When I was in seminary I was teaching through Matthew’s Gospel at my church. My dear wife Angela, who was pregnant at the time, sat in the front listening to my lesson. In one of my classes I had been introduced to a concept which theologians call the “upsilon vector.” Simply put, the vector traces the trajectory of Jesus’ life in terms of his descent into apparent defeat (dying on the cross) before ascending three days later in consummate victory (in the resurrection).
The upsilon vector is a wonderful theological truth, and I preached it with great zeal. However, at one point I looked at Angela’s robust belly and had a question cross my mind, “What if this child introduces suffering into my life? Will I apply the truth I am now proclaiming?” I swallowed hard and kept on teaching.
Two months later our first child was born. It was a boy. After being circumcised his site continued to bleed. It was shortly thereafter we learned of his condition called severe hemophilia. You can imagine what I thought of first—the upsilon vector. Now was my opportunity to apply it. It immediately became apparent, however, that the manner in which one descends into brokenness is not with confidence and strength. It’s with many tears, sleepless nights, and even depression. In Jesus’ words, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mt 26:38).
Some Christians would respond saying that God doesn’t want us to have sickness and disease. We must claim healing which is what God desires for us. I wish this were so, especially when I struggle to stick an intravenous needle into my son’s tiny veins. But alas, it’s not. The health-and-wealth gospel is fundamentally flawed because it fails to understand the cross of Jesus. It fails to recognize that the cross was not only an instrument of torture on which God’s Son died, but it’s also the pattern to which our lives must be conformed. Again, I quote from John Stott:
Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is here, at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size.
It is painful, but we need more of this understanding of our Lord’s life working its way into ours. May He be gracious and give us what we need to be made complete in Him.