The cross of Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the love of God to earth. As such, it is the most powerful image of love. It is the substance, the reality.

Is it possible to convey the reality of the love of God through metaphors or images that are not sacrificial? I am at a loss for how to do so without losing a specifically Christian concept of “love.”

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. This brings to mind a paradox that has bugged me for some time. If Jesus Christ, being all-knowing, knew that God would raise him from the dead, then what, besides temporary suffering, was his sacrifice?


  2. Your premise that Christ was omniscient in the same sense that the Father is omniscient seems questionable. The Son’s real condescension (Phil 2.6-8) seems to have entailed voluntary temporary exclusion of some areas of knowledge from immediate access in order to, among other things, grow up as a boy and learn things.

    If I recall correctly Thomas V. Morris has some insight on this (probably in The Logic of God Incarnate?) but it’s been about six years since I last looked into it.


  3. makelovehappen May 16, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    Yes, Christ’s work is not easily appreciated without recognizing his sacrifice. And yet this was not the Father’s intention in sending him, just as it is written: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

    The one who surrenders all gains the eternal and his work finds peace before God’s law. This law can be abstracted and conceptualized. Yet the gift Christ gave, love, is neither a concept nor can it be abstracted (see Plato’s Symposium).


  4. Matt,

    Anselm is golden on this one.

    Contrary to reformers like Melancthon, Luther, and Calvin, what Christ does on the cross is NOT to suffer punishment so that we don’t have to. Anselm instead thinks that Christ’s voluntary submission to death is an act of homage so superogatory that it makes up for the dishonor we do to God when we sin.

    Anselm isn’t interested in the suffering for its own sake. Rather, the death of one who does not deserve death and who (beause he is God-Man) will not naturally suffer death unless he allows it, is seen as the best possible gift to God. Christ’s earned merits are then bestowed on all sinful men and women who wish to be inheritors of his merit.

    All Christians locate God’s redemption of humanity in the Cross. But they differ as to what it is about the Cross that effects redemption. In Anselm, the sense is that the cross is about a son of Adam who finally renders to God the worship due Him (and then some).

    Aquinas advances this part of Anselm (while disagreeing with other aspects). Christ stands to the Church as Head to the Body. Accordingly, this part-whole relationship allows the actions of one part (the Head) to be attributed to the others (the members of the Church). Vicarious atonement, then, isn’t so vicarious. We are united with Christ, and we receive the merits he has earned.

    More specific to your post, Abelard located the “what it is about the Cross that effects redemption” precisely in the way it manifests God’s love. It is so powerful a display that it moves sinful man to reject their wickedness and love God. St. Bernard may have been right to criticize Pelagian tendencies in Abelard’s doctrine, but it is worth noting that Aquinas is very attracted to the theory (provided it is understood along with the doctrine of Satisfaction).


  5. Nobody, so then is your argument that Christ was not aware that he’d be raised? What is your take on Mat 12:40, Mat 26:61 (John 2:19, 21-22), Mat 27:63, Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:34 etc.

    It seems clear that whether he was “omniscient” in the same sense as the Father (of which, I’m already convinced otherwise) is not relevant here, because it is quite clear that of his ressurection, he did have foreknowledge.


  6. uh, sorry for that little disquisition yesterday. I read your post as I was in the middle of writing an essay on Anselm’s theology of atonement.

    Nevertheless, I’ll bite: So the cross is a great display of love. What does this do? Is the sacrifice “merely” a symbol of God’s love, or is it doing something else?


  7. Yes, Christ prophesied his resurrection, and your question stands — I just don’t think it should be predicated on your clause, “being all-knowing.”

    Sorry if I was being pedantic but I had just been talking about the subject with somebody and it stood out to me.


  8. Thanks for the replies, all.

    Tom, no apologies needed for the disquisition. I found it extremely illuminating. It certainly made me want to go read Anselm, Luther and Abelard again!

    I guess my brief post was more confusing than I thought it would be. The problem that I have been wrestling with that prompted it relates to the book I’m still attempting to write. The central claim is that the love of God as manifested through Jesus Christ (which, I think, effects atonement) can actually transform people’s romances as well. My goal is to do more than simply say that–I want to bring to life that love through my text, but I lack the writing skills to do so. With other topics I have been able to cheat and tell really good stories that make my ideas come alive, but with the love of God my fear is that we are so used to hearing the story of the cross that it lacks the power. Hence my desire for (perhaps!) another metaphor or image, and my realization that another image or metaphor is necessarily inadequate. Does that make any more sense?


  9. You’re right, Nobody, the “being all-knowing” clause was assuming and superfluous. I’m sure I threw it in there because those, with whom I’m used to debating the nature of Christ (also a majority I believe), hold to this very strongly, though, I do not. The clause should not have been there.


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