Chris Benjamin – my corner of the internet

The Left Hand of God

February 26th, 2015

In 1989-90, I was required to create a special project for my graduation from the art program at the University of Arkansas.  I chose to create a “graphic novel” based on the story of Ehud in Judges 3.  This project represented a transitional point in my collegiate career.  The artwork was completed and went before the committee during my last semester at the U of A.  Soon after we moved to Abilene, Texas where I began my graduate studies in religion and ministry at Abilene Christian University. — CB

Ehud Page 1


The land was quiet for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died.

But the People of Israel went back to doing evil in God’s sight. So God made Eglon king of Moab a power against Israel because they did evil in God’s sight.



Page 2

Eglon recruited the Ammonites and Amalekites and went out and struck Israel. They took the City of Palms, Jericho.

The People of Israel were in servitude to Eglon fourteen years.




Page 3



The People of Israel cried out to God and God raised up for them a savior…

Ehud son of Gera, a Benjaminite.

He was left-handed.



Ehud Page 4Ehud made himself a short two-edged sword and strapped it on his right thigh under his clothes.



Ehud Page 5



The People of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon king of Moab. …

He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Eglon was grossly fat.

After Ehud finished presenting the tribute, he went a little way with the men who had carried it.

Ehud Page 6


But when he got as far as the stone images near Gilgal, he went back and said, “I have a private message for you, O King.”

The king told his servants, “Leave.” They all left.

Ehud approached him—the king was now quite alone in his cool rooftop room—and said, “I have a word of God for you.”


Ehud Page 7


Eglon stood up from his throne.

Ehud reached with his left hand and took his sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s big belly.

Not only the blade but the hilt went in.



Ehud Page 8The fat closed in over it so he couldn’t pull it out. Ehud slipped out by way of the porch and shut and locked the doors of the rooftop room behind him. Then he was gone.

When the servants came, they saw with surprise that the doors to the rooftop room were locked. They said, “He’s probably relieving himself in the restroom.”

They waited. And then they worried—no one was coming out of those locked doors. Finally, they got a key and unlocked them. There was their master, fallen on the floor, dead!


Ehud Page 9While they were standing around wondering what to do, Ehud was long gone. He got past the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he got there, he sounded the trumpet on Mount Ephraim. The People of Israel came down from the hills and joined him. He took his place at their head.

He said, “Follow me, for God has given your enemies—yes, Moab!—to you.” They went down after him and secured the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites. They let no one cross over.


Ehud Page 10At that time, they struck down about ten companies of Moabites, all of them well-fed and robust. Not one escaped. That day Moab was subdued under the hand of Israel.

The land was quiet for eighty years.





All artwork is copyright Chris Benjamin.  Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Yes or No: Scotland Decides

September 9th, 2014

scotland-referendumI am thinking a lot about Scotland over the next nine days.  They are on the edge of a momentous decision.  On Sept. 18 they will decide if they choose to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or they will become an independent nation.

The outcome of this vote is more significant than most Americans realize.  Other secessionist movements are watching the referendum on independence closely to see what happens, especially if the referendum succeeds. The sincerity of the United Nations’ Charter on the right of self-determination is also at stake.  If the nation votes for independence and it occurs without violent conflict, we may all be witnesses to an oddity of history.

The proponents and opponents of Scottish independence each have good arguments to make.  I am not qualified to comment on which is better for Scotland.  I also have no interest in writing analysis.  Other news outlets and commentators can do that better.  This is my blog on my website and I choose to be personal.


“We Fight for Freedom!”

When I first visited Scotland in 1987 I was captivated by their dreams of being independent.  Maybe it appealed to me as an American.  Maybe it seemed to be Scotland’s due. Maybe I was young.  I love Scotland and I would be happy and content to live there for a long time.  I have always felt welcomed by Scotland and their hospitality is second to none.  But alas, I am not Scottish and I feel that it is not my place to say which is best for them.

