It continues to blow my mind how timely Brian Zahnd’s book Beauty Will Save the World is for the climate of our country right now. I previously blogged about the first and second chapters. The third chapter is called “Axis of Love.” Kind of sounds like a Jimi Hendrix album. It’s actually a very beautiful presentation of the victory Jesus wins on the cross.
Zahnd zeroes in on a critical verse about the crucifixion in Colossians 2:15: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” This verse is completely ironic in a way that perfectly captures the beauty of the cross. The way the cross was supposed to work is that the prisoner is disarmed by the powers and authorities to be made into a public spectacle by getting nailed and lifted up naked to suffocate slowly and sizzle in the 100+ degree desert sun.
But when the prisoner happens to be the Son of God, who is vindicated by being raised from the dead, then the powers and authorities are the ones who are disarmed and ridiculed, and the cross itself becomes a triumph: ““The resurrection of Jesus Christ is much more than just a happy ending; it’s the Judge’s surprising verdict! It was the verdict of heaven’s Supreme Court, and it overturned all the verdicts of the rulers of the world…. The verdict of the resurrection affirmed that Jesus is the Christ and he is Lord” (76).
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, it is no longer Jesus who is condemned by the trial of the Roman judicial system but the Roman judicial system that is condemned by Jesus: ““Seen through the lens of the resurrection, the cross is no longer the shameful public humiliation of Christ, but the shameful public humiliation of the principalities and powers” (87).
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection flip the script so that the old world order of “the truth of power enforced by violence” (67) is paradoxically overthrown and replaced by a new world order that Zahnd describes as the “axis of love.” Some might object that this particular phrase isn’t found in the Bible, but I think it’s a helpful metaphor for capturing the way that the sacrificial love of Christ expressed on the cross is an “axis” around which we should revolve if we belong to the kingdom of God.
It is not solely the case that Jesus’ death “pays” for our sins, We are called to “enter into orbit” around Jesus’ cross and leave our orbit of the “axis of power” the world is built around. It might sound cheesy Star Trek, but I think the metaphor is very helpful for capturing what it means when Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Zahnd writes: “Jesus is not just saving individuals and leaving the world as it is has always been –dominated by principalities and powers under Satan’s spell. No! Upon the cross Jesus is recreating the world! The orbit of pain around the axis of power becomes transformed into the orbit of peace around the axis of love” (80).
This is a more expansive definition of salvation than many evangelicals are used to, but it’s not un-Biblical. The whole of creation is supposed to be healed as part of salvation. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 8:19-21: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope thatthe creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
In any case, Zahnd’s account of how the cross saves the world is much richer and more beautiful than a lot of the more predominant explanations around today. He references a lot more scripture and says a lot of other brilliant things that you’ll have to get your own copy of the book to explore. 😉