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“For Yahweh loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
In the world of Christendom, the cross has become a powerful symbol of love. This is quite right, for Jesus clearly associated His crucifixion with an act of great love on the part of both Yahweh and Himself. But Jesus never said that the cross was only about love. In fact, He also taught His Old Covenant Jewish disciples to associate His death on a cross with an atonement sacrifice for sins, and by doing that, Jesus turned the cross into a most disturbing conglomeration of lessons—many of which we carefully avoid discussing in the Church. So let’s discuss them now, because it is the untaught lessons of the cross which have become most important for modern day Christians to learn.
Today Christians are seriously lacking in the area of reverential submission. Without submission, you cannot get saved. Many folks today who go around claiming to be saved aren’t saved at all because they have never truly submitted to God. They just pretend to submit to our Buddy, Jesus. Well, Jesus is not our Buddy, our Pal, or our sweet Savior who died on a cross just to demonstrate how desperately He wants us. Jesus is the Guy who will be tormenting us forever in Hell if we don’t show sufficient respect for Him, and we aren’t going to get there until we let the cross disturb us to the degree that it was intended to. So let’s now discuss the darker lessons that we’re supposed to be learning from the cross.
THE HYPOCRISY OF GOD
Christians today draw enormous comfort from believing that God doesn’t lie, that He is generally predictable, and that He isn’t a flaming hypocrite. Well, one dictionary defines hypocrisy as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” What a great description of God. You see, back when He laid down the rules for His Old Covenant sacrificial system, Yahweh set up strict parameters for an acceptable atonement sacrifice. When it came to sacrifices that were meant to atone for sin, there were certain dos and don’ts. Human sacrifices were definitely out. Yahweh said He abhorred the whole notion of parents sacrificing their children.
“There must not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering… Everyone who does these things is detestable to Yahweh.” (Deut. 18:10-11)
And after reminding everyone for centuries how much He detested child sacrifice, Yahweh says we should all find it so very wonderful that He sacrificed His own Son as an atonement sacrifice for our sins. How marvelously hypocritical. One minute Yahweh claims to abhor child sacrifice, the next minute He exalts it as a fabulous thing. But the irony doesn’t stop here.
THE BRUTALITY OF GOD
At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread and said “This is My body, which is given for you.” Then He took the wine and said, “For this is My blood that establishes the Covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). He was talking to a group of Old Covenant Jews, and once you start talking about blood taking away sins, Old Covenant Jews are going to be thinking of a typical atonement sacrifice in the Temple. The standard routine was to bring in a herd animal in pristine condition, then watch the priest kill the beast, drain its blood into a bowl, dissect it to remove some of its vital organs, then roast certain portions of its messy carcass on a big barbecue grill known as the bronze altar. But why are we killing animals in the first place? Because Yahweh said sin had to be atoned for with death—even sins which we humans consider to be not so bad. In Leviticus 4, Yahweh outlines all the complex rituals priests had to go through to process a sin offering, and there He says that even when people sin by accident, an animal still has to die. That’s quite disturbing if you think about it.
Today Christians are quick to get mad whenever it’s suggested that God is brutal or unfair. Well, what’s fair about your bull having to get butchered and barbecued because you did something wrong? Try looking at the sacrificial system from the perspective of the animals who were slaughtered in it and suddenly you see a God who creates some living beings to be sacrificed for the sake of others. This doesn’t bother us so much when we humans are the ones benefiting from the deaths of the lower life forms, but you have to concede that it’s rather disturbing to have a God who chooses a system like this in the first place. Why not have us smash inanimate rocks when we sin? Why make some other living being with emotions and a neural net and a capacity for fear and pain suffer on our behalf?
Our Gods have an extremely brutal side. Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh said that to touch an unclean thing—such as an animal carcass or human waste—constituted sin, and that meant some living animal had to be killed as an atonement for that sin. If you broke a promise, something had to die. If you told a lie, something had to die. If you stole or cheated, something had to die. Even though you were the one doing the sinning in all of these cases, you were never the one getting punished. God said other creatures who didn’t do what you did were the ones who had to get slaughtered on your behalf, and that would make things alright. What a disturbingly unfair system of justice.