Hold that thought — As an aside, I wish that our American leaders felt the same way I do.  The policy of the United States of America should be to stand beside and maintain good relations with the people of Scotland regardless of the outcome of the referendum.  Beyond that we should keep silent and our opinions on union or independence are of no importance.  We don’t get a vote. After all, who are we to say anything after we set our course in 1776.  We should not carelessly shout for independence when Scotland will have to bear the responsibility of nationalism on its own, and it is hypocritical of the U.S.A. to tell Scotland it should stay in the Union after we fought for independence and broke from the crown.  So hold your tongue America and support Scotland no matter what.  We need all the friends we can get.

What would the Union Jack look like without Scotland?

What would the Union Jack look like without Scotland?

Now, back to Scotland.  I have friends who hold different opinions on this matter.  It is a very difficult decision for them.  One of my friends, a long time advocate for Scottish Nationalism, told me that he is conflicted within.  He said, “My heart says YES to independence, but my head says NO – now is not the time.”  I respect that.  Other friends are confidently voting YES to independence and others are saying that the United Kingdom is “Better Together.”  I respect that.

But there will only be another nine days for Scotland to debate.  After September 18, the scales will tip one way or the other.  One thing will not change: I will appreciate Scotland and its people and wish them all the best in every endeavor.

The Parable of the Birds

May 27th, 2014

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Gen. 1:20-23)

Soon after God made the birds, they formed a council on the earth.  The birds would gather and remember how truly blessed they were to be birds.  They were happy that God had given them such an amazing diversity of color, size, and abilities.  For a long time, the Council of the Birds was a festive occasion, but the happiness faded when the birds began to argue about their differences. For instance, the fliers, runners, and swimmers, fussed over who had the gift that pleased the Creator the most.  They began to argue over which of their gifts was the best of what it meant to be a bird.  They formed camps and turned to the Council of Birds and demanded a ruling on what gift was the definition of being a bird.  Yet, their arguments accomplished nothing.

The Council of Birds became so divisive and unhappy, that they had no alternative but to take their arguments to the Creator and have him judge.  He made them, they surmised, so he would know which gift is best and which gift is the real definition of being a bird!  They would ask him, “What were you thinking when you made birds?”

All of the birds, now gathered in the presence of the Creator who was enjoying his garden.  At first he was happy to see all of his delightful birds approaching, but as they drew closer and he noticed their anxiety and their anger, he grew concerned.  Since they had come to him with such formality and ceremony (often a disguise for tension), the Creator decided to sit silently and wait for them to speak.

Abruptly, the Eagle spoke up and said, “On behalf of the high flying delegation, we believe that the Council of Birds is correct to affirm that flying is what makes a bird a true bird.  Other creatures may buzz around or flap around, but no creatures can soar like birds!  This is most important to being a bird. O Creator, surely this is what you intended when you created birds to rule the air! Yes?”  And all the flying birds from the hawk to the hummingbird screeched in approval.  The Creator was silent.

Then the Penguin spoke on behalf of the swimming birds and said, “We disagree!  We believe that flying is not most important and that swimming is what makes a bird exceptional.  Many birds can fly but only a few can swim. Only a very few can dive deep. Bird may rule the air, but because of us, birds have tamed the waters!  We argue that swimming should be regarded as the greatest gift of the birds. Surely Creator, this was your subtle heart’s desire when you gave us this special ability?” And all the aquatic birds from the duck to the swan honked in support.  The Creator was silent.

The giant Ostrich strode forward majestically and interrupted the noise saying, “Fewer birds still can run and kick with powerful legs.  We cannot fly, but we can run faster than almost any animal on earth.  We say that running should be affirmed as the most powerful gift of the birds and we want all birds to learn to run like we do!”  The emus, the kiwi and the road runners darted back and forth in response. The birds began to fuss at the running birds.  The Creator was silent.


