Theology of the Cross

It’s Good Friday. Heavy stuff, I know.

If it’s one gift that Lutheran theology has given me these last couple of years, it’s the theology of the cross. So I wanted to share with you a little reflection on it.

One of my Lutheran heroes, Pr. Nadia Bolz-Weber, broke it down for people this Good Friday, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do the same thing drawing on her work (and various others I’ve learned from) for inspiration and putting it all in my beginner-level words…

There are only two kinds of theology:

  1. Theology of glory

  2. Theology of the cross

Oh… And only number two is real when it comes to Christianity.

Here’s my insufficient breakdown.

Theology of glory

A theology of glory puts God above the cross and peering down on the masses from above. It assigns the role of God to the human ego. We get to this God through our own efforts. The God of glory is a God of ascent. It’s a God that scapegoats others in order to find peace. It’s always #winning (or at least trying to). This God lives at the top of a spiritual/moralistic/performancistic ladder that we must climb. The result of this theology of glory is that God looks a whole lot like the worst parts of us. It’s a projection of the superego and it makes a God of toxic masculinity - one that is selfish, insecure, always comparing, endlessly striving, isolating, power-hungry, gloating, otherizing, objectifying, and quick to judge. And it puts the theologian of glory at the right hand of this God to judge others who’ve not climbed as high as s/he has through good works, acts, deeds, thoughts, morals, yoga poses, ayahuasca/mushroom doses, patriotism, personal strength, uttered rosaries, achieved levels of consciousness, etc. The theology of glory feels amazing to the ego, but ultimately it’s exhausting and keeps one separated from living a deep, empathetic, and connected life. A theology of glory is prison and it is absolutely unworkable in reality.

Theology of the Cross

The theology of the cross takes the theology of glory and crucifies it. Instead of God hovering above the cross commanding us all to climb, this God hangs on a cross and says, “It is finished.” Theologians of the cross (Luther being one of many) sit at the base of the cross, look up to where everyone thought God was in God’s shining tower in the sky and see a giant cancellation symbol that says, “God ain’t there. Stop looking up and look around you at the death and destruction that you’ve caused trying to outclimb your neighbor to get to me." On the cross, God has effectively said, “I’d rather die than continue the sin/purity accounting business you’ve long tried assigning me as the CEO of.” All of our efforts have come… To this. This is when we realize that the more we try to achieve our way to God, the more we end up hurting ourselves and others. And so all we can do is lay down in the dirt at the base of the cross and know that God loves us right then and there without us having to lift a damn finger. In the death of our idol-God, Christ has come to us in a way that we’d never have expected. This is grace. It is a pure gift. In Christ, we see God’s work FOR US not our work for God. Theologians of the cross see the world as it really is: That God is present amidst our brokenness, lastness, and lostness. This gives us true hope and humbleness rather than blind optimism or drunken self-importance. We become freed from our performance-based egos as we die to them and become ‘resurrected and lived by God’. This is a process that happens countless times throughout life as we always slip into the deep sleep of the theology of glory before having to repeat the dying and rising thing again. The theology of the cross is one of liberation and freedom. We stop racing our neighbors up the illusory ladder of glory and instead we turn to serve them - not because we feel we have to but because we are free to.

Grace & Godspeed,

P.S. If you haven’t already, I invite you to listen to this reflection (read by yours truly but written by Fr. Richard Rohr) that I recorded the other day if you really want to immerse yourself in this theology.