Review: The Wonder of the Cross

I did try to like ‘The Wonder of the Cross’, but I think it has too many theological inaccuracies to be used without misleading people – and hymnody, after all, is where what we really believe often stands out. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Really, the fundamental problem is that it attributes things to the cross that ought not be attributed to the Crucifixion, and it reveals an impoverished understanding of the Resurrection. This problem is very common in evangelicaldom, but all the more reason to find ways to correct this error.

Okay, nitty-gritty starts now:

O precious sight, my Saviour stands,
Dying for me with outstretched hands!
O precious sight, I love to gaze,
Remembering salvation’s day,
Remembering salvation’s day.

Mostly fine, I think, although stands is a rather odd verb to apply to a man hanging on a cross. Of course, physically, he may be standing by the support of the nail through his ankles, but stylistically it’s weird.

Now as Bach says, ‘Drum muß uns sein verdienstlich Leiden recht bitter und doch süße sein’ (‘so his meritorious Passion must for us be truly bitter and yet sweet’), so we do love to gaze now upon a scene where God made atonement for our sins and died in our place. At the same time, we ought to take seriously the bitterness of this scene as well and not minimize it simply because of the Resurrection: that is, the Passion of the Christ should not make us unmitigatedly happy. Otherwise, we will see ourselves also minimizing suffering and death simply because we know there is such a thing as a resurrection at the Last Day, a thing Jesus himself didn’t do when Lazarus died.

We know also that our own life is through the Way of the Cross, before the bodily resurrection of the dead.

Though my eyes linger on this scene,
May passing time and years not steal
The power with which it impacts me,
The freshness of its mystery,
The freshness of its mystery.

Let me say first that I like the word linger, especially here where I think it evokes the people lingering at Golgotha and gazing at this shameful scene. May passing time and years not steal / The power was also good, because it contrasts Jesus with the condemned robbers crucified with him on his left and right.

I do, however, have a problem with impacts. First, stylistically, it’s incongruous with the rest of the stanza, and for no reason that I can think of other than that the writer didn’t think of something else; in this register, the verb impact also means to make contact with another car in a car accident.

Furthermore, the way that impact is used on lower registers about people, about non-physical ‘collision’, is about one’s subjective state: we simply don’t hear this word used of something objectively happening. But the cross did objectively do something, because by it and on it the Son of God was put to death. By this death God the Father cursed the concept of ‘curse’ for the New Creation he would inaugurate at the Resurrection on the third day from the Passion: thus we in the New Creation are not cursed. To reduce the scope of the Crucifixion to the subjective realm is unhealthy given how much subjectivism we already have in much of our folk spirituality.

Now the chorus:

May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross:
May I see it like the first time,
Standing as a sinner lost,
Undone by mercy and left speechless,
Watching wide-eyed at the cost.
May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.

This chorus would have worked very well with the first two verses not reducing the objectivity of the cross, though they rightly indicated a subjective response of faith as well. Undone by mercy is crucial in this chorus, but as I show above, the objectivity of mercy is unfortunately undermined if not undone by the second verse’s subjectivism (though there’s nothing wrong with subjectivity). Only with an objective basis can the faith in the rest of the chorus come alive.

Behold the God-Man crucified,
The perfect sinless sacrifice!
As blood ran down those nails and wood,
History was split in two;
Yes, history was split in two.

The first two lines here are quite right. We affirm the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ in his Incarnation; we hold also that, though born of the seed of a sinful Abraham, he himself was spotless as an atonement.

We run into the minimized Resurrection problem in the next lines, though. What does it mean for history to have been split in two by the Crucifixion? – and not strictly by Christ’s death, at that. Christ’s Resurrection, not his death, is what splits history, because the Resurrection was what made the New Creation. The Passion was earth-shattering, literally so as well, but we cannot say the it was the event that created something new. After all, death is death, and new life is new life, and ne’er the twain shall be confounded.

Behold the empty wooden tree,
His body gone, alive and free!
We sing with everlasting joy,
For sin and death have been destroyed;
Yes, sin and death have been destroyed.

Here I’ll say simply that stripping our Lord from the cross was a scene of intense mourning, not of joy. The fact is, we probably shouldn’t say Death was destroyed until the Resurrection, when Death truly was defeated. At the cross, the destruction of sin and death is still a promise, not a word yet come into being. I do realize that this verse is intended to be about the Resurrection in a way that still uses the images of the cross, but it doesn’t do this successfully, I think.

With dangling modifiers rampant in this day and age, moreover, it’s not too hard for someone who hears this, especially one who already has Gnostic tendencies, to interpret his body gone, alive and free to mean that with his body gone, Christ is thus alive and free. Not too common among evangelicals for this to happen, I should think, but the way impact was used earlier does facilitate such an error of interpretation.

All in all, this hymn was a good attempt, but it has enough serious errors that I would hesitate to have it sung in church.

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One response to “Review: The Wonder of the Cross

  1. What do you really know about anything at all?

    The only thing that you really “know” is what is in your now time field of direct perception. But even that is all just a field of energy of various degrees of solidity, as Einstein told us via E = mc2.

    You cannot even account for your own appearance here. To do so you would have to describe how the entire cosmic process, (beginning at day one) with all of its space-time paradoxes, coalesced into “creating” your current body-mind complex.

    And yet to presume to know all about the “crucifixion”, and all of the historical mythologies associated with that idol – and hence all about “God” too.

    Like

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