GOD LIKES GORE
We want a God who is neat, clean and classy. If He’s going to deal with a disturbing subject, we want Him to do it with diplomacy and dispatch. Well, that’s not who God is. Yahweh made the processing of sin offerings ridiculously complex and disgusting. The priest couldn’t just toss the whole animal onto the grill, he had to first cut the thing open and dig around in its slimy insides trying to remove all of the fat from its internal organs. How long do you think it would take you to cut all of the fat out from a single dead bull? Find and remove the liver and kidneys as well. Then, once you’ve cut apart the massive carcass trying to scrape out all of the fat, you get to haul the remains several miles away and burn them. This is what Yahweh tells His priests to do in Leviticus 4. He says the unwanted sections of an animal sacrifice were to be hauled “outside of the camp.” Well, the Tabernacle was set up in the middle of a camp in which there were over a million people living in tents that were spaced out enough to accommodate each family’s livestock. So hauling a bull’s head, guts, and flopping remains “outside of the camp” was no small task. And that was just one bull. Never mind all of the other bulls, sheep, goats, and birds that were also being sacrificed. Did we mention how many people there were? How often do you think a million people sin intentionally and unintentionally in one day? Why did Yahweh have to make every single animal sacrifice such a gross and complicated process? Well, apparently Yahweh is into this idea of collecting blood in one bowl and piling up smelly fat and slimy organs in another. God has a very gross and graphic side to Him. We don’t want to think about this, which is why the book of Leviticus isn’t a favorite among Christians. But then we get to the cross, and suddenly our Gods are shoving Their propensity for gore and pain into our faces like never before.
GOD IS SADISTIC
The cross was a shockingly sadistic torture device. We like to blame the Romans for coming up with it. Well, who came up with the Romans? That would be God. The Romans didn’t just invent the cross on their own. God was very much involved in inspiring that little gem, because God is involved in all things. As Yahweh says:
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating evil; I am Yahweh who does all these. (Isa. 45:7)
Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and brings out a weapon for its work; and I have created the destroyer to ruin. (Isa. 54:16)
God creates evil. God creates the people who make weapons, and He guides their work. The ultimate responsibility for the creation of the cross lies with God, not demons or people. And notice how Jesus didn’t show up on earth until the horrific process of crucifixion had been invented and perfected by the Romans. And then, of all the methods of death that Jesus could have chosen, He chose the most sick and twisted options of His day: scourging and crucifixion. Either one would have killed Him, but He went for a combo pack. How does it not disturb us to see our Gods choosing such brutality?
It was with a show of shocking sadism that Yahweh and Jesus launched the New Covenant. How ironic is this? What kind of a God introduces the subject of epic grace with a display of graphic torture? Sure, we want to look at Jesus gasping in agony on the cross and say, “He’s trying to teach us how deeply He loves us.” Well, yes, but He’s teaching us a few other things, as well—things which are just as important. You see, our Gods have a very dark and disturbing side to Them. The whole Hell package is beyond terrifying when you really stop to think about it. Yes, our Gods are grace and love beyond comprehension. But if you get on the wrong side of Them, They’ve got this whole other super scary dark side which finds immense pleasure in inflicting endless torment on Their own creatures.
Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh said that even if you made some innocent mistake, your animal had to go down for it. Sounds extreme and unfair, right? Well, today He says that if you fail to align with His salvation requirements, He will torture you forever because of your defiance on earth. Let’s compare the length of your life on earth to eternity. Yahweh is saying that He is going to torture you forever and always because you defied Him for one little blip in time. Sounds extreme and unfair, doesn’t it? Well, we can’t say that our Gods haven’t given us fair warning that this is what They’re like. Look at the Old Covenant sacrificial system. Look at Jesus volunteering to get whipped, spat on, stripped and crucified. The cross isn’t just a statement of love. It’s also a major lesson on how real God’s wrath is.
