My heart was beating so hard that I looked around to see if anyone else could hear it. It was question-and-answer time in a seminary class called Doctrine of Christ. Everyone focused upon the professor as he paced back and forth in front of the room. Like a tiger paces in a cage, I thought. I wanted to keep my question to myself, but something compelled me to raise my hand.
We had covered the different views regarding the nature of Christ, and I had remained relatively quiet. But as our discussion turned to the cross, I was determined to understand some thing that had remained a mystery for years. What actually happened to the divinity of Jesus when He died on the cross?
Immediately the professor called on me. The question seemed to leap out of my mouth, but attached to my question was an absurd suggestion that caught even me by surprise: "Is it possible that divinity could have died on the cross?"
There was an immediate and noticeable silence in the room as the professor paused. He walked slowly to my desk at the front of the class and bent down until his face was just above my face. His answer was more direct than the question. "If you had done your reading, you would know that divinity could not die." A faint smile marked his words. I remained silent as the tiger spun around and devoured the next question and questioner.
I had read the statements. With certainty I believed Jesus was human "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). I also believed Him to be fully God, the one and only "I Am" (John 8:57,58). With those two realities firmly in mind, I also knew deep in my heart that He had actually died. "But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). So what happened to the divinity of Jesus when He died on the cross?
As I asked myself this question and pondered my previous humiliation, I wondered something else. What difference does it make that divinity could not have died? Does this really have any relevance to me personally or to my relationship with God?
I made a decision to study this in further detail. If necessary, I would stay up all night studying and praying.
As the morning sun began to illuminate the room with all of my books, commentaries, and papers strewn about, I realized that not only was the room a complete mess, but I myself was totally confused. Questions re played themselves again and again in my mind as I struggled to remain awake. Along with my questions there was a recurring memory that seemed to grow stronger the more it was ignored. Oddly enough, it had to do with a bus ride.
The bus and the little boy
Again and again the portrait of a bus and a little boy would emerge in my mind, and immediately I would suppress it. Certainly my problem was nothing more than a lack of under standing the cross and the nature of Christ, which had nothing to do with a bus or a child. But this memory seemed strong and persistent in my thinking. After one more season of prayer and one more attempt at comparing scriptures, I sat back exhausted. Apparently this was a mystery I would never understand, at least not until I reached heaven.
As I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the cross for the last time, the bus came into view once again. I prayed, "Lord, I am Your child, and I know You love me and gave Yourself for me, but please help me understand why I keep thinking of this bus?"
I immediately recalled a memory that had not entered my mind for 25 years. But why should I remember it now? As I began to replay what had happened years ago I sensed God's reassuring presence in the room. Only then could I gaze into the deepest pain of my own past. Only then could I begin to see the experience of divinity and the mysterious reality of what actually took place on the cross.
The bus rides had been unavoidable. When I was five, my parents divorced, and consequently my mother and I moved far away from my father. I would not see or hear from him all year until the beginning of summer. When summer vacation began, I was always placed in a bus to travel the 500 miles to see my father for our annual visitation.
Although these temporary visits seemed short, they were good for me and my father, as we would spend enough time together to fall deeply in love all over again.
As a child I would have described my father with words like "big" and "tall," but he was much more. He was actually a quiet man who always seemed gentle and kind. When it came to discipline, he never needed to lay a hand on me; just one look was sufficient to adjust even my most aberrant behavior. I was glad because his hands were the big hands of a tractor mechanic.
I remember one particular summer day when those hands released my twisted foot from the spokes of a friend's rear bicycle wheel. I can still see my friend's eyes as my father squeezed the spokes and they bent and snapped from around my ankle. He picked me up like I was a sack of feathers and took me home cradled in His arms.
But in spite of the time spent together and the way our love would always return, there was a hidden reality in the back of our minds. The day would come when we would have to say goodbye.
One of those goodbyes was so painful that I blocked it completely from my memory. But suddenly it was all becoming so clear; it was like reliving the incident for the first time.
