I’ve heard this sarcastic question asked many times from people who object to wearing a cross or crucifix as jewelry. Awhile back it was asked by the host of an Evangelical Christian radio program on my way home from work: If Jesus was electrocuted, would you wear an electric chair around your neck?
More recently, I came across similar questions in an article published by the quasi-Christian “Restored Church of God”:
Does God want you to wear a cross and display it where you live?
Does God want to see this instrument of cruelty hanging from Christians’ necks, on the wall of their homes, or placed on the dashboard of their cars? Does He want to look upon a symbol that reminds Him of when He had to completely turn from His Son? . . .
Consider further. If Christ were put to death with a .38 Special handgun, would you wear this around your neck? If Jesus were put to death in an electric chair, would you place a miniature one on your dashboard as a sign of faith? What if by lethal injection? Would you have its representation prominently placed on the wall of your home?
Why venerate—give honor to—an instrument used in Christ’s death? Are you certain God desires this?
St. Paul and the Cross
These questions are meant to show the absurdity of giving much attention to the mode of Jesus’ death. But let’s see what the blessed apostle, St. Paul, might have written had Jesus been sentenced to fry in the hot seat instead of endure the cross.
1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and [him electrocuted].”
Galatians 6:14: “Far be it from me to glory except in the [chair] of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been [electrocuted] to me, and I to the world.”
1 Corinthians 1:23–24: “But we preach Christ and him [electrocuted], a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Galatians 3:1: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as [electrocuted].”
If fussing over the Lord’s electric chair would be absurd, then fussing over his cross would be absurd, too. But St. Paul didn’t shy away from the cross, even though it tripped up the Jews and was considered folly to Greeks.
And if St. Paul didn’t mean it literally when he said, “Before your very eyes” (Galatians 3:1)—that is, if he wasn’t referring to a visual portrayal such as a crucifix or some other tangible sight that their “very eyes” could see—then surely Jesus’ gruesome death on a cross was at least vividly proclaimed, somehow illustrated and emphasized, and not just glossed over as mere trivia.
In other words, the cross was a big deal. And it remains a big deal to Christians today.
The reason many devout Christians choose to wear a cross or crucifix is to remember history’s greatest act of love for mankind. The cross: whether we read it or write it, sing it or wear it, the message is the same—Jesus died so that we may live.
The Cross Prefigured
Consider the foreshadowing of the cross in the Old Testament.
- There was a tree of life in the Garden of Eden. Our living Savior, Jesus, was nailed to a tree, in effect turning the wood of the cross into a tree of life (1 Peter 2:24; cf. Revelation 2:7).
- When we read how “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son” (Genesis 22:6), who was to be sacrificed and yet lived, we can see it as a prefigurement of God’s Son carrying the wood of the cross.
- At the very first Passover, the blood of the Passover lamb was to be applied to “the lintel and the two doorposts” of the Israelites’ homes. These details about the horizontal lintel and the vertical doorposts bring to mind the bloody post and crossbeam upon which Christ our Passover was sacrificed.
- “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). The bronze serpent on a pole was lifted up so that if a deadly serpent bit anyone, “he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:9). The correlation between Israel’s snake-on-a-stick and our Savior-on-a-stick (i.e., on a cross) is explicit and unmistakable.
If real, visible, tangible, touchable symbols were used in a “hidden” way in salvation history to prefigure and anticipate the cross of Jesus, then who says we can’t use real, visible, tangible, touchable symbols—such as a crucifix—to help us look back on the cross in a clear way? We are, after all, physical creatures who should embrace physicality and the proper use of “things.”
Now back to the question: If Jesus had been seated on a high-voltage altar rather than hung on a Roman cross, would we be wearing electric chairs around our necks today?
Judging by scriptural precedent, I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked.