Trekking through the Italian village of San Giorgio, I was welcomed by colorful houses against the backdrop of roving mountains, smells of gnocchi and wine wafting through kitchen windows where laundry hung, and red-tiled roofs sheltering a cross and a hanging Christ all along the cobblestoned way.
Some of these crosses were a gruesome sight, with Jesus’s open wounds festering, his face in utter agony. In some, creatures even pecked at him. The contrast was almost spooky—this beautiful, quaint scenery sprinkled with graphic homages to a dying man. I respected the deep reverence for Jesus that was so vivid in this small Catholic town, but I wondered why he was depicted in such a suffering, sometimes frightful, light—why his death was more iconic than his life. An unsettling feeling came over me, and I stopped to think, “Why is Jesus’s death so celebrated anyway?”
When people talk about Jesus’s death today, it’s often with an automatic reverence. “Let’s give thanks to our Lord and Savior, who died for our sins and forgave us all.” But do we ever stop and think about how God feels about Jesus, then and now? I wondered if, to God, these last thousands of years were just a speck in the history of the universe, with the death of Jesus and the sad condition of humanity today still very close to His heart. While Christianity has been able to find the silver lining to Jesus’s death over the generations, what does God see? Isn’t there still violence, death, abuse and misuse of love in the world? Do we still need Jesus? Are we really saved from sin?
Father Moon asks a controversial question:
“People say that Jesus came to die. Was his death indeed predestined by God, or was it an event brought on by circumstance?” (World Scripture, 507)
Could Jesus’s life have been destined for more than the cross?
One of the greatest insights of the Divine Principle is that God is our parent, our Heavenly Father and Mother, with a passionate heart of love for His and Her children. God is the Parent of all of humankind in history, but we lost connection with God from the start as a repercussion of the Fall. Father Moon taught that Jesus came to set it right and re-establish a connection with our Creator, and his work is unfinished because still today, most of us can’t seem to feel or recognize God’s love for us. Imagine that you were a parent whose child ignored you, rejecting all your hugs, kisses and well wishes? How would it feel? Probably worse than awful, right?
For centuries, the world has associated God with the utmost power and greatness: Like a king on His throne, He rules the world. But even Jesus considered God to be as close as a parent.
“Abba, Father,” he prayed, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36)
This made me wonder: Why would God create Jesus, his beloved and devoted son, just so he could die? And so brutally? Did God hope that Jesus’s death would be glorified—and so graphically—centuries later? I felt there was a disconnect.
“After preparing humanity for four thousand years to receive the Messiah, his death was not in God’s original plan,” revealed Father Moon. “Satan was the one who dragged Jesus to the cross and killed him. … There is no Christianity at the place of Jesus’s cross. Christianity began on the Day of Pentecost.” (World Scripture, 513)
Jesus shared a lot of wisdom in his 33 years on earth, but imagine what kind of plan God had for him in his family life. If he had had five kids, for instance, would he have been crucified as easily? What if he has had a wife? Would she have sparked debates and opened his mind to new ideas? Perhaps she would’ve inspired Jesus to teach about marriage, or been the comforting rock after a grueling day of mission work. What if Jesus had built a church? What would it have been like? What would his ministry have been like with a bustling extended family? With grandchildren bouncing on his lap? What if God was trying not only to teach us a larger, deeper and more epic truth, but also to show us a whole new lifestyle, a way of loving and connecting, and Jesus never got the chance to show it? How much closer to God could we be if we all knew how to do it as a family rather than by ourselves?
I believe Jesus came to bring about a great spiritual awakening and a whole new understanding of what it was to relate to God. Jesus was God’s child and wanted to prove to the rest of the world that so are we. He wasn’t just saving us from sin—he was saving us from a future without our Heavenly Parent. Jesus revolutionized our hearts and opened up a consciousness of love to help us get back to God.
Imagine that God is so close, experiencing the exact same things that you are, going through the rough and dry times as well as the celebrations. What if He can understand you better than anyone else on earth, because His heart feels the same as yours? In times when you fight with those you love, feel betrayed or become a parent—what if God is right there? What if God, too, feels lonely and incomplete because of the lack of connection with His children? What if God has been royally pained rather than royally proclaimed throughout history?
I think, above anything else, Jesus sought to fully experience the raw heart of God—the depth of His pain and the magnitude of His love for the world. Perhaps what he found was simply the vulnerable heart of a parent. Father Moon said, “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, abandoned the crown and lowered himself to the bottom of the misery of humanity. The Bible explains very little about Jesus’s life, but he was the one who wept the most; he poured out tears. Jesus came with the mind of a parent and the heart of the True Parents. He examined everything from the viewpoint of a parent.”
What if we, too, could fully recognize how much pain occupies God’s heart? Couldn’t we then empathize and build a relationship with Him as Jesus did? As Washington Irving beautifully expressed: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.”
Many of us feel the need to reconnect to God on a regular basis. Studies show that 90 percent of Americans have a spiritual moment with God every day, half of them praying several times a day. Prayer is one of the oldest, varied, most practiced and most beneficial ways of clearing our mind and establishing a connection with God. We see it time and time again: When someone hits rock bottom or finds themselves in a life-or-death situation, their first instinct is to pray. What if we could heighten that instinct? I’ll bet, like our mom’s daily inquiries over “How was school?,” God, too, wants to hear from us in times of joy—even mundanity—too, not just when we feel a desperate need for Him.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do to get to know God is to connect to Him through our relationships—with our parents, our spouse, our friends and siblings and children. Just think of the myriad ways we relate and love in each of those relationships—each one allows us to grow our heart in every direction and fully empathize with our Heavenly Parent.
When I set foot in that Italian village, I was trying to find God. Little did I know I’d find Him in pain, suffering and grief—these days, the inevitable side effects of love, family and hope. As I meandered down those cobblestoned roads, I stopped and looked up at one cross in particular. There Jesus hung, looking pained, sad and almost lifelike. His eyes seemed to look right into mine. I wondered, if he was here today, would he find this sight spooky, too? Would the cross make him sad? Would he think about the family he never had? Or what would have happened, had his own children continued his work? Though I’m just a passerby in a foreign land, my journey made me consider what could have been, and also what was. It compelled me to remember the sheer depth of Jesus’s life, love and sorrow, and how God might still be yearning for all of us to come home.