Theology is Everywhere

A hospital is not a strange place to find theology.  Where men are suffering and dying is a good place to find theology.  What is remarkable to me is that the theology of the theologians is expressed so clearly.

I was at a hospital owned and operated by the 7th Day Adventists.  I didn’t know this when I went in.  I saw on the surgery floor a nurse’s computer displaying a page “Bread of Life Café.”  I thought this strange, but reasoned it might be a personal site.  When I walked into the waiting room there was Christian art, so I knew this was no ordinary hospital.  Then the hospital chaplain came up to me and the whole cat came out of the bag.  After talking to him, I further explored the art and literature.  It was all about natural healing, wholistic living, the mind body connection.  This is as it should be at a 7th Day Adventist hospital.

In a local Catholic hospital I noticed how every pre and post surgery room has what sometimes is called a Christus Victor crucifix.  This is a cross with the corpus on it, but the corpus is attached only at the back and the arms are upraised in triumph.  This is Christ the victor over our sins, Death, and the power of the Devil.  Not a bad image to go into or come out of surgery with.  (This is to be distinguished from the Jansenist crucifix which has the arms of Christ pointing straight up because as a Catholic influenced by Calvinism Bishop Jansen (1585-1638) didn’t see an open-armed Savior welcoming all.)

In some ICU rooms of that same Catholic hospital it’s different.  Before the patient’s eyes, on the wall directly opposite him, is the crucifix.  No Christus Victor here to confront the suffering perhaps dying man.  No, here is Jesus crucified for sins and sinners.  Here is Jesus suffering for your sins, ergo, your suffering can’t be for those sins.  Here is Jesus abandoned by His Father who chose you over Him.  Here is Jesus at one with the suffer.

What do we find at Lutheran hospitals?  It’s been years since I’ve been in one, so I don’t know.  I do know what is found in many Lutheran Churches.  More bare crosses than crucifixes.  Walther in 1885 said the crucifix was on the altars of our churches, and while a person was free to have one or not, we would not permit it to be called a sin to have one (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 167).

It’s amazing how bare cross have replaced crucifixes in our churches.  This is the influence of Protestantism which is funny because they started out not even liking bare crosses.  Their objection to crucifixes is usually because it’s an image or because it’s focusing on the wrong point.  I can’t remember where I read this story, but a woman accosts another woman for wearing a crucifix saying, “Would you wear around your neck the bullet that killed your son?”  To which the other woman replied, “I sure would if he rose from the dead.”

This is good theology for a church that claims to preach Christ and Him crucified (not risen) ( I Cor. 2:2) and proclaims His death (not life) as often as we eat His Body and drink His Blood (I Cor. 11: 26).  We focus and embrace His death that His life might be manifested in us.

Theology is everywhere, but on our altars, in our churches, and in our liturgy it ought to at least be as clear as it is in the hospitals of 7th Day Adventists and Roman Catholics.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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