When he had invited me to have dinner with him and his wife, I knew it wasn’t going to be a social occasion. The man on the phone seemed frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed. As I looked across the table at him after a long dinner of tough conversation about a marriage gone bad, he had the look of a beaten man.
I asked him to tell me what he was thinking and he said, “People are so complicated, it seems impossible for relationships to work. I can’t figure out why I do the things I do, let alone understanding my wife. It’s hard for me to sit here and find any reason for hope.”
He was right. People are complicated and not always easy to understand. Relationships are difficult and sometimes seem like a minefield of potential explosions. There are moments when life, this side of eternity, seems hopeless.
Perhaps there are many more exhausted and overwhelmed people around us than we think. I didn’t seek to comfort my friend by telling him his view of life was inaccurate, but by helping him understand that it was incomplete. I drove home that night deeply thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “The cross? Paul, I thought the cross was about forgiveness and eternal life. What, on that evening, made you thankful for the cross?”
The answer is, that I was hit once again with how the cross of Jesus is the ultimate, most accurate lens on human life. There is nothing that understands, defines, and explains the human struggle like the cross. Let me explain.
The Cross Tells Us What’s Wrong with Us
The cross tells us that our biggest, deepest, and most abiding problem is to be found inside of us, not outside of us. Yes, the people in our lives have had a significant impact on us, the experiences of our lives have helped shape the way we see our world, and the locations of our lives have been formative as well. People, locations, and the situations of life all influence what we think and what we do, but they are not determinative.
No, the most powerful life-complicating problem for us all is to be found deep inside of each one of us. It is the reason for the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the thing that the cross was ordained to defeat. It is the thing that distorts our thoughts, desires, emotions, choices, words, and actions. It is the universal human dilemma, the inescapable pathology. It is the one disease we all suffer from. It is the problem none of us has the wisdom or power to solve.
What is it? Sin. It is the condition of heart that is the fundamental reason for a vast array of personal and interpersonal brokenness. The cross requires us to admit that we, too, have been infected with the virus and are people in desperate need of help. We have not just been afflicted with a fallen world and flawed people. No, we have all been infected with sin.
The Cross Tells How What’s Wrong Will Get Fixed
We simply cannot decry the value of knowledge, personal insight, accuracy of perspective, self-awareness, and careful analysis. They are all very helpful; they just happen not to be curative.
If what is broken inside of us could have been cured by a body of knowledge or a system of insights Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come and the cross would not have been necessary. A cross-shaped view of peoples’ problems requires us to say something radical. For lasting change to take place in us, we need more than and system; we need a Redeemer. Only the grace of a Redeemer, who on the cross defeated our deepest problem, is able to rescue us from us and give us the power to live in brand new ways.
If sin is the universal human pathology, then the person and work of the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, is our only hope of lasting healing. The cross not only provides for us the only truly accurate diagnosis, but also the only reliable cure.
The Cross Tells Us Our Role in the Work of Personal Change
As I sat in that restaurant that evening with my friends, I felt incredibly helpless, but not hopeless at all. The cross tells me that I have no power whatsoever to work the internal change of heart that is the key to lasting personal change. In other words, I have no ability at all to deliver people from their deepest problem; sin.
As I sat across from my friends, I knew that I didn’t bear the burden of being their redeemer. If I was to help them, it was profoundly important for me to know my place. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the Apostle Paul uses the best possible word to define our place in God’s work of change. We are called to be nothing less than and surely nothing more than “ambassadors” of the One who suffered, died, and rose again so that change, real lasting personal change, would not just be a distant hope, but a realistic expectation of all who are bold enough to step into the arena of human difficulty and offer help. The cross reminds us that we are not the change agents, but representatives of the One who holds the power of real internal and interpersonal change in his hands.
I drove home that night, as I have after many night of counseling, thankful. I was thankful that the cross helps me enter in and understand the suffering of others, that it reminds me of my calling and place as an ambassador of the Great Helper, and that the cross enables me to stare suffering in the face and still have courage and hope. When you look at life from the vantage point of the cross of Jesus Christ, you walk away comforted in the knowledge that what is broken can be fixed and, as one of a host of ambassadors, you can understand people and guide them to real change.
Join the Conversation
In your life and ministry, how can the cross—the ultimate lens on life—alter your perspective?