A golden, polished cross with five small diamonds in it–a gift from my parents for my 21st birthday. It was significant at the time, indicating a truce of sorts. They finally laid their weapons down against me and my stand for Christ–something that had chafed them since I was 15 years old and had declared that I now knew that Jesus had paid for my sin on the cross.

That special gift, given 27 years ago, is still a treasure. Not one to wear much–if any–jewelry save a wedding ring, on Sunday mornings, I often wear this cross around my neck. I love the way the rounded, smooth cross looks, dangling against my neck. It isn’t ostentatious, but very subtle and simple in it’s beauty.

On Monday as I greeted the Lord in the quietness of a house not yet awakened, God revealed a blind spot in my life. I have a tendency to feel uncomfortable when someone I love is hurting and I feel like I can’t do anything to make it better. Whether it is my son, exasperated with failed attempts to create the perfect English class essay or my daughter’s lament that she wishes desperately she had a different nose…or something much deeper. I have an inclination to run for the hills rather than be present to the suffering of people I love. Maybe it is a need to be in control…I am not sure yet.

As my time with the Lord continued, however, I read from Contemplating the Cross by Tricia McCary Rhodes. As I prayed through what I was reading, I heard the Holy Spirit say to my heart, “You do the same with the cross of Christ…” I considered what he meant and realized that I tend to run from the discomfort of the cross, too. Of course I have turned to the Lord and embraced the gift he has given me through the act of being on the cross–becoming sin for me so that in him, I might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). But it is as though I quickly kiss it, pat it superficially, and … run. Anything but to have to come face to face with the suffering and discomfort of God in pain–especially if the pain is because of me.

I have turned the cross of Christ, that which was the instrument of suffering and grief–and the salvation of the world–into a golden, polished, icon, thus minimizing the intensity of its horror–and…its beauty, its gravity.

As I pondered what the real cross would look like, feel like, smell like, I was aghast at the images that came to mind compared to this polished iconic symbol that I seem to prefer. I imagined seeing the roughly hewn cross, reaching my hand forward and touching it…looking closely. The blood stains–and there…bits of flesh from the scourged back…the splinters against his wounded back must have been as skewers, ripping and tearing tissue, already tender and open, spilling his blood even further as he agonized. His pain wasn’t merely physical, too…it was beyond intense as the triune God, in some way beyond my ability to fathom, was torn apart, the Father turning his back on the Son who had become sin…

I have often said that if I had to sacrifice animals in order to atone for my sin like the Israelites of old, I might have a different view of sin and be less callused to it.

The truth is, it is this image of the cross–the rough, hewn, splintered, jagged wood, blending with the mixture of blood and flesh against the precious Son of God’s back–that should be before me each Sunday and each day, rather than the tiny, polished, gold and diamonds icon. To think that I have worn my necklace with an air of pride, even while keeping Jesus at a “comfortable distance,” breaks my heart.

I am thankful that he did become sin for me. In this, I become the righteousness of God.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, 
so that in him we might become 
the righteousness of God. 
~ 2 Corinthians 5:21