01/22/2015 11:13 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Blasphemy After the Cross


After the daylight execution of a dozen cartoonists, journalists and their police bodyguards in and outside the Paris offices of the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a worldwide conversation took place over the limits of free speech and the challenge blasphemy presents for believers in God.

For a few believers blasphemy is a pretext (or at least the thinkable grounds for) unconscionable violence, whether they would pull the trigger or not.

While claiming to regret the violence, some Christian leaders implied that the newspaper's cartoons -- containing shocking and explicit images and words that profane and belittle the Prophet Mohammed, the Virgin Mary, and the Christian Trinity -- held the door open to the attackers, making the editors and cartoonists unwitting accessories in their own murders.

Yet Christians have no common cause or sympathy with those who attacked Charlie Hebdo; none whatsoever.

The slain cartoonists and journalists had nothing coming to them, deserved nothing from those who love God but our love. We might not read their newspaper or give it awards but it would be very easy even to protest it too much.

What happened is inexcusable and unimaginable for those who claim to follow Christ.

Christians confess that humanity did its worst -- its blasphemous worst -- to God and to man on the cross in the person of Jesus.

There is for the Christ follower no greater blasphemy than the torture and crucifixion of this wise and innocent man who also happens to be God, a brutal marring beyond all recognition of the truest goodness and the most radiant glory revealed on earth -- Christ, our last and best hope -- to the point of death.

The beautiful thing -- who could before that horrific and sacrilegious violence outside Jerusalem even imagine this? -- is what God *does* with such a desecration, what he makes of humanity's worst crime against God and ourselves in Jesus.

God transforms our heinous act into a life-granting cure and by it bridges the gap between humanity and the divine community; through an horrific execution God lifts forever the pall of death that hangs over mankind and his creation.

The Spirit transfigures our profane murder by raising the incarnate One -- son of God and son of man -- from the grave, lifting all humanity with him -- from Adam and Eve to the last man and woman who will ever live in history -- as a profound testament to the Father's love.

What do we do in the face of such charity? It matters what we do next. It matters how we respond to so great a divine love. We still have choices to make today -- for or against this kind of love.

Having done our worst to God and seeing what he does with our vilest crime, the Christian need not take offense with persons who mock, ridicule, or curse God because God knows how to take care of himself and to deal with all of those he makes in his image. We can trust this God with any judgment of ourselves or others.

It is on the basis of the total victory of incarnate Love in Jesus, that Christians -- with Christ and in Christ -- turn the other cheek to the tormentors and blasphemers of Emmanuel, knowing that it is by the afflictions and wounds of both his enemies and friends that God seeks to reconcile all things to himself.

Why should Christians or any other believers in God be anxious about blasphemers when it is by the greatest blasphemy imaginable that the living God heals, restores, and delivers all flesh from his enemies (and theirs) by his Son?

Christians not only affirm the real freedom of all persons to say or do their worst to God; the disciples of Jesus are confident that his holy fire of love overcomes our collective dark and despicable faithlessness in order to restore his divine image in all races and preserve the world that rejected him.

No other faith tradition bears the example of the cross. Christians can show God's world a better way by our active, self-giving love in the face of scandalous mockery. Cartoons mean nothing next to the love of this God.

In the West, our respect for free speech and freedom of religious expression is a legacy of longstanding internal conflicts within Judeo-Christian culture. These freedoms were won at great cost over centuries and ought to be cherished. And we have beyond this achievement far better gospel reasons to love and protect all men -- blasphemers, God-fearers, and the indifferent alike.

This is not a license to blaspheme, much less a celebration of free speech at the expense of any offense it might bring to religious peoples, but Christians consider all lesser blasphemies in context of the greatest one, as we recall what God accomplished with it. The cross ought to help Christians, and anyone who fears God, bring offensive speech and cartoons into perspective before they rush to defend their honor or God's.

Our God is not offended by our offense but turns our blasphemy -- all blasphemy -- into the sacrificial ground of love upon which he builds a new relationship with us and with his creation in Jesus Christ.

He turns our contempt and rejection and mockery into the means of reconciliation.

This is a God far above all others who does not need us to protect his honor or that of his followers. He turns vulnerability into the greatest strength. The universe in all its power is founded upon the extreme humility of God and of man in Jesus Christ.