WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE
Your toes are not that different from the toes which once dripped crimson blood from a Roman crucifix. All accounted for, you should have ten—five per foot—and they can all bend in one direction, curling like wild french fries beside your happy meal.
There is debate as to how exactly Roman crucifixions were carried out. Did they use nails or only rope? Did Christ carry both beams of His cross up the hill, or just the horizontal crossbeam? Were His feet pierced with one nail through the top of His feet, or the more ergonomically correct position of one foot on either side of the wood with the nail through the side of the heel?
I believe that whatever position the Messiah was in, He was affixed there for hours. In human time, in the history of the cosmos. Not in the abstract myths we often conjure up as we read the Bible—often thinking of it in terms of theological imagination more than human history and time and place and Rome and Nazareth and water and poop and blood.
These are real things.
This is the way God interacts with humans.
Jesus is not a theological quandary, but a man who, at one point in our timeline, yet forever, was/is pinned to a tree, accursed.
“Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” -God, Deuteronomy 21:32
“Forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing.” -God, being hung on a tree
I daily miss the reality of Jesus, the man, the carpenter from Galilee. I don’t spend enough time meditating on the fact that God entered INTO humanity, and the world still hasn’t recovered. We have modern-day plagues which wipe us out by the thousands, yet we ask God why He sits up in heaven, looking down on our misery.
The same God we ripped the back off of, the way you open up the hood of your car to see what’s going on inside.
“How does God work?” you could have asked the Roman centurions peeling the skin off his scapulas.
“Well,” they reply, “so far He bleeds just like every other crook.”
“We’ve cracked Him open…feel free to take a look inside.”
The scholars may piece together their theology of salvation the way a mechanic constructs a combustion engine: lots of moving parts which operate just so, and as long as each of the units follows the basic rules of physics, everything will go on swimmingly.
How does God piece together salvation? With countless meals in the homes of prostitutes, tax collectors, and ‘sinners.’
As if there were people here who are not ‘sinners.’
How does Jesus piece together salvation? With buckets of His own blood. And now we’re back to the toes of the Divine. The moment God dripped His own blood from almighty phalanges onto the dirt below, the salvific work was complete.
Yesterday a 14-year-old took his own life here in Colorado. His parents have been friends with mine for decades. What do we do with such pain? I began slamming this post through my keyboard as an attempt to figure it out, and keep coming back to nothing else but Jesus on the cross: an image to which we have become desensitized. A symbol we sling around our necks as a fashion statement, as if God Himself were not being wrenched apart; each of His molecules shuddering under the weight of His suffering.
Does God know our pain? The Bible tells me so. It tells me that I cling to a God who doesn’t just know it, but has experienced it. The way you can read a hundred books about losing a child but know nothing until it happens to you.
His skin couldn’t hold back its blood, even before the torture began. In the Garden of Gethsemane, His trepidation squeezed the blood from its capillaries hours before the flogging did.
When someone is crucified, they die of asphyxiation. They can’t breathe. Imagine being drowned in air, but not because you’re underwater, but because you can’t push yourself up—on the nails in your feet—to get a breath. And your skin has mostly been stripped away, and you’re nailed to a tree.
If the victim wouldn’t die quickly enough, Romans would either break their legs so they could no longer push themselves up, or light a fire at the foot of the cross so they suffocated in the smoke.
Eight hundred years before Jesus found Himself on Golgotha, the psalmist predicted that none of His bones would be broken. Sure enough, in 36AD, Jesus breathed His last before the guards had to come by and shatter His quivering tibias. Perhaps we’ve become too numb to the language of crucifixion, which is why I’m attempting to breathe some new air into the lungs of our imagination.
Jesus suffocated to death.
He tried to bring oxygen into His lungs, but reached a point where His body couldn’t accommodate it.
Crucifixion was such a painful way to die, in fact, that they had to coin a new term to capture it. Ex is Latin for “out of,” and cruc is Latin for “cross.” When something is excruciating, it is so painful that it could only come out of the cross.
Your stubbed toe is not excruciating.
Losing your son to suicide might be.
The tradition of carrying your own death machine (as typified in the Abrahamic story of making Isaac carry the wood for his own sacrifice up Mount Moriah) was a built-in part of the process. Not only was crucifixion painful beyond comprehension, but it was humiliating. The victim was stripped naked, flogged (skin ripped off of most of them), and then forced to carry their death machine through public areas—still naked. Then they were splayed to the beams and left to die—still naked.
Jesus was hung up to die, fully exposed, and mutilated, possibly even in the genital area, based on similar historical accounts.
Jesus was not only tortured, but humiliated. You think you are too shameful to stand in the presence of God? Fortunately for us, Jesus knows shame.
Not only did He absolve us of our sins, suffering in the place we deserved, but He absorbed our shame as well, when He was paraded nude across town and displayed before all of the onlookers. God doesn’t only meet us in our pain, but in our deepest of shames—perhaps a place harder for us to fathom finding God in. Or being found by Him.
And in the midst of these ‘evil days,’ that brings a bit of comfort: knowing we’re not alone, but surrounded by a God who works in all things, knows all things—from experience, not from reading about it—and has bled for all things.
That’s the only type of God who can truly make all things new.
This article originally appeared here.