3. Living Within God's Story: The Missio Christianus (cont.)
Movement 2. Becoming the Cruciform Son
As the head of the body, as the crucified and resurrected Lord, Jesus, the Son, is the prototype of all those who are lead by the Spirit. Therefore, as we concluded in our previous section, following Jesus in a victorious manner, means following his road to the cross. Unfortunately, this approach seems to conflict with the actual practice of many contemporary Western Christians. As Moltmann argues: “The idea of following Christ has been neglected by bourgeois Protestantism, because it no longer recognized or wished to recognize the suffering church.” However, if we are to be a cruciform people -– a people conformed to the crucified Christ -– there must be a dynamic correspondence in our daily life to the story of Jesus’ death. Our life in Christ must be defined as Paul defines it –- as the koinonia of Christ’s sufferings. Therefore, if we are to truly demonstrate our faith in Jesus, we must be a cross-shaped people. As Moltmann argues, in response to his own lament about the state of “bourgeois Protestantism”: “To believe in the cross of Christ… means to let oneself be crucified with him.”
However, this suffering is not simply suffering for the sake of suffering. There is nothing masochistic about the Christian movement into cruciformity. Nor is the Christian movement into suffering an act of resignation to the notion that “all life is suffering, so we might as well embrace it.” Indeed, following Jesus on the road to the cross is exactly the opposite of all such forms of resignation. Moving into active suffering is actually an act of protest against any form of reality that simply accepts suffering as it is. Cruciformity is “suffering against suffering,” it is suffering that is embraced in order to contradict the “reality” of ongoing suffering.
It is through cross-shaped lives that Christians continue the mission of the Son. It is by becoming conformed to the cross of Jesus that Christians continue to reveal the end of exile. It is through conformity to the cross of Jesus that Christians fulfill Israel’s mission to be a light to the world and fulfill humanity’s role as the imago Dei. By participating in the sufferings of Jesus, God’s cruciform people are revealed as God’s faithful covenant partner. Just as Jesus ongoing faithful obedience lead him to the cross, and revealed him as God’s Son and covenant partner, so also the ongoing faithful obedience of Christians will lead them to the cross and thereby reveal them as God’s faithful covenant partner. Just as Jesus drew onto himself the pain of Israel (as Israel drew on the pain of he world) so also, the church, in the Spirit, attempts to be for the world what Jesus was for the world. By suffering in this way, Christians participate in the missio Dei in the same manner that God does – with a great deal of humility, undergoing a great deal of humiliation. This emphasis upon humiliation takes away any romantic notions from Christian suffering. Christians will suffer and be rejected, they should not expect to be praised or honored for traveling the road of the cross.
Yet Christian suffering is salvific. Christians face cruciform rejection so that the world might be saved. This is not to negate the complete and total victory won by Jesus on the cross. Christians suffering is not an identical replication of Jesus’ achievement. Rather, in their suffering, Christians cause the salvation won by Jesus to burst into the present moment. This is what it is to “make of what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” As Tom Wright so aptly puts it: “[The church’s] role is to be Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world might be healed,” therefore:
this is the vocation of the Church: to take on the sadness of the world and give back no anger; the sorrow of the world and give back no bitterness; the pain of the world, and not sink into self-pity; but to return forgiveness and love, blessing and joy.
Christians have been healed so that they can take on the world’s sickness; they have been given joy so that they can share the world’s sorrows; they have been made victorious so that they can lay down their lives. Therefore, those who want to offer Christianity as a grand escape from all personal suffering have fundamentally misunderstood the Christian identity. Perhaps such a proclamation will fill churches, but it will fill churches with a people intent on fleeing from suffering –- and in this way the church will craft a people who are fundamentally incapable of fulfilling the call to become God’s cruciform Son through the power of the Spirit.
Finally, it should be noted that the suffering of God’s cruciform people will not only be a suffering that they encounter as they engage with secular and pagan powers, and with a world that does not know the one true God. Indeed, a great deal of the suffering experienced by God’s people will come from within the body of those who claim to be the people of God. Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but he was handed over by the Jewish leaders. Jesus realized that Israel’s leaders -– her kings and priests and so-called prophets -– were actually opponents of God and God’s true people! Furthermore, Jesus’ experience was the standard experience of many within Israel who understood what it truly meant to live as God’s covenant partner. Therefore, God’s Spirit-people, God’s cruciform covenant partner, should not be shocked if she discovers that much of the worst afflictions she encounters come from within the church. Yet this does not mean that the church should be abandoned. Just as Jesus did not abandon Israel, so also God’s cruciform people must continue to journey in the midst of a church that wounds them mortally. We must heed the words of von Balthasar: “Jesus died for and in Israel; why should not the saints to that for the Church?” The mission of God’s cruciform people is to heal both the world and the Church. They suffer, and do so salvifically, in both of these places.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology: IV, and Prayer.
Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.
Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, and Theology of Hope.
N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, The Resurrection of the Son of God, The Climax of the Covenant, The Crown and the Fire, and Following Jesus.
3. Living Within God's Story: The Missio Christianus (cont.)