Of all the illusions we need to relinquish during Holy Week, the most significant are our illusions about God. What most of us do when it comes to God is we simply project on to God all our assumptions about power. God then becomes the ultimate source of power, who has the capacity to make anything happen at any time. Consequently, if we can just tap into that power, we have at our disposal what we need to overcome any situation.
But this is not the experience of God revealed in the Bible. In the Bible, people struggle with God’s inability to prevent trouble befalling the faithful. The majority of the Psalms are laments: prayers in which people are wondering why God isn’t doing something to rectify their situation. They believe that God has delivered the faithful in ages past, so why not now. What is worse, others are noticing God’s ineffectiveness: “They say, ‘God has forsaken him’ (Ps. 71:11a).” And of course, on Good Friday we are reminded that even Jesus felt abandoned by God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Ps 22:1).”
What St. Paul tells us today in the epistle reading for Tuesday in Holy Week is that whatever it means for God to be powerful, it isn’t revealed in the conventional ways; it is revealed on the cross: “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (I Cor. 1:18).” Apparently, God’s power is revealed in weakness. In the cross, the worldly values of wisdom, power and might are redefined: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).”
In the end what Holy Week challenges us to relinquish is our idolatrous conceptions of God. God refuses to be yet another resource that we can manage. God refuses to be controlled and manipulated. What we slowly come to realize is what Bonhoeffer realized in his prison cell: “We need to learn to live without God in the world.” That is, without the God who does our bidding and is the deus ex machina who suddenly swoops down to make everything right. Instead, we are invited to put our trust in the suffering God revealed on the cross, who can’t always protect us from our distress. We are invited to put our trust in the God who didn’t deliver his only Son, but let him—and our illusions about God—be nailed to the cross.