How can something so ugly be so beautiful? Countless times in conversation with Muslims, the subject of the cross has arisen. Typically, the grand total of understanding as to what the cross is will amount to the misguided notion that the cross is simply "haram" or bad. It is not something to cherish or sing songs about. It is something to scorn.
One day, I was speaking with several friends when one of them caught sight of a cross. Each then began saying the cross was "haram" and shouldn't be displayed. Seizing on the opportunity, I asked them why it was haram. They simply continued stating the fact that it was. I asked if they knew what the cross meant. A few admitted they did not, one said it was where someone died. That was it. The grand total of their understanding. When I next asked if they wanted to know what the cross was all about, they eagerly said, 'yes!'
In order to speak of the cross, I told my friends I needed to ask them a question. I asked them if they thought God was perfect. This question was easy. Of course God is perfect! Muslim or Christian, we can all agree on this point. I then asked them if we as human beings were perfect. This question produced a bit more thought but, in the end, each friend decided that humans are not perfect. We went on to discuss the fact that because God is perfect and we are not, separation has been created between us and God. I continued through the following questions in a lead-up to discussing the cross.
Me: So can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: We can do good things and pray.
Me: But can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: No.
Me: Who is the only one who could make us perfect?
Friend 3: Well, God! Got can make us perfect!
We then talked through the principle of punishment needed as a result of our imperfection. Just like in our family relationships, when a child disobeys his parent, punishment is needed to restore the relationship.
Me: What punishment could be good enough to completely remove the bad from inside us?
Friend 2: (a bit dramatically) DEATH!
Friend 1, 2 and 3: (Stunned silence)
Me: But can we die for ourselves?
Friend 3: No. Because then we'd all just be dead.
Me: Exactly. So who is the only one who could die for us?
Friend 3: God. But how could God die??
Ah, now we reach the beauty of that cross. I explained that God loves us and He wants us to have a relationship with Him. So He came down to the earth, called Himself Jesus, lived the perfect life we could never live, and died the rugged-cross death we deserved. I excitedly shared the fact that the story didn't end there! Jesus rose from the dead three days after he had been placed into a grave, proving once and for all that He was God. He had taken the punishment of sin we deserve and if we trust in what He did for us on the cross, we could have a relationship with Him! Through faith in Jesus Christ, our sin is removed and we are considered children of God.
Each friend reacted to our conversation differently. Friend 1 stated she thought the information was interesting then quickly changed the topic of conversation to dress shopping. Friend 2 joined Friend 1 in discussing the latest fashion trends. Friend 3 stayed silent for a long while. Then she caught sight of yet another offensive piece of wood. This time, instead of calling it haram, she turned to me, pointed toward the very symbol she so recently despised, and whispered, "The cross!" with tears in her eyes. In those two breathed words, the entirety of her world view shifted 180 degrees. The vile became desired, the despised became loved. The old, rugged, rejected cross became accepted whole heartedly as the object of salvation suddenly worthy of song and praise.
The Old Rugged Cross. The beautiful, despised, rejected, ugly, tragic, wonderful, longed for, praised, sung about, life changing, soul-inspiring Old Rugged Cross. May we continue to share its beauty with those who despise it!