The God That Failed is a 1949 book featuring six essays on the authors “conversion to and subsequent disillusionment with communism.” In 1991, Metallica released a song by the same title. The lyrics explore the grief of a son who lost his mother to cancer because she refused to seek medical attention but trusted that god would heal her. When she died, that god became the god that failed.
While these examples involve belief in a failed system or being which is ultimately declared the god that failed, there is another God that failed … a God whose failure the church continually seeks to justify in what I see as the world’s most prevalent and damaging, yet unrecognized theodicy.
For those not familiar with the term, a theodicy is an attempt to create space for the belief in God/god. For example, the most popular theodicy attempts to explain the question the goodness of a God who permits evil. Oddly, there is nothing that undermines the divinity defended more than the theodicy itself because it takes something beyond comprehension and makes it both comfortable and accessible (for more on theodicy, I suggest Placher’s, The Domestication of Transcendence.).
So who is this god that failed at the heart this ultimate theodicy? Who is the God that failed who the church seeks to continually justify? Christ crucified.Who is the God that failed who the church seeks to continually justify? Christ crucified. Click To Tweet
Christ Crucified as the God That Failed
When evaluated based on the systems and structures of this world, Jesus failed. He didn’t ascend to power. Nor did he establish world peace. The ruling powers of his day thwarted his agenda. Jesus allowed the systems of this world to kill him. Jesus allowed Rome to win. Even after the resurrection, Caesar remained in power. The Roman version of peace by the fear of the sword stayed intact. To this day, oppression, domination, and manipulation by those at the top thrive. And that’s the point.
As I explored on Easter Sunday, each of the four Gospel accounts reveals a God who defies our assumptions. Jesus also comes offering a radically different vision of human flourishing. Jesus on the cross is our world rejecting the God and message of Jesus.
The crucified Jesus reveals the heart of this world’s systems and structures. He brings the fear, anger, greed, and hate out of the darkness and into the light. It reveals the illusion of peace as a deception. Stories of masses, crushed for the good of a few, are finally spoken. When we finally look at this age through the lens of the cross it clearly reveals the futility and hopelessness of our self-centered, heartless, and compassion-free ways. Yet we continue to cling to this age … even making the crucifixion of Jesus part of it.
Justifying the God Who Failed
How does the church justify the God who failed? It seeks to reframe the cross according to the systems of this world. Demands for obedience. Retribution for failure. Redemption through violence. A glorious reward. They all weave into the common “good news” narrative beginning with the bad news of human sinfulness and its consequences. It places Jesus as the one who obeys and then vicariously saves so believers can receive a reward.
It’s a narrative that keeps God the Father in an image we’re comfortable with while ignoring the Father that Jesus proclaimed. How? By celebrating this ages’ embrace of performance-based acceptance through the keeping of the law (it just passes the work on to Jesus). It honors our system of rules and regulations by assuring punishment for crimes. There is the upholding of the notion that redemption and peace can come through violence. Finally, the opiate for the masses, the eternal reward in heaven.
We manipulate the cross that seeks to reveal the failure of these things to the point it now appears to undergird them. Instead of embracing the foolishness of the Gospel that reveals the futility of this age, it seeks to use the Gospel to make this age wise. It allows us to worship a God made in our image. We have permission to ignore Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. There is a divine sanction on the corruption of this age that benefits the privileged.
All to make room for God in the very age Jesus died rejecting.
Following the God That Failed
So where do we go from here? We start following the God that failed. How? Here are some things I’ve found useful:
- Study History: The Bible flows from a cultural and historical context. If we read it from the perspective of 21st Century Americans, we’re bound to misread it. Become familiar with the ancient near-East and the 1st Century Greco-Roman world.
- Read the Bible: All of the Bible is about Jesus and Jesus offers the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, so start with the books that reveal the story of Jesus. You’ll be amazed how frequently they invite you to explore the Hebrew Bible through the lens of Jesus.
- Listen to the Bible: When we read, it’s easy to get focused on individual sentences and paragraphs, the trees of the text, so to speak. When we listen to the Bible, it invites us to consider the forest. Both are important.
- Journal: As you read, what does Jesus say and do that conflicts with your understanding of the world? Write about it. Ask questions. Seek answers. Ponder what it would look like to take Jesus’ teaching seriously.
- Cross Barriers: If you are White, straight, male, not part of the working poor or impoverished, and a citizen of a world superpower, then reading the Bible is going to demand you spend time with people who aren’t like you. We need to hear other perspectives on the text because the groups we most closely relate to culturally, are the Biblical antagonists (Egypt, Babylon, the religious leaders, and Rome).
- Enact the Bible: As Richard Rohr likes to say, we can’t think ourselves into a new way of living, but we can live ourselves into a new way of thinking. Ask yourself, “What’s one habit I can embrace this week to make my image of God look more like that of Jesus?” or “What’s one change I can make this week to bring my life more in alignment with Jesus’ vision of human flourishing?”
Share in the comments a step you’re going to take towards following Jesus crucified … the God that failed.