As a child I was saddled with a very off-putting picture of God which came from the way the Cross was explained to me. I was told that God was very angry with us for our sins, and had condemned us all to hell. But instead he sent Jesus to die for us, and substituted his punishment for ours. Jesus took the rap, as it were, and we got let off provided we believe in him.

That explanation put me off Christianity for years. It seemed illogical and barbaric. What kind of God needs to be placated with blood before he’ll calm down and forgive?

I discovered later that many other Christians have felt the same, especially since the First World War. One was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, an Army Chaplain better known as Woodbine Willy. His experience in the trenches convinced him that God was not ‘up there’ demanding sacrifice, but down here, sharing our sufferings. In one poem he wrote:

Father, if Christ is truly thy Revealer,

truly the first Begotten of the Lord,

Then must thou be both Sufferer and Healer,

Pierced to the heart by sorrows of the sword.

Then must it mean, not only that thy sorrow

smote thee once upon the lonely tree,

But that today, tonight, tomorrow,

Still it comes, O Suffering God, to Thee.

Woodbine Willy, like many later theologians, saw that on the Cross Jesus was not placating an angry God. Rather, Jesus was God on the Cross, showing that he shares all suffering - and by his resurrection promising to bring us with him out of suffering and death into the joy of his eternal life.

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