Looking for the cross in all the wrong places

One of my “pet peeves” as a Christian who tries hard to know his Bible and Theology is what I like to call “Magical Christianity”. What I mean by that term is an extension of what has been termed “magical thinking” into the areas of Theology and Christian worldview.

Magical thinking as defined by wikipedia isn’t 100% on target for what I’m referring to, but it’s decently close. One aspect of Magical Christianity is the tendency to see crosses in non-religious settings and somehow infer that God is at work in that symbolism. It’s kind of the protestant version of a Catholic who sees an image of Mary in a concrete water stain.

A good example is the World Trade Center Cross. A cross shaped section of beam wreckage was found among the World Trade Center wreckage. Some (apparently) see this as some kind of sign from God. Exactly what kind of sign? That is apparently very fungible. It seems that God’s sign can mean almost anything the viewer wants it to mean.

The problem with finding crosses in structures like this is that a cross is a very normal geometric shape when it comes to girders. In this case, a cross is just two pieces of girder at a 90 degree angle from one another. What are the odds of finding girder pieces at 90 degree angles in the wreckage of a fallen building? Actually, pretty good. And all you need after that to have the classic “cross shape” is to have the proportions of the four “arms” of the cross shape correct. With as much metal as came down between the two towers of the World Trade Center, I’d be amazed if someone didn’t find a cross somewhere. In fact, there are pictures that show lots of crosses in the wreckage if you’re the type to look for them.

There’s a real problem in cases like the World Trade Center. There’s a temptation to mix “God-stuff” in with “pro-America stuff” in Western Christianity. So people that already believe that God likes Americans more than other people on this planet will jump at any Christian symbology that they see.

Cross in the flagA similar sentiment is sent around in a chain-email about the “cross in the flag”. Doesn’t that picture show that God does indeed love America more than other countries because He caused the cross to be seen through the flag?

Not really. Light behind a fabric will of necessity tend to follow seams as it leaks through. You can see that the horizontal “cross bar” of the image is right in line with one of the stripes on the flag. Also, had this shot been taken at a different time of day when the sun was lower in the sky the cross would have looked upside down in the blue star field. Oh no! God must hate America because He put an upside down cross on our flag! No, American evangelicals who see this kind of symbology would probably argue that the cross was upside down because of God’s outrage that we were attacked.

laminin moleculeAnother variety of this tendency is the laminin images all over Christian blogs and sent around in chain-emails. The argument goes that God created us in such a way that this binding protein molecule that is all throughout our bodies is actually a small cross. Louie Giglio has a video that many Christians pass around that is actually very good until it goes off the rails on this point.

Louie says that we can believe in and trust God to “hold us together” because He put His “signature” on us in our very makeup. See! God even MADE US OUT OF CROSSES! He treats this as the big finish of his talk on how great God is.

My immediate thought was “what if God had made things in such a way that laminin wasn’t cross shaped?” Could we still trust Him? How about inferring that Islam is the one, true religion because God put the sign of the crescent right in our fingernails? This argument about laminin really falls apart if you apply it to other things.

The point I’m trying to make is that NONE of this stuff actually has anything to do with what we as Christians should be getting excited about: the gospel. We shouldn’t need anything extravagant or “miraculous” to make our jaws drop and cause us to say “How great is our God!” And when we run to this not-so-amazing stuff as “proof” that Christianity is valid, it really only ends up making us look foolish.

No, we need to stop running to cross imagery (hey, I think I see a cross in the burn marks on my toast!) and start understanding what the cross of the Bible is actually about. God reached down into history to save a rebellious, sinful people. We can have peace with God because of what Christ achieved on the actual cross in Jerusalem!

That’s worth getting excited about!