As my memory began to replay in detail, the palms of my hands turned moist and warm. I was tempted to avoid the pain and keep the past en tombed in the dark recesses of my memory, but God had something far more important to reveal.
I was then eight years old. My father's eyes were red and swollen from a sleepless night as we drove to the bus station in silence. I had never seen my father cry, and I was deter mined this departure would be the first without my tears. It was just before dawn, but it seemed to be darker than dark as we drove along.
At the station my dad stood be tween me and the bus, with his back casting a giant shadow along its silver side. The familiar smelly fumes were filling the air. As the bus driver stepped down and leaned out of the bus door, he looked at me, then looked up at my father. When he was sure he had our undivided attention he looked at his watch. The hour was undoubtedly at hand.
My father stooped down, and I wrapped my arms around his neck for the last time. I told him, "I don't want to go, Daddy." I tried to hold back the tears and ignore the pain in my throat, but the ache of separation over whelmed me as my father placed his head upon my shoulder and his hand behind my head. He tried to wipe away my tears, but this only increased their flow. Then he whispered, "It's time." He picked me up and carried me to the bus door.
He carefully set me down on the bottom step. He stooped down, his face again even with my face. He hugged me tight one last time and whispered again, "Don't ever forget that Daddy loves you." I looked away from his blood shot eyes by staring at his fingertips as they moved slowly away from my own hands.
As I turned and stepped into the bus I met the impatient eyes and furrowed brow of the bus driver. I wanted to turn back and rush through the door into my father's arms. But as I turned around, the door hissed and slammed shut in my face. I slowly stepped back into the aisle, then walked quickly down through the darkness with my head bowed, trying to avoid the impatient stares of the other passengers.
There was a single window seat on my father's side. There I could see him standing outside, directly below my window. He paced back and forth, gazing up into the dark tinted windows with his hand over his brow. He could not see me. The bus began to move. I placed my hands on the window and began to cry for him, "Daddy, I'm here, I'm here," but my voice was consumed by the snarl of the diesel engine.
On the verge of panic, I walked fast back to the front door. It was no use; we were moving into the street. Unable to contain myself, I now ran back down the aisle. In the seat again I pressed face and hands against the cold tinted window, straining to capture one last glimpse of my father. As the bus turned the corner there was a single moment forever frozen in an 8-year-old mind. In the distance appeared a portrait of my father I immediately buried deep within me. He was standing shrouded in the darkness, but he was no longer looking for me. His head was bowed. His big hands covered his eyes.
Tears began to flow warm as the full impact of this bus ride hit my mind. I did not realize how much I missed my father. Our last goodbye was not long after that bus ride. He died from cancer while I was still a child, and I was not able to be with him in the end. I did not cry at his funeral, but instead bottled up the pain. It was too great for the heart of a child already wounded from too many goodbyes.
But now the tears were flowing free. The healing tears of gratitude and love to God. A light seemed to fill the room as I finally understood. I suddenly realized it was true: divinity did not die on the cross. But divinity had suffered, a suffering of supreme anguish that was far worse than any death. Seeing the One we love the most suffer so terribly is the most painful suffering of all. Jesus had boarded a bus of this kind when He endured the cross, and He too was separated from His father's loving presence.
Warmth poured into my heart from God because I realized for the first time that He understood all that I had been through. He not only bore my deepest pain, but by enduring the cross, He climbed aboard His own bus willingly and for me personally. "Divinity could not die" suddenly became more than a simple statement of intellectual fact; it brought home to my heart the healing power of God's love.
How wonderful that Christ has the power to take the pain from all of our bus rides and separations, and ex change them with the promise of His eternal presence and hope. Through the miracle of His love we are not overwhelmed, even though our closest loved ones have suffered and died. Because the divinity of Jesus endured the cross, there is the hope of holding again those to whom we have told goodbye. This reveals to our hearts the miracle of all miracles, the reality that God has hands too. Big hands of unconditional love and saving power. Hands that will soon pick us up, cradle us in His arms, and take us home where we belong. To a home where tears will be wiped away as we laugh until we cry, because we are overwhelmed with the eternal reality that makes meaningless all our goodbyes.