Just then a melodious and amazingly beautiful song broke through the chaos.  It was the songbirds high in the trees and they descended on the Council of Birds.  They harmonized and sang a long beautiful song that captured the attention of all creatures in the garden – not just the birds.

As their song closed, the Nightingale spoke in an exquisite voice, “Here is the example for all birds, to be harmonious and to sing our songs.  The Creator gave us the ability to sing and that is how a bird is often known.  So when we sing our best we make the Creator happy!”  And with that the Nightingale began to sing his song loudly and he called the other birds to join in that song.  Yet, the Sparrow stepped in with her song and tried to persuade the Nightingale to sing it.  Then, the Mockingbird, and the Blue Jay, and the Chickadee did the same.  Each bird tried to sing its own song louder than the others.  As the music of the songbirds became less and less harmonious, the Raven and the Crow cackled.  This made the Peacock think he could join in and his song overpowered them all until the rooster bellowed with his crowing.

But the Creator was silent.  And he gently nodded his head in disappointment.

After the Council of Birds grew weary trying to outdo one another, the little hoopoe, who had been quiet, approached the Creator and asked, “Lord, what were you thinking when you made birds?  When you made us, what special gift did you intend the bird to have?  What is it that makes a bird – a bird?

The Creator allowed himself a slight smile, yet he sighed as he regarded the creatures he loved and said just one word: “FEATHERS.”

All the birds — the fliers, the swimmers, the runners, and singers were startled.  They noticed the variety of feathers among them.  But each of them had feathers.  Not a single bird was without feathers.

The Creator said, “I gave your kind so many gifts: running fast, swimming and sliding, flying and soaring – even hovering, and singing too – and I never limited you to one song.  I didn’t give all the gifts to each of you because I wanted your kind to have so many gifts.  But to make you one I gave you something common to all of you, but something no other creatures have – feathers.  So whether you swim deep, soar high, run fast or sing beautifully, or not at all – each of you has what it is that makes birds unique and makes birds one.”

– Written Without Ink, by Chris Benjamin

Best Books I Have Read – #1

March 15th, 2014

en_0060628391celebration of disciplineRichard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

When this book was first published in 1978, there had been nothing like it for hundreds of years.  Foster compiled Scripture and the wisdom of church leaders through the ages and wrote about the classic spiritual disciplines; practices such as prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, and service.  When I read Foster I appreciated his easy to read style and his approach.  He does not advocate the spiritual disciplines as a type of “works-righteousness” but compares it to spiritual fitness.  These are the basic exercises that keep us spiritually healthy and keep us fit for life’s journey.  We work out our bodies and if we play sports we drill on the fundamentals, but what practices and habits do we maintain so that we might grow spiritually?  Foster is an excellent guide to help you develop good spiritual habits.  In the years since 1978, many of the single disciplines that Foster lists have been expanded into other books.

yhst-20550167876698_2167_4526595Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. 

There are plenty of self-help books available on the marketplace, so how do you decide which one is most helpful?  I recommend Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend because it is speaks to the stress felt by many good, hard-working Christians who are afraid that being a Christian means they are not supposed to feel stressed, and yet they are extremely stressed!  Sound familiar?  If so then please get this book.  Cloud and Townsend have successfully written a description of personal boundaries that is much greater than selfishness or self-preservation.  Furthermore, their description of self-control sounds more like one of the fruit of the spirit rather than white-knuckled, control-freak (passive?) aggression.  It is a good idea to read and re-read Boundaries as a diagnostic help when you are feeling overwhelmed.  We will not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9) nor will we grow weary and lose heart (Heb. 12:3) if we can distinguish between serving Christ honestly and the sort of enabling, indulgence or “sloppy agape” that resists reasonable and mature boundaries.



August 21st, 2013

A perspective is a view or outlook.  One of the first lessons learned in drawing or painting is perspective.  The artist is trained to see the relationship of all things and render three-dimensional vistas into a two-dimensional representation.

