TWO OF THE NOBLEST PILLARS of the ancient world—Roman law and Jewish piety—together supported the necessity of putting Jesus Christ to death in a manner that even for its day was peculiarly loathsome. Thus the cross stands for the tragic folly of human beings, not just at their worst but at their best.

Jesus needn't have died. Presumably he could have followed the advice of friends like Peter and avoided the showdown. Instead, he chose to die because he believed that he had to if the world was to be saved. Thus the cross stands for the best that human beings can do as well as for the worst.

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Jesus died in the profoundest sense alone. Thus the cross stands for the inevitable dereliction and defeat of the best and the worst indiscriminately.

For those who believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead early on a Sunday morning, and for those also who believe that he provided food for worms just as the rest of us will, the conclusion is inescapable that he came out somehow the winner. What emerged from his death was a kind of way, of truth, of life, without which the last two thousand years of human history would have been even more tragic than they were.

A six-pointed star, a crescent moon, a lotus—the symbols of other religions suggest beauty and light. The symbol of Christianity is an instrument of death. It suggests, at the very least, hope.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words  

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