Having grown up with the stories, I tend to forget just how strange this Easter thing really is. I found myself thinking again this year about the incredibly perplexing central claim of Christianity. To the declarations of faith delivered by poets and prophets, I add the voices of two who decried the scandal of the cross. Their unbelief lends clarity to my belief:
“Obtuse to all Christian terminology, modern people can no longer relate to the hideous superlative found by an ancient taste in the paradoxical formula ‘god on the cross.’ Nowhere to date has there been such a bold inversion or anything quite as horrible, questioning, and questionable as this formula. It promised a revaluation of all the values of antiquity.”1
The weakness of Christ on the cross disgusted the philosopher who dreamed of an Übermensch. Who would worship a weak, bleeding, dying man on a cross?
The other voice is fictional. It comes from the pen of sometime-Latter-day Saint author Edward Tullidge who attempted to write a Miltonic epic poem telling the Mormon story from the premortal life through the end times. He evidently never completed the work, but in one striking scene he depicts Satan’s declaration of victory over Jesus. Satan reminds his minions how they caused Jesus to suffer, bleed and die—their moment of triumph. But there’s an ironic double meaning in Satan’s exultation, one that would only become clear in hindsight:
“When came the Son to break our iron bands,
And wrest the sceptre from our powerful hands,
(My haughty rival—him whose name I hate,—
With whom we battled in the first estate,)
We fired our minions, hung him on the cross;
His life and kingdom were at once his loss;
Blows were his honours, mock’ry his renown,
The rugged tree his throne, and thorns his crown:
Say, my brave princes, was not triumph here!!
Was he not mighty on his bloody bier!!”2
I believe he was.
1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 44.
2. E.W. Tullidge, “A Chapter From the Prophet of the Nineteenth Century,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 1, vol. 20 (2 January 1858): 14-16. See here for a longer description.