Perspective is good not only for the artist, but for all.  Sometimes we  need perspective.  We need to see the relationship of all things.  We need to realize that we only see a part of the whole.  Perspective makes us pay attention to the details that seem troublesome when isolated, but make sense when seen in relationship to other things.

Perspective in worship is good.  It saves us from tendencies and extremes.  We have a tendency to focus on old songs and new songs, but do we ever focus on “Christ-songs?”  Here’s some perspective: what is old was once new; what is new will one day be old.  However, Christ is still Christ – always has been and always will be.

The hymn “O Sacred Head” has not always been in the form it is now.  It changed over the ages.  It originated as a Latin poem that focused on the different parts of Christ’s body as he was crucified.  Eventually, the stanzas concerning the head and face of Christ were translated and recomposed into the English hymn that has been around since the 18th century, but that old hymn is an innovation of a much older poem, Salve Mundi Salutare.

The writer of this poem recognized that the cross gives us perspective.  The poet believed that paying attention to the details of the crucifixion would wake us up to the futility of violence in our world.  The cross corrects our perspective that our reliance on our strength and our power to control all things is necessary.  Instead we see that it only leads to death.  A cross-focused perspective opens our eyes to the truth that God’s love can bring life out of death.

The Value of Life

August 9th, 2013

This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. – 1 John 1:2

Perhaps you have never heard of Callistus, Benignus, or Afra.  These disciples of Jesus lived a long time ago; as in “second and third century A.D.” long ago.  I propose that we rediscover their stories and the stories of other disciples like them.  Callistus, Benignus, and Afra took on the care and responsibility of children that were literally thrown away because they were unwanted.

In the ancient world, the absolute value of life was not a given.  Children could be seen as a burden on limited resources or viewed as cursed or weak if they were born with deformities.  Long before the concepts of natural selection or eugenics, the notion of survival of the fittest was entrenched in civilizations that feared death and worshiped power.

The Jewish and Christian value of life often cut against the grain of ancient society.  In early Christian teachings, abandonment of infants and children was condemned.  Yet, the value of life was so strong for a people who believe in eternal life, that they often went one step further and took the “throwaway children” into their homes and raised them.  This not only saved their lives, but it also protected them from those who would sell abandoned children as slaves and prostitutes.

Martyrdom of Afra of Augsburg

Afra, who lived during the last part of the third century, was a prostitute before she was converted and began her new life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Afra not only saved the lives of unwanted children, but she organized others to help.  Many of the children that Afra and her fellows saved were the children of criminals, slaves, and prostitutes.  Afra was not praised for her work.  The local authorities condemned what she was doing; she was persecuted and martyred.  Her only crime was assigning value to the life of innocents.

In the early part of the third century, Callistus of Rome, who was raised as a slave and later imprisoned, served Christ after his release from slavery and prison.  Callistus organized what would be known as the “Life Watches” in which disciples of Jesus would be vigilant to rescue abandoned children and place them into the care of other disciples.

Afra and Callistus were followers of “the one who is life itself.”  They preserved the lives of multitudes who might have otherwise died.  Perhaps an infant or child who may have been your ancestor.  Let us remember the stories of Afra, Callistus, and others like them.  We need their inspiration because even today, centuries later, the absolute value of life is not always a given.

What Does It Mean to Have a King?

August 7th, 2013

Our worship is loaded with royal language.  We sing of thrones and majesty.  We pray to the Lord.  We speak of sovereignty.  We bow our heads in reverence.

But what does it mean to have a king?

For most Americans, having a king means watching the Windsor family of the U.K. as if they were another reality show.

"Windsor Dynasty"

"Windsor Dynasty"

They are a pleasant but sometimes troubled bunch who are quite mannerly and high class (except when they misbehave).  They wear fancy uniforms and big hats but they do not have any real authority – which seems to make them all the more endearing to most Americans.

It is amazing that we continue to be fascinated by this single set of royals.

