This is Part Six in my series Only a Suffering God Can Save
The final Old Testament image in the crucifixion is Jonah. Jesus Himself compares the time He spends in the tomb with that of Jonah in the whale (or fish, if you are a purist.) I see this as much more than just a comparison between time spent in the dark. I think there is much more going on here.
Have you ever wondered about all the myths that are similar to that of the story of Jesus? All the stories of death and resurrection that pre-date the time of Christ. They are there and they should make us stop and think. Why are there so many? Is Jesus just the last in a long line of solar deities?
The answer is yes ,but not that I am saying that Jesus is a myth. All these various myths tell more or less the same story. In his book Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell illustrates that most myths have the same meaning. The story they chart out is one of decent and return. There is a pattern of call, initiation, trials, defeat, and renewal. This pattern is completely universal to every human culture.
The Hebrew scriptures are full of the same story. The stories of Joseph, Job, Jeremiah, Jonah, the suffering servant of Isiah, the Babylonian captivity: exodus and renewal by God seem to be the lens through which the Israelites viewed their history.
The pattern of down and up, loss and renewal, enslavement and freedom, exile and return is quite clear in the Old Testament. It is the pattern of transformation through darkness and suffering. Jesus will use His Jonah symbol and say, “This is the only sign that I will give you.” It is His metaphor for what we would later call the doctrine of the cross, the paschal mystery. It is the mystery of faith.
How does this happen? How does the victim transform us? How does Jesus defeat darkness and death? How does the lamb of God take away the sin of the world?
He did it by living the pattern of redemption, for that is what the story of decent is teaching us. The pattern is not just for heroes, but for each of us. The “sign of Jonah” is the path of suffering. We will suffer in this life, but now we know that pain isn’t meaningless, that all suffering is redemptive. God embodied the myth, made it real, and then asks us to follow Him.
Jesus Christ took away the sin of the world by dramatically exposing it for what it was, the scapegoating, attacking, and killing the innocent all the while claiming to be the victim. He refusing the usual pattern of feeling victimized and fighting back. Instead He returned their evil with forgiveness and prayer, and told us we can follow Him.
This is how evil is transformed into good. He took the worst thing and transformed it into the best thing. It is all over after that. He has exposed the problem and given us the solution all at once. It isn’t some magical transaction in the sky between the Father and the Son, Jesus worked some magic in history that changes everything.
This is the subversive wisdom of the cross, “wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known.” If you want it all you have to do is pick up your cross and follow.
Continued in Living the Crucifixion