A God of Love and Power
Thoughts on September 11 and the Elevation of the Cross
From the November 2002 Messenger
As we were commemorating the first anniversary of the September 11 tragedy recently, I was reminded of a conversation about the theological dimensions of this horrific event. One day soon after September 11, a friend mentioned to me that the real struggle is about how we understand God. Is he primarily a God of love or a God of power?
I think the argument can be made that Christianity – especially Orthodox Christianity – emphasizes the former, and much of Islam emphasizes the latter. In truth, however, Christianity emphasizes that God is both a God of love and a God of power. It’s just that our concept of God’s power is utterly different from that of the Islamic terrorists. This is revealed by the fact that Christianity sees God’s power as being primarily revealed in the cross. It is significant that the feast of the Elevation of the Cross comes three days after September 11.
The terrorists believe in a God who empowers his followers to forcibly subdue all peoples to his will. The cross reveals a God who becomes incarnate and identifies himself with the brokenness and failure of his creatures.
When Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself all the consequences of our sin, in order to free us from them. The power of the cross is revealed in liberating God’s children from guilt, shame, sin, and the fear of death. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way: “The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing; but to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Let’s look at the problem of guilt in the light of the power of the cross. Have you, at any time of your life, been plagued with guilt over something? You are not alone.
Guilt is a central problem of mankind. Think for a moment of the millions of animals, and the thousands upon thousands of human beings that have been sacrificed over the centuries to compensate for the guilt of mankind, to placate the gods and earn forgiveness. The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner described man as “a being threatened radically by guilt.”
There is only one answer to the problem of guilt: the cross – the one sacrifice that has been made once and for all. The guilt we bear for our sins was taken care of – overcome by the power of God – when Jesus took upon himself for us on the cross. So the cross shows us that the power of God is revealed in the love of God sending his Son to die for us.
If we know Christ, there is no reason to live in a state of guilt. As the Paschal sermon of John Chrysostom puts it so well, “forgiveness has risen from the grave.” If we continue to live with guilt, there is a problem somewhere. Either there is an unwillingness to let ourselves off the hook for something we’ve done, (God forgives us, but we won’t forgive ourselves); or we blame ourselves for something for which we were not responsible, (the classic example is children blaming themselves for their parents’ divorce); or perhaps we really have not repented of something we need to repent of, and so we continue to live in sin and thus continue to feel guilty.
The forgiveness of sins the consequent liberation from guilt is one of the most basic factors in the healing and restoration of our fallen human nature and the salvation of our souls. We can’t do without it. It’s essential. There is no reason that a Christian should live in bondage to guilt.
May the power of God revealed in his perfect and all-consuming sacrifice of the cross set you free from every burden of guilt, that you may raise your eyes to heaven and glorify the God of love.