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweeden and Daniel

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel

Why aren’t we more diverse in our appreciation of royal families?  For example, Princess Victoria of Sweden married her personal trainer, Daniel.  You have to appreciate the fact that this “non-royal” man married a princess and he didn’t have to slay a dragon to earn the opportunity.


Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain

Historically, the U.S. has as many ties with Spain as it does Britain, so why aren’t we paying attention to the Spanish Royals?  Prince Felipe has a beard that makes him resemble a pirate or “The World’s Most Interesting Man.”  His new bride was a news anchorwoman.  She also wears strange hats.

As long as we are going to take an interest in royals, let’s take an interest in those with actual political power.

King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarch.  It’s good to be the king! But I suppose we think of him as a political leader rather the impressive yet harmless royals with whom our supermarket papers are obsessed.

Are we obsessed with the British royalty because the Queen has had such a long reign?  Before anyone tells me that Queen Elizabeth II has been around for a long time, let me say that the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has reigned since 1946.  He was king for six years before Elizabeth II was crowned.  He is the world’s longest-reigning current monarch.  We should give him some credit.  The King and his wife, Queen Sirikit, are incredibly popular and loved by the people of Thailand.  He even hung out with Elvis Presley and seemed to enjoy it.  The King of Thailand and the King of Rock!

The King meets The King

The King meets The King

Why does any of this matter?  It matters because it demonstrates that Americans do not know what it means to have a king.  That lack of familiarity with true royal experience keeps us from fully appreciating the royal language of Scripture and worship.

A colleague in graduate school, a man from South Africa, pointed that out to me years ago.  He said, “You American do not know what it means to have a king!”  I must admit that he is right.  Our understanding of royal concepts in Scripture and worship are hindered by our National Inquirer relationship with a particular royal family.  We do not get it when we speak of the Lord of Lords.  I believe we treat the title Lord as nothing more than a show of respect like saying “Sir and Ma’am.”  What we should grasp is that having a king means much more than respect.

What does it mean to have a king?  It means that we know the one person who has true authority.  Jesus said it himself, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18).  That authority hasn’t been given to anyone else since then.  Jesus needs no heir since he is eternal.  Church leadership is one thing.  We have many gifts of leadership in the church, but authority rests solely with the King – that is, Jesus Christ.  Church government is not a difficult concept to understand.  Regardless of how one positions elders, pastors, deacons, apostles, bishops or any other office, church government is an absolutely monarchy with Jesus Christ as king and everyone else as subject.  End of discussion.

This authority also means that our religion and politics are blended in ways we often do not recognize.  More on this below.

What does it mean to have a king? It means we know the lasting significance of the gospel.  The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are about three-fourths of the early church’s confession of the gospel.  The remaining fourth was the testimony that the risen Christ is exalted to rule as God’s King.  (see Phil. 2:9-11)  God has exalted Christ and given him a name above all names.  Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord.  It is not an option, just a matter of when.  Americans may not understand this because our history is unique, but even with our unique government we do have a King.  No, it’s not the royalty of any nation on earth.  It is the King over the Kingdom of God.

What does it mean to have a king?  It means we bow down.  This is the religion and politics connection.  We do not elect a king.  We do not crown him king.  We do not make him King.  God has done that.  We bow down.  Which means we worship.  Our worship is a political act of reverence to the true power in heaven and earth.  This is why empires and governments get nervous about the Christian faith at times.  Faithful Christians recognize one lasting authority.  Sure, we may be respectful of other governments and even serve them when they are not opposed to the way of the King, but our allegiance and obedience is reserved solely for the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  All of our other commitments are an outgrowth of that single allegiance.

Without a king, we find ourselves in the sad situation described in Judges 17, 18, 19, and 21 – “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes.”  The king is the defender and standard of what is right and just.  We look to the king for the standard of what is right.  Otherwise we shrug and assume that everyone is right; which often means no one is right.

