Let’s stop at the foot of the cross for a moment.
Let the xenophobic hate of politicians fade away.
Erase from your mind the rhetoric of those who cling to guns out of fear and suspicion of their neighbors.
Let’s bring our thoughts to the foot of the cross.
Look on God’s Son as he gasps for his final breaths in the company of criminals, soldiers, jeering holy men, a single friend, and his mother who has long ago run out of tears to shed.
He could call on the armies of heaven to defend himself, and yet he allowed the soldiers of a cruel army to torture him and put him to death in the most painful way possible.
He didn’t fight for a kingdom in this world.
With the nails in his hands and feet, hanging above the ground, he still pleaded for God’s mercy on his executioners: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
When we secretly wish he would finally fight back or at least intervene to save himself, Jesus continues to give to us. He gives us what we need the most when we are most violent, lost, and transfixed on power and control. He gives us mercy.
For people who wanted a violent militaristic God enough that they were willing to kill this would-be Messianic “imposter,” Jesus persisted beyond all reasonable hope to show mercy with his dying breath.
What kind of God would show mercy to his own executioners?
This is the same Jesus who described God as an all-forgiving Father, who came to drive away fear, and who came into our world not as a judge but as a doctor. He came to seek and to save those who were lost, and that included the Roman occupiers, the oppressed Jewish people, and their surrounding neighbors, whether hostile or friendly.
He reached out to us with mercy, compassion, and love that drove our fear, brought seeming opposites together, and offered restoration and hope to all willing to receive it.
The cross is for those who are devastated by the reckless messages of Christian leaders about embracing firearms as our only hope and draw applause by identifying entire religious groups as the enemy.
The cross is for those who preach these messages of hate and violence and applaud it even though they claim to represent the Prince of peace.
The cross is for those who use their imaginations to bring about restoration and reconciliation among former enemies.
The cross is for those fear foreigners and spread hate, and remain so lost in their survival instincts that they can only function by dehumanizing those they cannot understand.
The cross is for those who recognize that sensible gun laws could keep high capacity fire arms out of the hands of mass killers, just as they have in every other first world nation.
The cross is for those imprisoned by their obsession with personal security and personal rights to the point that they can’t see how their individualism is devastating communities that are flooded by firearms.
When Christians, especially Christian leaders, invest their imaginations and emotions thinking of all of the ways they could be shot or need to shoot others, we are abdicating our calling to pray and work toward mercy and peace as followers of the Prince of Peace.
Instead of imagining how our world could be peaceful and reaching out with prayer and action to make it so, we see followers of Jesus fixating on violence as the only solution. It’s as if they have no other choice, and that is the central problem.
I don’t necessarily condemn anyone who wants to defend himself or herself. That’s not for me to say. We all have a desire to defend ourselves and our loved ones, and I won’t say that’s a bad thing.
Rather, the problem here is the narrowness of so many Christians in their response to violence. Calling on Christians to arm themselves is a failure to nurture a different atmosphere—especially when Jesus did just this when he died on the cross, breathing words of mercy over his executioners.
The self-preservation mindset is toxic for Christians who are told to “die to themselves” and to carry their own crosses. Self-preservation tells us that the cross was well and good for Jesus, but it’s not for us.
We can’t cultivate an environment of fear, selfishness, and violence and expect God’s Kingdom to magically appear. Fear, violence, and selfishness work quite well for the devil, but we never see Jesus employing them for his cause.
Even more so, the cross tells us that our task is to pray for God’s mercy on our would-be attackers, mockers, accusers, and anyone else committed to promoting violence and hatred.
The cross offers hope to extremists in the Middle East, American bigots, and supposed Christian leaders who instruct their followers to pack heat because of their enemies instead of telling them to pray for their enemies. The cross is where state violence and bigotry face the full force of God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.
Christians who invest so much time in preparing to kill other people could stand to divert a bit of time and energy into praying for them and reflecting on what the cross means—especially when an emphasis on personal security is linked with marginalizing and imagining violence toward another group of people.
The cross is not a place where you should feel comfortable. It should disrupt and jar us. It should strike us as foolish and otherworldly, perhaps even impossible.
I don’t love the idea of Jesus facing his death with anguish, tears, and pleas for God to make it pass.
I don’t love the idea of Jesus accepting death rather than fighting back against the Romans.
I personally believe that I would do whatever I could to defend myself and my family if placed in a threatening situation.
These misgivings don’t absolve me from standing at the foot of the cross to pray for my enemies, to confess the ways my country has failed to champion peace (Especially with the 2003 Iraq war), to admit that my nation has done much to stoke the flames of extremism, and to pray that God will show mercy on all.
While the Romans who killed Jesus had no idea that they were killing the Prince of Peace, Jesus gave his last breath to pray for God’s mercy over them.
Jesus, on the contrary, knew exactly what he was doing. It’s up to us to stand by the cross to find out why he did it.