To those that see contradiction between the violence of the cross and the love of God, I say... keep going.
Keep going. It’s meant to raise dissonance in your head about these very things. If you look at the cross and are moved emotionally, it's working. Repulsed? Good. Sense of justice offended? Right on.
How can a just God do this? Yes, Isaiah 53 and the crucifixion narratives are troubling. By design- the whole thing is meant to provoke, to prick at you, to raise intolerable dissonance.
First, the violence of this death. All through the OT, God had promised a Messiah, someone who would come and bring peace, healing, wholeness, and restore justice and fairness. From Genesis, all the way up to the early chapters of Isaiah, this anointed one is talked about. Then you get to the middle part of Is. chpts 40 and on, and he appears- it begins to describe Him, bringing what was promised, bringing salvation to the nations.
But when we hit ch. 53 something tragic, something appalling happens. The one who was supposed to bring an end to violence becomes the victim of violence- the one who was supposed to end injustice becomes its victim. “Pierced” for us. The word carries the connotation of someone being impaled- run through, in the front, out the back. It’s a vivid description of a horrible, painful death.
And the question is- How could this be the Messiah? It contradicts everything else that’s been said about Him to this point! How could the Messiah bring an end to injustice and violence and the brokenness of the world… by being broken Himself?
It makes no sense.
And even more shocking and offensive to some, this is a vicarious death- that is, the innocent in place of the guilty. Pierced for OUR rebellion, crushed for OUR sin…
And this is no lamb, but a Man- the “Lamb of God.” All through the OT we see sacrifices described- the life of a lamb or a goat or a bull as a covering for the sin of the people, a guilt offering to deal with their sin. But one thing the Bible is very clear on- never were the people to consider human sacrifice- that was a thing the other nations did, and God despised the idea. And yet… that’s what this is. For someone else’s sin and rebellion, He was pierced and crushed, beaten and whipped. So others could be whole. God condemns human sacrifice, and yet here- that’s exactly what the Messiah becomes.
One other thing is personally shocking to me- the fact that this is a voluntary thing. He picked up and carried our weakness, He shouldered our sorrows- something is accomplished by His anguish and He goes to it willingly…
This is hard stuff to make sense of, no doubt. Some people do it by trying to make this purely figurative, saying, for example, that this passage is a poetic, figurative depiction of the nation of Israel itself- the Jewish people. A picture of the suffering of the Jewish nation. Of course, there’s a problem with that, and the problem is this- the one in this passage suffers on behalf of the nation, in place of the people. This one suffers so the people don’t have to. But if this suffering servant is just a symbol for the people, how can the people suffer so the people don’t have to? How can the nation suffer in place of the nation?
But... the whole thing begins to make sense when we get our Trinitarian thinking straight… If this is Immanuel, God With Us, then… God in human flesh is the only one who can say- My life is My own and I willingly lay it down- no one takes it from Me. And He laid it down- for us? This isn't God crushing His unwilling Son- this is the Judge Himself voluntarily taking the place of the guilty condemned.
And so this also begins to explain the vicariousness of it- how an innocent person suffering for the guilty could conceivably be just.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Forgiveness is a form of suffering.” And what that means is this- When someone wrongs you, it’s pretty obvious how you suffer. What’s less obvious is that if you refuse to forgive them, you continue your own suffering. Generally, the person who hurt you couldn’t care less about your forgiveness- if they did they probably wouldn’t have hurt you that way in the beginning. So by refusing to forgive, by sitting in growing bitterness and anger, you simply magnify your own suffering.
But what is even less obvious than that is that forgiveness itself is suffering. When you want payback and vengeance and you refrain, you are the one who pays. When you want them to suffer and yet refuse to strike out at them, you suffer, you take back within yourself the full brunt of what’s been done. Forgiveness is willingly living with the consequences of someone else’s sin. Doing wrong, hurting others causes suffering. It can’t be escaped. We simply get to choose by forgiving or not forgiving which flavor of suffering we’ll experience when someone wrongs us.
And if that is true for us, with our limited and myopic sense of justice and right and wrong, how much more true is it for God? This is God suffering in order that we might be forgiven. If God wasn’t going to pay us back for the wrongs we do to each other and to Him, then He was going to have to pay. He would suffer. And the cross, a gruesome as it was, showed that in stark reality. There- for all the world to see, our hatred, our violence, God’s love, God’s forgiveness… God suffering on our behalf.
I dislike as much as anyone else the overemphasis on God “crushing” Jesus. But don’t swing too far the other way. Yes- the cross is violent. But it’s OUR violence. Yes, the pain is real- a real demonstration of what God suffers in forgiveness. And yes, it’s vicarious- my penalty, willingly taken. Keep wrestling with it, but don’t neuter the violent, vicarious and yet voluntary death of Jesus on the cross.