The Long Sweep of History

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by Gregory Anderson Love

When I was writing my book on atonement, I read a lot of books about Jesus. Some claimed that when he turned his face towards Jerusalem, he stumbled into a disaster. There is nothing salvific in the cross, they say. Other authors, like Charles Hodge and John Stott who argued for the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, claimed the death on the cross was the entire point for which he came. The last six hours were the center of history, and the highest work of God’s redeeming actions.

I believed Jesus and his Abba were nonviolent, and yet also that the cross was a constitutive act in God’s saving work.

I do not know what he thought when he turned his face toward Jerusalem. But I suspect he knew what was coming. Here was a man who was giving his all to the ministry of God, who was taking so many risks, and who trusted this God absolutely; and he turned toward a place where he knew he would likely end up dead. Not because he was avoiding God’s ministry, but because he was doing it. Not because he was making his faith peripheral, but because he was making it the core value of his life.

When I look at that long sweep of the story, I feel hope. Not in the short run. He got unjustly tried and tortured to within a hair’s breadth of his life, and then hung up for the world to watch die as a “non-person.” His ministry collapsed, as all his disciples scattered.

But for us readers, the message of the story in its long sweep is this: It will be okay. Things will turn out well, in the end. Like a mother or a father says to her or his crying, or worried, or fevered child. Only the promise of goodness and fulfillment is guaranteed.

I find that the older I get…now 53…the more I rely on that promise of the long sweep of the story, because so often I don’t know about the short run. The promise…that hope, “It will be okay”…gives me courage. I can keep giving my all, keep trusting in this triune God. “He turned his face towards Jerusalem.”

And on the third day he was resurrected from the dead, into a new form of life.

Gregory Anderson Love is a Presbyterian minister who teaches systematic theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His most recent book, on the meaning of Jesus’s death, is Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.

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