What does it mean to have a king?  It means that we must choose a side.  There is nowhere on earth where Christ is not king.  There’s no such thing as a “Christian nation” because there’s no such thing as a “non-Christian nation.”  Those are concepts left over from Christendom and they assume that a government may opt-in to the Kingdom of God and thus expand the K.O.G.’s territory.  A reading of Scripture indicates that it doesn’t work like that.  Christ is king everywhere and in everything.  His rule is complete.  Some choose to accept it, whereas others reject it.  Rejecting the authority does not nullify the authority.  All the world may resist and war against Christ and his followers  but the Lamb of God will triumph because God has made him Lord of Lords and King of Kings. (see Rev. 17:14)


Coffee and Community

August 5th, 2013

That’s an appetizing title, isn’t it?  I thought about naming this entry “The Demise of the Coffee Pot” but that just seems ominous and grouchy.  I also considered “Reflections on a Keurig” but that is too highbrow.  Besides, I want some corporate kickback if I am going to mention Keurig – (aw, did it again).

I remember Stout’s Grocery.  It was the family run grocery and gas station on Highway 71 at the bottom of our hill in Brentwood, Arkansas.  If you went to Stout’s at the right time of the morning, you could catch the “Brentwood City Council” meeting.  It wasn’t official of course as Brentwood was unincorporated, but the folks from all around were gathered and drinking coffee and discussing all the news that mattered for our area.  The only excuse our unofficial community needed to gather for business was drinking coffee.  The only coffee available was whatever the Stout’s had brewing.  Sugar and creamer was about all you could have to personalize it.

Last week we bought a Keurig for the office.  It was a community effort.  We were all opening the box like a new Christmas present.  Here is this device that can brew anyone his or her own flavor or brand of coffee – even tea – without wasting an entire pot of coffee.  No more negotiations on caf or decaf.  No more compromise on Folgers vs French Vanilla.  Everyone gets a cup of personal choice.  No longer is there the coffee pot from which we all drink – all of you from all of it.

I wonder what this means for community?  I wonder if Keurig will be like Coke and Xerox and lend its brand name to all single cup coffee brewing machines?  I wonder what the Brentwood City Council would think about all of this?


Report on Bulgaria Mission 2013

July 29th, 2013

The Street Where We Lived in Bulgaria (for two weeks)

I am still processing the impact of this trip. I am prayerfully thinking through the opportunities that God gave to us. I do believe that God is doing a great work in Bulgaria and in the Renaissance Church of Christ. I believe that there are opportunities for the gospel to thrive in Bulgaria, perhaps even more than there are in America, my own nation.

Wyatt's Chalk Drawing at Borisova Park

I am convinced that I did what God sent me to do in Bulgaria. Karen, Wyatt and Ethan also fulfilled their roles. Each of them contributed to the mission and God has worked in the hearts of my family to help them grow spiritually as well. But they will tell their own stories.

Renaissance Church of Christ

The seminar was especially successful and I have heard positive feedback from the participants. I was encouraged to hear that just the right things were shared for those who needed it.

Our work at the park was truly evangelistic. I was amazed at how God used every member of our mission team to speak and embody the spirit of God’s truth. Not only did our Bulgarians hear messages of the gospel, but they saw it as well. I was fortunate to have individual Bulgarians openly ask me about what I believe. And they genuinely wanted to know. If you’ve never had someone do that, you should experience. It will cause you to dwell on what you truly believe and what God teaches.

The work continues and I encourage any of you who have a serious interest to continue to support the work in Bulgaria. There is an open door for those who are willing to go. Expect to hear more in the near future. In the meanwhile, thank you to all of our supporters for making this mission possible.

The Way of the Cross

July 29th, 2013

The Way of the Cross Despite the fact that we have sometimes focused too much on being an institution, Christianity is not an organization looking for recruits. Jesus calls us to a way of life that takes the cross as its symbol.

The cross signifies and symbolizes a way of life, but what does this cross represent? What does it mean?

