics, with reference to both Jewish and Roman law, and with the approval or even under the pressure of public opinion’.
- The cross reveals the danger that God’s revelation might not reach human beings because God may well withdraw from them. Drawing here upon Eberhard Jüngel’s work, Welker argues that what emerges in the cross ‘is the serious danger that God and world, God and humankind, “have died to each other” in a wholly disastrous sense’; i.e., in the sense that ‘this person is dead for me – I have absolutely no relationship or connection with this person now, nor do I want any’. The cross reveals that God has delivered human beings ‘over to their own [nothingness]. The cross not only reveals the danger that the world might close itself seamlessly off from God, utterly renouncing or even taking up a posture of opposition against God, it also reveals the danger that God, too, might no longer seek and find access to that very world’. It exposes the dreadful possibility that the cry of dereliction – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ – is in fact the last and most truthful assessment of the situation, both for creation and for God.
- The cross, however, also reveals God’s own suffering; it reveals not only the suffering of Jesus Christ, but also that of the triune God who through the sending of Jesus simultaneously seeks to reveal God’s proximity to human beings. Again drawing on Jüngel, Welker refers to this as ‘God’s inner disruption or as disruption within God. Through the cross, God is confronted with the death and sin of the world in a way that calls into question not only Jesus’s life, but also the divine life itself’.
- The cross reveals the abyss in which the very deity of God is most profoundly called into question. Here, ‘the creative God is confronted with chaos’, and that confrontation ‘reveals a suffering or impotence on God’s part’ which resides ‘deep within the deity itself’.
- Insofar as the cross reveals God’s pain and impotence, so also does the inner communion between Creator, Spirit, and Jesus Christ become discernible over against a world that closes itself off from God. The One revealed in the cross is the One who has ‘entered into the abyss of human misery and horror, subjecting itself not only to natural death, but also to the abyss of extreme separation from God, which various biblical traditions call “hell”. The cross reveals God’s descent into hell. It reveals that God … is no stranger to hell, that God suffers from hell and allows the divine life itself, in the figure of the crucified Resurrected [sic], to be enduringly characterized by this very suffering’. From eternity into eternity, the cross reveals the divine love that suffers for the other.