Mess with Jesus, and He’s going to do things to you that make His own crucifixion look like a Sunday picnic. Read through those parables and notice how many times Jesus talks about characters being slashed to pieces, bound up, and thrown into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our Gods are love and wrath. They are gentle and violent. They are compassionate and merciless. When we Christians refuse to learn all of the lessons that the cross has to offer, we end up chasing after Gods who do not exist.
Jesus is not just some sweet ray of sunshine who sits around blessing the little kiddies and weeping over the state of the earth. He’s also the Guy in Revelation who is stomping the blood out of humans and watching people writhe in Hell. Yahweh isn’t just the Love who sacrificed His one and only Son. He likes to amplify the terror of His punishments by nailing humans with measured doses of His wrath instead of wiping them out all at once. The ten plagues on Egypt were a fine example of this, as were the many rounds of plagues which He unleashed in Revelation. When you’re God Almighty, how hard would it be to just uncreate the humans who are irritating You? And yet our Gods don’t want to uncreate Their enemies, They want to torture them instead. And They enjoy torturing them so much, that They never want to stop, hence They created an eternal dimension which we call Hell that is designed to be a place of unceasing anguish. When we keep saying “God is love” over and over again, we start thinking that that’s all He is. But no, God is a whole lot more than just love.
THE CRITICAL BALANCE
The cross isn’t supposed to just make you feel amazed by God’s great love and grace. It is also supposed to deeply disturb and frighten you. Because God chose the cross when He had infinite options at His disposal. He chose to act totally two-faced regarding the topic of child sacrifice. He chose to mix lessons on love with reminders of His brutality and warnings about the intensity of His wrath. When we look at the cross, we should not just be feeling all safe and happy with a God who love, love, loves us. We should also be remembering that our Gods have a very dark side—one which never tires of brutality, gore, and pain. While our Gods certainly want us to feel secure in Their care, that security is supposed to be built on trust in Their good Character, not on a lack of fear.
If there is no element of fear in your relationship with God, then you are rejecting who He really is. Once you reject who God is, you run the risk of deluding yourself about your own salvation. You see, it isn’t some sweet Savior who offers to rescue us from Hell. It’s the same Guy who created Hell and considers it a fine idea. Reverence is a deep respect for God which comes from a great fear of His dark side. God demands that people fear Him throughout the Bible. Reverence is a requirement, not an option. Without reverence, it is impossible to please God, for the only way you can get yourself into a position where you have no fear of God is by totally denying much of who He is. Yes, God is amazing love, abundant grace, and incredible patience. But He’s also terrifyingly violent, shockingly sadistic, and zealous for revenge. If we live in alignment with Him, He showers us with love and grace, and His discipline of us is just what we need to keep us on course. But when we start scoffing at the notion of His wrath—when we start saying that He can’t be serious about Hell or that He doesn’t really have any association with the things that we find disturbing—well, then we’re trying to control God, and that is a strategy which will blow up in our faces every time. The critical question for you to ponder is this: are you worshiping the real Gods or some revision of Them which you’ve invented to avoid dealing with the aspects of Them that you don’t personally approve of? It is only possible to acquire salvation by submitting to the real Gods. So if Jesus is nothing but sweetness and light in your mind, then you don’t know the real Jesus at all, and you’re in a very dangerous place.
We receive many complaints from both God haters and those who claim to be Christians, and the complaints all boil down to the same thing: “I won’t accept a God who has characteristics that I don’t like.” Well, guess what? We don’t get to decide for God who He is. So if we’re wise, we will respectfully ask God to teach us who He really is. Then we ought to be immensely grateful that such a terrifying God would find such delight in helping us to succeed with Him. Once you know the real God, you can’t imagine life without Him. He is amazing. He is fabulous. He is the most wonderful Being in existence. Christians commonly assume that taking an honest look at God’s dark side will entirely destroy their faith. Yet until you do face the dark side of God, your faith is just a bad joke, because it’s rooted in nothing more than a fanciful delusion.
Why We Must Fear God
How to Recognize a Destructive Fear of God