Why we’re called to view Christ’s death and suffer his cross

04.10.2020 | The Maxwell Institute

In this edited excerpt from the Maxwell Institute Podcast, Deidre Nicole Green discusses her forthcoming book Jacob: a brief theological introduction. The full episode is available in audio and transcript.

BLAIR HODGES: The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob directly invites us to “suffer the cross of Christ”—an unusual phrase. (See Jacob 1:8) We usually think of Jesus suffering on the cross for us, but here Jacob is inviting people to suffer the cross of Christ. What do you see happening here, Deidre?

Woodcut by Brian Kershisnik

DEIDRE NICOLE GREEN: It’s a very provocative, intriguing, enigmatic passage of scripture. I think Jacob really wants us to slow down here and think carefully and analyze what he is calling us to do. It is paired with his instruction to “view the death of Christ.”

Among other things, I think part of what we’re supposed to learn from viewing the cross is that Jesus Christ remains in a particular type of relationship—both with God and with humanity—even in this most desperate and painful moment in which he feels abandoned by both. I think there is something about that experience that we are asked to emulate. We’re asked to emulate “right relation,” remaining in a particular kind of loving relationship to God and other human beings, even in our darkest hours.

HODGES: Jacob’s inviting us to view Christ’s death—to not skip over that part. Not to think only of the Easter morning, the resurrection glory, but also spend time at the cross.

GREEN: Right, and not just thinking about the cross, but the invitation includes viewing his death, right? I think it’s so profound that we have this period of time where there’s a lot of uncertainty. We can’t just skip over to the resurrection. Jacob seems to recognize that that absence of Christ, and that uncertainty—that waiting for the promised resurrection—is a very productive time in which we can choose to be faithful and acknowledge our own doubt and our own uncertainty.

There’s a lot of ambiguity there, and I think it’s like the ambiguity that marks our entire mortal existence. So I think there’s something profound about not making a human life, or Christian faithfulness, into a sort of facile story with a happy ending. Instead, we can recognize there’s lot of space in which we are consumed by doubt and uncertainty, but that we can still choose to love and be faithful even while acknowledging that doubt.

HODGES: In your book you remind readers they’re not just supposed to skip from the cross right to the resurrection. There’s this in-between space. Here’s a quote from you: “By viewing the duration of Christ’s death, we witness and embrace loss that has not yet found resolution.”

There’s that in-between space. Now, some people don’t spend a lot of time there in their life of faith. I know people who don’t. But I also know people who spend a good deal of time in that space of uncertainty.

GREEN: I think we need to be instructed by the way in which Christ’s death and resurrection happen. There’s a reason it doesn’t occur instantaneously, right? There isn’t an instantaneous resolution. And I think it prefigures what we all experience at various times in our life. And if this is the way God chose to carry out the most important event in human history, then we ought to learn from that. This is how God wants it to be. There needs to be this sort of empty and ambiguous spaces in our lives. There’s something productive for us in engaging these spaces with authenticity.

HODGES: And you point out we aren’t supposed to engage with it for our own sake, focused only on ourselves, but also by connecting with other people. I think of the discussion of baptism in Mosiah 18 where it doesn’t say, “Hey, you’re going to get baptized and then everybody’s gonna be happy and you’re cleansed from sin and we’re just gonna be great!” It says, “Mourn with those that mourn.” It doesn’t say, “Usher people quickly through their mourning ,” or “Help them just get over it.” The community is instructed to stay in the mourning together. Mourn with them!

GREEN: Yes, I think there has to be a way for us to find a healthy space where we aren’t valorizing suffering or seeking after suffering, but recognizing that it’s an intrinsic part of our lives as human beings, and allowing it to be a space in which we can truly connect and empathize with others, to become a whole community, as you just described.

HODGES: And you say because of his life experiences, Jacob is uniquely situated to teach this kind of lesson, this kind of—it’s almost like a communal participation in Christ’s atonement—Christ came down. He became embodied. He participated in human suffering so that he could understand and succor his people, as the Book of Mormon says. (Alma 7:12) Jacob says we are supposed to view that and take away the same lessons so we can then become Christlike in suffering with—”compassion,” that’s what having compassion actually means.

GREEN: Exactly.