The most important question you and I can ask is, “What is God like?” To that end, Richard Bauckham’s, God Crucified, more than any other work, shapes my thinking on the nature of divinity.
Two Stories of God
That is a rather bold opening statement. Let me offer an example of how our thoughts on divinity can shape the rest of our lives. Let’s compare the creation mythologies of the Babylonian Enuma Elish and Genesis (I wrote more about this here).
In the Enuma Elish, the creation of the earth and humanity is part of a bloody battle between the gods. According to this story, people exist to worship the gods. In contrast, Genesis reveals God crafting the earth and placing humanity in a garden. Their role? To reflect the divine image to the rest of creation.
Take a moment to imagine how you would live if you believed the Enuma Elish. Obligation. Fear. Duty.
Now compare that to someone who embraces the heart of Genesis 1 and 2. Belovedness. Creativity. Human thriving.
Sadly, many Christians seem to read the Enuma Elish into the God of Genesis.
Divine Identity in the Bible
In God Crucified, Bauckham offers his “understanding of New Testament Christology in its Jewish context”. It is an exploration of the divine identity. He compares descriptions of God in the Hebrew Bible with descriptions of Jesus in John and Philippians. Bauckham expands the scope of this work in Jesus and the God of Israel.
He reveals the identical identities of God and Jesus in these texts. Identities based on an identical character, their saving action, as the creator, and as the one who rules over creation. The conclusion? Based on their identification, Jesus and the God of Israel are one and the same.
Because they are the same, then what we know about the God of Israel shapes what we know about Jesus, and what we know about Jesus shapes what we know about the God of Israel. More simply, God is like Jesus and Jesus is like God. For me, this was revolutionary because my previous understanding of God the Father looked nothing like my understanding of Jesus. Rather, Jesus was there to protect me from the wrath of God the Father.
The Identity of God Crucified
The greatest impact of this revelation comes when understanding divine justice. Growing up I learned sin offended a holy god and retribution facilitated forgiveness. The options were Jesus dying on the cross for my sin or me spending an eternity in hell.
But in John, Jesus’ hour of glory, the thing that makes Jesus holy, is his crucifixion. God’s holiness does not cause a separation between deity and humanity. Rather God is holy because God draws close to a fallen creation and forgives. God‘s justice is not about retribution, it is about restoration.
That shift in my thinking about God changed everything, and for that, I give God Crucified five stars.