Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 2 (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1996)
Vanhoozer, Kevin The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, Westminister John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2005
  Lewis, C. S. Till We Heave Faces: A Myth Retold, Harvest Books, Orlando, 1956

What is it that causes this man to recognize Jesus? What knowledge is stirred within and about himself to cause this awakening? Jesus’ own self identification as godforsaken is the piercing realization that causes the centurion to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, as God for him, not simply an insurrectionist or a miracle worker or another phenomenon not yet explained by science, but God himself. This recognition of Jesus’ divinity occurs in the soul of this man because he recognizes in himself his own god-forsakenness.
The knowledge of our separation from God is not a cognitive knowledge, one that we understand in a linear propositional way, but a deep inner knowledge we carry in our heart and feel in our gut. It is an existential knowledge of our exile from God and God’s relational separation from us. It is this knowledge that is accessed within the centurion when he hears Jesus’ cry of forsakenness and exile from God. It is in our sufferings that we recognize our god-forsakenness, and it is in God’s own forsakenness that we can recognize the divine.
The cross is the place where God fulfills his promise to not abandon his children. The promise that “I will be their God, and they will be my people, and I will dwell in their midst” (Ex. 29:45). The cross is the climactic place where God returns to his people, breaking through the barrier that separates them. His people return from exile and are welcomed home having their sins forgiven. And God destroys the enemies of his people, crushing their power and exposing their deception (Wright, 1996).
Therefore, shame which is the barrier that separates the family of humanity from their heavenly father is the same barrier that separated Adam from God. Shame resulting in relational death between God, self and others is the curtain of separation that is torn in two at God’s own death. The evil confronted at the cross is not the evil “out there” but the evil of our own heart. The enemies of God and his people are not primarily powers from outside of us but ones from within us: the shame which we have internalized within ourselves and forced upon others. This is what God confronted and crushed as he, himself, was crushed. Furthermore, humanity who have been exiled from home and family are brought back to a new home, which is a reciprocal loving of God and others. In the dawning of the new heavens and new earth, God conquers the power of death and is raised to life, forgiving our sins, loving us unrelentingly, and inviting us to receive ourselves as fully loved by him.
“The drama of redemption is thus a great twofold odyssey, in which humanity, along with the rest of creation, loses its way and finds its way home only because God leaves home in order to bring everyone back” (Vanhoozer, 2005). This “Being who can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything ” is none other than God himself, leaving home in pursuit of his sons and daughters in order to bring them back home. It is not in God’s exaltation and glory that we recognize his true essence, but in his brokenness and sacrifice the eyes of our heart see and recognize that the exiled God is my God. Consequently, the cross is both the place where we recognize God and the place where God crushes the power of our shame.
Alyosha’s invitation is an invitation to the cross, to the place of God’s own god-forsakenness, and there to receive God’s love by being broken, allowing his shame and pride to be crucified. Alyosha recognizes that it is not the innumerable sufferings of the innocent that keep Ivan from accepting himself as loved by God, and from giving love to others. He sees beyond the surface of Ivan’s doubts into the depths of his pride and shame, and in his kiss he invites him to respond.
Christians are an incredibly resilient species. For despite their unsatisfactory arguments with which they seek to reconcile God’s power and goodness with humanities misery, they will not renounce their God in the face of suffering. Faith seeking understanding is the banner of the Christian life, because there is no answer for the question “why suffering?” Only “you, [God], yourself are the answer, before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words” (Lewis, 1956). Christians must speak of the problem of evil and articulate with detail, the complexities of the cross. But Alyosha’s wisdom is demonstrated in the tenderness of his kiss, whereby he invites his bother into the drama of redemption instead of only describing redemption to him.
It is at God’s own death that we experience the depths of our own god-forsakenness but also the weight of our own glory. “Glory” is a powerful word that points to something within us and within one another that cannot be defined, only experienced, as “brightness” (doxa) and “heaviness” (kavod) must be experienced in order to understand their essence.
When we are subjected to the pain of our existential exile and experience the weight of our glory what will we find? And when we recognize God, what will he be like? Receiving God as love personified requires little but an acceptance of an idea, but to accept oneself as broken and loved involves the sacrifice of shame and the uncovering of pride. Alyosha is not just inviting Ivan to receive God as love, but to receive himself as loved by God.
How does it all end? For Ivan and Alyosha, the kiss is the end of the conversation and the two go their separate ways. The book ends with Ivan sick with a high fever and his faithful brother, Alyosha, by his side. Where will this end for us? Will the kiss be for us as it was for the grand inquisitor, “[it] glows in his heart, but the old man holds to his idea”? Or will we come to God as he has come to us, in weakness and brokenness. And in our weakness and brokenness, risk everything that we in our shame seek to obtain and hang onto by living a lie. In releasing our shame, we allow it to be nailed to the cross and we are then able to receive the deep forgiveness, saturating love and true identity that our heavenly father gives to us as his sons and daughters.
