There is another word we often hear when we are in the throes of indescribable pain - the word excruciating. That, too, derives from Latin and means "out of the cross." Across time and human experience the cross has been the historical event that intersects time and space and speaks to the deepest hurts of the human heart.
But we live with more than pain and suffering. We also live with deep hungers within the human heart. These existentially gnaw at us with a desperate constancy. There are at least four such longings. The hunger for truth, as lies proliferate. The hunger for love, as we see hate ruling the day. The hunger for justice, as we see injustice mocking the law. The hunger for forgiveness, when we ourselves fail and stumble. These four stirrings grip the soul. As I see it, there is only one place in the world where these four hungers converge. That is at the cross. I dare say, therefore, that in this mix of pain and longing the divine answer is restoring and sublime. For within the paradox of the cross is the coalescing of our need and God's provision.
Some time ago, I spoke in Wales at an event that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the famous Welsh Revival of 1904. I listened many times to a magnificent hymn that was birthed during that revival, "Here is Love." The melody is almost haunting, the words capturing the paradox of the cross. Here is one of the stanzas:
This is the paradox of the cross: Perfect peace and perfect justice united in one death on a Friday afternoon some two thousand years ago. The thief who repented while hanging on the cross next to Jesus understood the paradox. No one else knew so well the physical agony of what Jesus was suffering in crucifixion. And the thief knew that he deserved it. He knew the fear of God. But he received the assurance of pardon from the blameless Man hanging beside him.
A.W. Tozer has been one of the greatest writers of all time on themes as profound as the soul's hungers. He well grasped the paradox of the cross. In his opening essay, "The Cross Is a Radical Thing," he exhorts the believer to resist the downgrading of the cross to a mere symbol. If the cross has become to us a humdrum ornament to our faith, we have not understood it, and we have not felt its offense.
Tozer's essays are truly needed in our day because he understood the death of Christ in both its timeliness and timelessness. The Apostle Paul captured this timlessness when he exhorted the Corinthian believers: "Whenever you eath this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). All the tenses were captured there - the present, the past and the future. The moment Christ died was an actual point in time in the past. He presently offers to live within us and promised to return.
Combined with the tenses are our tensions. Many of our moder-day sensibilities are offended by the brutatlity of a Roman crucifixion, and some people have even become persuaded that the atonement is a remote and irrelevant doctrine. Even so, the unprecedented violence occurring all over the world daily testifies to the greatest barbarism of all - the crucifixion of Christ - and to its message to the human race. I would go so far as to say that until we see the price God paid for our peace in His own Son, we will be paying with our sons' and daughters' lives on the battlefields of our hates and brutalities, only to find peace ever eluding us.
Never has it been more obvious that this world needs redemption, and that redemption is costly. The cross more than ever, in our language and in our longings, is necessary to bridge the divide between God and us. Without the cross the chasm that separates us all from truth, love, justice, and forgiveness can never be crossed. The depths of mystery and love found in the cross can never be fully plumbed, but it must be the lifelong pursuit of the Christian to marvel at its costliness and to celebrate its meaning. That is why I commend these essays to you. Your understanding of the cross and your commitment to its imperative will be greatly increased. There is no more important theme than this one. It stands as the defining counter-perspective to everything this world has to offer. As you meditate upon this paradox that propels wonder and worship, may you be moved to sing with the hymn writer: