Having dwelt briefly on the Creator’s cross, I want to explore what it might mean to speak of the Sustainer’s cross.
Fortunately, there’s not too much distance to travel here. For the crucified (and risen) Creator is the one ‘in whom all things hold together’ (Col 1.17). From the perspective of the biblical presentation of God’s providence, there are clear hints that the reconciliation of all things through the cross is close to the heart of what it means for God to sustain his world — and provide for his people.
This is evident in the locus classicus of the OT doctrine of providence, Genesis 22. There, what God provides is a sacrificial lamb at the crucial moment. But it’s also there in the vision of Isaiah 40-66, where the expectation of the imminent arrival of God — who’ll care for his sheep like a shepherd (Isa 40.10-11) — is woven together with the promises about that elusive Servant — upon whom the sins of the straying sheep are laid.
Providence leads up to and centres on the cross of Jesus — the one who ‘bears all things’ to their ordained end is the same one who ‘made purification for sin’ by offering himself (Heb 1.3-4). That much is clear. But how does the cross shape our understanding of God’s providence? What does it say about the Sustainer that he was crucified?
One thing I think it says is that he’s no stranger to our grief and sorrow. We cannot let go of this. Whatever we end up saying about the puzzle of Christ’s divinity and humanity. However strongly we feel compelled to insist that any comfort we draw from the confession ‘God suffered for us’ be disciplined by the recognition that it was God who suffered. And however much we must maintain that evil and suffering really do not belong in God’s good world — and certainly do not stand approved (for the sake of a bit of cosmic contrast, for example).
The fact that the cross of Jesus is the Sustainer’s tells us of the all-conquering love of God. The love that bears the evil and rebellion under which creation reels. That permits it with grief. That persists with it in patience. And that finally triumphs over it, allowing it to do its worst ‘according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2.23) in order to extinguish it…