Christianity 201

October 18, 2021

The Greatest Gift God Gave was Passive, Not Active

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – I John 3:16

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” – John 10: 17a-18

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:8; all references NIV

 

Six months ago, I shared an excerpt from the debut release of a new author, Tyler Staton, titled Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Faith and Doubt (Zondervan, 2021.) I was finally able to get a copy for myself, and recently posted a review at Thinking Out Loud.

Here is another excerpt from the book which really got me thinking. He begins with a quote from Ronald Rolheiser:

Jesus gave his life for us in one way, through his activity; he gave his death for us in another way, through his passivity, his passion.

Then Tyler continues…

Typically, when people speak of the “passion of Jesus Christ,” they are intending to make much of the brutal suffering. They’re making a summary reference to whips that bring one to the brink of death but stop just short, forcing breath to keep flowing through a body that can no longer be called human. They’re peaking of a body that can no longer be called human. They’re speaking of ruthless soldiers making evening plans while forcing thick iron nails through the wrists and feet of an innocent man. They’re speaking of a spear just under the rib cage when the dying is dragging on so long that boredom is setting in. Make no mistake, Jesus’ death was brutal, but the brutality of the way he died was not his passion; the passion of Jesus Christ was his free choice to die.

Rolheiser explains: “The English word passion takes its root in the Latin passio, meaning ‘passivity,’ and that is its primary connotation here: what the passion narratives describe for us is Jesus’ passivity. He gives his death to us through his passivity, just as he had previously given his life to us through his activity.”

For thirty-three years, Jesus gave us his activity, his life. He was always active, always doing–teaching, healing, advocating, feeding, freeing, including, comforting, noticing, inviting, hoping, instructing, loving.

His final twenty-four hours represented a distinct shift, obvious to every close observer. Beginning with his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus gave us his passivity, his death. Every gospel author’s description of Jesus takes an obvious grammatical turn at that point–all the verbs become passive. He is led away. His questioned. He is tortured. He is whipped. He is mocked. He is provided help in carrying his cross. He is nailed to it.

He is no longer doing; he is allowing to be done. He is no longer acting; he is being acted upon.

When people question God, it’s always related to his activity. What was God doing when that happened to me? Where was God when I really needed help? How could a loving God willingly allow this in my life [or her life or his life or our lives]? Why did God act in this way? Why didn’t God act in this way?

As people who often demand more action, more doing from God, this simple fact is worth consideration: The greatest gift God ever gave us was his passivity, not his activity; his restraint, not his action. It was his willingness to be acted on without intervention. It was his chosen powerlessness, not his power. It was not his doing, but his allowing. It is the passivity of God that is most revealing of his character. In Jesus’ passion he gave us a gift we could not receive by his action.

Mark’s account includes the reaction of the centurion, the Roman army commander who oversaw the execution. When the last breath left Jesus’ body, when the gift of love was completely given through divine restraint, the centurion said aloud, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

This Jewish rabbi had walked all over the Roman Empire for three years, healing the sick, causing the paralyzed to stand, giving sight to the blind, straightening the backs of the disfigured, cleansing the skin of lepers, restoring the minds of the insane, and even raising the dead, but none of that looked like God to those in power. Somehow what they had missed in his power they saw in his restraint.

The centurion recognized the divine bloodline in Jesus by his weakness, not his strength; his surrender, not his victory; his death, not his life; his love, not his power. There was something otherworldly, something wondrous, about the way he willingly gave up his life.

(Searching for Enough, pp 155-156)


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 by Tyler Staton. Used by permission.

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