The Death of God

The Death of God

The Death of God.

What if we didn’t know the end of the story? What if we didn’t yet know about the empty tomb? Yes, it’s true that Jesus predicted His rising from the dead on a number of occasions with His Twelve. But tell that to the traumatized disciples, who just lost their best friend. Tell that to His mother, who grieves over her precious son. A sword has pierced her heart, indeed. The Son of God gave up His spirit. He relinquished it. No one could take it away from Him, He had to agree to let it go, He waved the white flag of surrender. He deliberately became lifeless. He died. His heart stopped beating. His organs broke down for lack of oxygen and blood supply. The Son of God literally became breathless, the One who gives breath to all created persons. An early church tradition maintains that Jesus looked like an old man when His dead body was taken down from the Cross. He had aged in His suffering and with the burden He was carrying.

The death of the Son of God is nonsensical. Illogical. It doesn’t make sense. Life and death don’t mix. Death and Jesus don’t fit. It is somehow sacrilegious. Death is the ultimate indignity for the Giver of life. As the final result of sin, the death of Christ is the conclusion of sin’s victory over God. Death is an extreme impurity experienced by the only Pure One. Death defiles the world, making a dead person unclean and mortally defeated. Was Jesus unclean when He died? After all, death is this world’s vile pollutant. For the time being, the Son of God was defeated by sin’s final consequence.

But consider what the Orthodox Church says about Christ’s death:

(1) There is an Orthodox hymn in which Death is personified, and is at first puzzled by what it is experiencing during Christ’s crucifixion. The confusion turns to panic as Death realizes its own efforts to kill the Christ has resulted in its own destruction. “Christ’s torment, suffering and death is actually crucifying death. Christ’s own death turns out to be the annihilation of death.”

(2) “Sin which polluted God’s creation reached its frightful climax at the Cross. There, sin and evil, destruction and death, came into their own.”

(3) He accepted death because He assumed the whole tragedy of our life. He chose to pour His life into death, in order to destroy it, and in order to break the hold of evil. His death is the final and ultimate revelation of His perfect obedience and love. He accepted the ultimate horror of death. His death is total fulfillment. The Author of life was at work transforming death into life.”

(4) “Today is hung upon the tree, He who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the heavens with clouds. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church.”

(5) “The last breath of Jesus is the first moment of the outpouring of the Spirit.”

After assuming the most fundamental of human weaknesses, thirst, Jesus groaned, “It is finished.” As He entrusted His spirit to the Father, He surrendered, His mission accomplished, His earthly task completed, His purpose fulfilled. In the Greek, “finished” means “paid in full.” Christ’s death finished the work of creation. His death paid in full the penalty of our sins. His death accomplished the miracle of forgiveness.

“Why have you forsaken me!” cried Christ on the Cross before He breathed His last. That was a cry from the human heart. Jesus so fully appropriated our nature that He experienced true separation from God in His humanity. But Jesus was not abandoned by God. That is unthinkable. They share an unbreakable, eternal bond of love. Jesus was distressed but not in despair. In fact, Jesus on the Cross did what good Jews tended to do… He started the beginning of a Bible passage intending to continue it to the end, or assumed the listener would complete it himself. One tradition has Jesus starting Psalm 22, and then continuing to recite it to the end, right there on the Cross. And what were some of the concluding words of Psalm 22? “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! Revere Him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”  No, the Father didn’t turn His back on his Son. The Son wasn’t a temporary orphan. There can be no division of the indivisible. Jesus closed His testimony on the Cross with joyful confidence and a triumphant sense of final victory.