We wear cross shaped jewelry. Tattoos of crosses are popular. These are typically a means of identifying or marking one as a Christian. They are a tangible and personal way of embracing faith. Before this, crosses typically marked places of worship. The cross on a steeple consecrated or indicated a place of worship.


The Cross at Ground Zero

The cross persists in our culture as a powerful symbol. When the cross is observed in our world, our art, and our culture we have some immediate notion that it is religious. When two girders in the shape of a cross were discovered in the devastation of the World Trade Center on 9/11, workers and on-lookers responded with piety and reverence. Much was written and discussed about the cross at Ground Zero.

The skull beneath the cross is typical of Orthodox iconography

The skull beneath the cross is typical of Orthodox iconography

When our mission team was in Bulgaria we noticed that the orthodox cathedrals were filled with depictions of biblical stories. The cross was always prominent. In most cases, there is a skull beneath the cross. It represents death and it is a sort of religious hieroglyph to denote Golgotha – the place of the skull.

Throughout history, depictions of the cross have shaped worship and how we participate in communion. Artwork surrounding the altars of cathedrals are some of the best known images of the crucifixion and the cross. Matthias Grunewald painted the Isenheim Altarpiece between 1512-1516. The altarpiece was painted for the monastery of an order of monks known for their care of the sick and those suffering from plagues. The image of Christ on the cross demonstrates suffering and seems to be diseased. The other figures, such as John the Baptist and the lamb, are also symbols. The cross for the monks who worshiped at this altar was a symbol of suffering.

The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, 1512-1516.

The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, 1512-1516.

In 1611, Peter Paul Rubens completed a triptych titled “The Elevation of the Cross.” A group of mighty strongmen struggle to lift the cross of Christ. Surely two or three of these brawny blokes could lift the cross, but Rubens is probably making a statement. He may be signifying that the cross bears the sins of the world or that the crucifixion is a weighty matter of great importance. Yes, there is incredible action and tension being portrayed and it is fair to admire Rubens technique as a painter, but with work is not without a message.

The Elevation of the Cross by Rubens, 1611.

The Elevation of the Cross by Rubens, 1611.

In this painting the cross is depicted as a most important moment in history.

Another painting that depicts the raising of the cross also has an embedded message. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (you may call him Rembrandt) painted his own take on the crucifixion in 1633. He really got into his work – literally! There are two men at the crucifixion, one in a turban and one in a painter’s beret. Both of these men resemble Rembrandt.

Raising of the Cross by Rembrandt, 1633.

Raising of the Cross by Rembrandt, 1633.

A religious and devout man, Rembrandt may be confessing that because of his sinful nature that he too is responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. In Rembrant’s painting, the cross is the focus of our salvation and perhaps even our guilt.

In the 20th century, Salvador Dali attempted to combine religion, science, and art. Leaving behind his stage of melting timepieces, Dali entered a period of depicting religious scenes. His depiction of the crucifixion known as

Corpus Hypercubus by Salvador Dali, 1954.

Corpus Hypercubus by Salvador Dali, 1954.

Corpus Hypercubus is often considered his best work from this period. Completed in 1954, the Cross has been changed into a polyhedron net of a hypercube. The cross floats above a two-dimensional surface and a lone woman offers adoration to the figure on the cross. The cross (or hypercube?) in Dali’s painting is transcendent and mystical. It is heavenly. It is no longer resembles the contorted suffering and gritty detail of Grunewald’s altarpiece painting.

Even without a crucified Christ, a cross symbolizes something about Christianity (even if we are not completely sure what that is). Likewise, the pose of the crucifixion has become a visual reference to the crucifixion and Christianity even if a cross is not present. Among the many movies and images that depict a crucified-pose are Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Omega Man (1971). The main characters are each a type of messiah or savior. The director of each movie communicates that fact without words simply by showing the character in a crucifixion style pose at some point.

