The discussion came up the other day in our fellowship as to whether the cross was an idol. Should we wear crosses, put crosses in our churches, etc.? I began to reflect on this, as it has never bothered me that way. It is a very strange practice, similar to wearing a little electric chair necklace or putting a picture up of a guy slumping over dead in an electric chair as the main center of your place of worship. If it is an idol, it is a very strange one indeed.
So, is the cross an idol? Consider this passage from Isaiah:
15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” – Isaiah 44:15-17 NASB
Certainly, the cross is something fashioned with wood that is very close to Christian worship. It could even seem that we fall down before it and worship it. Consider this passage from Paul:
18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB
14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. – Galatians 6:14 NASB
I think it is a live question, because it does seem like we see a lot of veneration for the cross in these scriptures. In fact, we do have some hymns that I believe cross the line to a sort of sentimental worship of the cross itself:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.
-The Old Wooden Cross, George Bernard
Here is my speculation on this. I don’t think the following is some kind of gospel truth, but just an interesting thought that might generate some discussion down the road. I think that the cross is meant as an anti-idol. It is a symbol of the death of God – the God who blesses because we are good. Jesus was good. In fact, Jesus alone is good. His reward was the cross. His reward was that God abandoned Him. The whole idea that God blesses as a reward for being good has been killed. Now, we see that God rewards on a whole different basis. What worked out terribly for Jesus works out well for us. He was not rewarded for His good behavior, and likewise we are not rewarded for our sin. The cross says: the connection between our goodness and God’s blessing is severed. The God who bows the knee to the power of the law and to the balance of justice has been destroyed. We die to holding this idolatrous just and vengeful and hateful God dear.
So the cross represents the death of an idol. It is not God, and it is not an idol. It is an anti-idol.