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by Gregory Anderson Love
The symbols of the world’s religions suggest beauty, light, and hope. A six-pointed star. The Buddha, sitting in serene enlightenment, eyes slightly closed, mouth impassive. The lotus flower. A crescent moon.
Christianity begins with nothing but bad news. Its symbol was an instrument of human torture. A sign of what one human being can do to another, as Cain did to Abel, as David did to Uriah the Hittite. A sign of what any one group can do to another group…and has done, over and over, in the bloody history of human beings.
The best person who ever lived was unjustly tried and dehumanized and tortured to within a breath of his life, and murdered. The perpetrators sought to make him literally a non-person.
Though this is bad news at first impression, it is actually good news about this religion and about this God the Christians worship: It is Realistic. It does not shy away from Reality, but looks it straight in the eye. It describes what it sees…what is true…instead of fantasies that are not real.
Which is why this religion brings hope to all of us humans: We are seen. We are seen by this God, seen by this Jesus who still lives, seen by the Holy Spirit. We are known. This God addresses us as the people we are. Not as we think we are, but are not truly. Not as we pretend to be.
And at their best, Christians tell the truth as well. About who they are. About who we all are. About how bad the news can be, when we look at the Reality of our situation.
And we should tell the truth, the bad news, as clear-eyed as possible. Because the only hope to be had comes from seeing Reality. Seeing things as they are.
There is hope in the bad news being said, in the symbol of the cross; it means whatever good news that may be offered will also be real. And this news, and this God, can be trusted.
Gregory Anderson Love is a Presbyterian minister who teaches systematic theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His most recent book, on the meaning of Jesus’s death, is Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.