The image of the cross and the crucifixion persists in our culture. Still, what is the way of the cross? What does it mean? We need to get past the veneer of religiosity and go deeper than a simple visual shorthand to faith. We must enter into deeper reflection and imitation of the significance of the cross.

Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross by James Tissot, 1890.

Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross by James Tissot, 1890.

There’s one more image of the crucifixion that I think unique in art history. Not a well-known piece but one that triggers reflection because it is so different. In 1890, the watercolor painter James Tissot painted the crucifixion. However, he does not show Christ or the cross. His painting of the crucifixion is shown from the perspective of the Messiah on the Cross.

In this image we are no longer permitted the safe distance of spectators or movie-watchers. The cross is cannot be reduced to a symbol or artifact. We are not even allowed to stand reverently as pious worshipers. Instead, we must join Christ on the cross and see the world and all of humanity through the event of the crucifixion. We see the world from the cross, just as Jesus did. An endless collection of humanity stares onward, some with pity, some with scorn, some with reverence. Others are just doing their job and going about their business. What may we gain from this perspective about the way of the cross?

1. The Way of the Cross calls us away from sin and to true righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24). Week after week in our worship assemblies, the cross becomes nothing more that a spiritual bailout for the debt of our sins collected each week. Unfortunately, this overemphasis on indebtedness and guilt stunts our growth in righteousness. The apostle Peter reflected on the cross and called it the beginning of a life of righteousness, not just the end of sinfulness.

2. The Way of the Cross calls us to reconciliation and peace. (Eph. 2:16). If Christ died for all of humanity, how can we justify hostility? Don’t try to justify it or you will shame yourself. When Jesus looks at all of us from the cross and we know that he is reconciling all of humanity to God, then it makes no sense that should hate one another. We often divide and disput over minor issue that have nothing to do with the cross. We should discuss these issues, but resorting to division when the cross stands among us as a death to hostility is truly sinful and shameful.

3. The Way of the Cross calls us away from the world and its self-righteous values. (Gal. 6:14). Rather than emphasize our own ability to accomplish great things, the cross reminds us that we are at our best when we trust in Christ. Our good deeds do not save us. One of the criticisms of Christianity from outsiders is that God unfairly rewards good behavior with heaven. There’s no such teaching in Scripture. The cross shatters the notion that we can justify ourselves through religious deeds. Rather, trust and obedience to God is the way of the cross.

4. The Way of the Cross calls us to endurance and faithfulness. (Heb. 12:2-3). Following Christ is not always east but it is worthwhile. In those moments when we grow weary and we are ridiculed or persecuted for our faith, we can look to Christ. He endured the cross. He had the power and the authority to end it, but he had to pioneer the way of the cross for the rest of humanity and bring an end to the way of violence and the way of “might makes right.” It is difficult for us to stay on the way of the cross in a world that promises peace through strength and superiority. We will be called haters and when we affirm that obedience to God matters. We will be called unpatriotic when we pledge our allegiance to Christ. We will be called naive when we believe that ministry to the poor and weak might change the world. Consider Christ and do not lose heart.

5. The Way of the Cross is discipleship. (Mark 8:34). Self-denial is often confused for self-hatred. Likewise, self-love is confused with indulgence. Discipline leads to maturity and discipline involves self-denial. Not for the purpose of punishment, but for the sake of growth and maturity. A disciple is not a member of a church, and making disciples is not a matter of recruiting people to a religious organization. A disciple is a learner and follower. Jesus himself said that following him involves taking up our cross. That sort of talk even disturbed his disciples like Peter and Paul who could not understand the Way of the Cross at first. It was, and is, scandalous to some degree. It is a high calling, but a calling to everyone that excludes none. There is no other way to save our lives. Our own attempts to save ourselves will end badly. But if we give our lives to God as Jesus did (the cross) then God preserves life.

The cross separates us from the illusion of this world that offers us the false promise of happiness in “doing whatever we will.” The cross and the resurrection affirms the truth and the better way of “doing what God wills.”