While visiting Paris, France, my wife, Suzanne, and I happened upon a painting that was created by an artist whose name appeared as Zwiller and carried the title; “The First Night Outside Paradise.”
The painting depicts those first parents of humanity and pictures them staggering in the real estate that surrounded the Garden of Eden from which they had been evicted. Strategically centered, the angel with a flaming sword can be seen at the entrance of the garden, but rising above the angel the artist had painted a dimly outlined cross. Suzanne and I talked about it, wondered why it was there, and came to no conclusions. As tourists we continued our journey.
As the years passed, the scene continued to be of interest and as the years became decades, it occurred to me that the artist might have been conveying a message that we may miss in our structured religious habits. This first sin against God, originating in the place of planned perfection, may be illustrative of the notion that human sin began the long and continued Divine suffering. That possibility gives credence to the later Biblical truth of a “Lamb that hath been slain from the foundation of the world.”
Most of the time, when the subject matter concerns the cross, we often think of it as the plotting of a few extreme leaders or that which defines the historic act wherein all the sins of the world were laid upon Christ. It may mean a good deal more than that. It was, perhaps, planted with a sickening thud on what we now call Good Friday and bore the beaten, bloody and quivering body of Jesus. A few hours later, probably, it was taken down. But a cross may have been planted in the heart of God when the surprising sin first emerged in Eden. If so, we may consider the possibility that this cross will never be taken down until the last sinning human creation is gathered in.
Oddly, the idea of a suffering God seems only found in Christianity. While our knowledge of other religions may be sparse, it is clear that what we know and have read and heard, as others expounded upon that facet of spirituality, it seems evident that the realm of other gods implies only serenity and blissful times of total separation from mankind’s propensity for sinful acts.
The idea of a suffering God may be new to some of us and we may encounter difficulty absorbing what that may mean. Often, Christians tend to think and speak of heaven as a place where angels serve God and His bidding is done with royal haste and strict obedience. We are absorbed with pearly gates, streets of gold and timeless existence.
But we might be wise to think that the majesty of God is one of quiet dignity as it relates to suffering and the majestic power is couched in the arena of rejected love. It is not an inane thought to ponder if the eyes of God are not filled with sorrow for what sin has wrought upon His creation. We cannot escape the words of Jesus that were meant to more clearly open the door of understanding when He said; “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” This is yet another way of separating other “gods” from the Divine Creator as we are reminded, by Jesus, that the Father is not some removed being who is unaware of current events or the human condition of rebellion that continues to reject Him and spurn His consistent invitation to become a lamb in the flock of the redeemed.
God is love. This is a simple identification that we learned as children, but that love, denied by those who caused the closure of the gate of Eden, burns, perhaps, with the intensity of pent up determination to save all those who will come to Him.
The Cross of Jesus demonstrates God’s way. When He was arrested, tried, mocked, spit upon, beaten, nailed to a wooden structure and abandoned by all those who once pledged their loyalty, with the possible exception of Magdalene, God made no overt action to stop it. When Abraham lashed his son to the altar of what he perceived as a place of sacrifice, the Divine voice was heard and the act was cancelled. But when the Son of Man was lashed to a rugged Cross there was no voice to be heard. Surely, the Father would intervene, but the Lamb to be slain had been predicted, in at least one artist’s mind, when the gate of Eden was closed.
Legions of angels could have been dispatched with the total destruction of mankind effected, but evidently, the love of God held them in check. We must reason, then, that mankind can never be redeemed by One who has the power to simply take our hearts by force, control our will, and deny us the freedom to make choices. Is it reasonable to think that the world can only ever be saved when those who insist upon continued rejection finally realize what their behavior is costing God?