Alyosha’s kiss is a kiss inviting Ivan to receive and reciprocate love. And it is also the kiss of the heavenly father for his son, a kiss for a prodigal, long gone, to return from exile. The action is an invitation into new realities, true realities. It is an invitation to enter into a feast of love with a family who give and receive love freely and without shame. This invitation stands between illusion and reality for us also. Will we accept this father’s love and ourselves as utterly loved by him or will we depart back into the cold, damp night of exile, stubbornly clinging to our shame? Will we press into the loneliness, anger and sadness and allow our god-forsakenness to be written into God’s own forsakenness and at God’s own death allow our shame to be destroyed and journey through to the other side of death, into glory, into life and into the loving embrace of a father and a kiss that welcomes us home, out of exile? 

Ivan and Alyosha both give each other an ultimatum. Ivan challenges Alyosha to decide whether God’s choice is one he would alter. Alyosha’s ultimatum comes as a kiss, which is both a challenge and invitation to Ivan. It’s not that Ivan’s argument is irrelevant to Alyosha; rather his kiss profoundly validates the truth in Ivan’s argument. But it also challenges Ivan’s prideful use of his argument as a concealment with which to hide himself. Alyosha’s kiss is thus a challenging of Ivan’s shame and an invitation for Ivan to receive himself as loved and to reciprocate that love.
Alyosha’s kiss penetrates to the shame that is hiding itself beneath the protection of Ivan’s self-vindicating argument. The kiss, thus, exposes shame as the poisonous lie that separates Ivan from giving and receiving love. Alyosha confronts this shame with gentleness and beauty. The intended effect of the kiss is not a confession of deep, dark secrets, but the removal of what constricts Ivan from living in love. Love cannot survive while shame poisons it into greed.
Love is the relational director that gives all human emotions (mad, sad, glad, and afraid, along with their many cousins) a song which they sing while standing transparently before their heavenly father and leaning into the family of humanity. Anger, while living under love’s rule, will protect and defend what is beautiful and true in God, ourselves and others. Sadness will grieve with others and allow others to grieve with us as loss is experienced. Gladness will rejoice will others and receive happiness given to us by others through the joys experienced in this life. Fear will have its focus on God and will draw near to him with humility and hope.
Shame is the venom which we all internalize and that decays everything in our soul. We conceal it more delicately than our most precious treasures. We hide it beneath layers of fear, defenses which cage us within and drive us further into existential exile. Under its tyranny all the human emotions become sick. The gift of our human emotions which were intended to be the hand of the soul through which we reach out and grasp one another have become fists with which we strike and the instruments we use to keep others at arm’s length. Anger becomes self-protection, sadness becomes depression, gladness becomes gluttony, and fear becomes trepidation of others. This inhuman isolation removes us from our home with the family of humanity, our heavenly Father, and our own union of heart, soul, mind and strength. It removes us into lives abandoned within ourselves, exiled from giving and receiving love.
An existential exile is a separation that is not physical or geographic but an inner exile from love, an exile of captivity to shame. Shame is the internalization of sin, committed by us and against us, which affects our relationships with God, others, and ourselves. Shame is always relationally impacted and impactful. It is the twisting, contorting tormenter that believes the lies fed to us by those who shamed us and that turns all our upright love for our heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters into inward-bent, others-shaming, self-love. Shame is always active, never passive. It is not a dormant scar that marks our souls but toxic venom that runs through our veins. Shame always has a story attached. It does not enter our lives theoretically but episodically, in the profoundly impactful events of our everyday lives.
Lastly, shame must always hide itself as anything other than what it really is. Pride and shame are always bed fellows. Eyes and mirrors demonstrate this in all of us. Whenever our reflection is present we can’t help but look at it. However, in our reflection we find all the things we dislike about ourselves. We will spend hours looking at our own reflection, but to look into another person’s eyes for an extended amount of time quickly becomes uncomfortable. Pride keeps us isolated, protecting our precious shame, afraid that someone may discover it and, all the while, being poisoned by its toxicity. Therefore, pride is always the covering with which shame masks itself, and it is behind this mask that we cut ourselves off from giving and receiving love from others and from God. Life in shame is life in exile.
Exile fundamentally involves the removal from one’s home. There is something so inhuman about isolation. It is in our most existentially lonely moments the soul cries, “who will love me?” In these moments we best recognize our own inhumanity and another cry escapes our souls, “who could love me.” Existential exile defines all of us; it is pain and suffering that brings it out of our souls and into our lives. The passage out of exile is not one of escaping from it, but a journeying through it back to our home, family, and selves on the other side.
The knowledge of God, others and ourselves are all entwined together. What knowledge about ourselves must be awakened in order for us to recognize the divine when we encounter God? When we recognize him and return to him, what about ourselves will return from our existential and relational exile? What about God would awaken that knowledge within us? And how is it that this Being who “can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything” is the one who would awaken this knowledge?
In the beginning God instructed his son, Adam, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and this instruction was given with the warning of death. As the story unfolds, Adam eats of the fruit of this tree, but he does not physically die, as we would naturally expect from the strong pronouncement of God. But something does happen immediately after the internalizing of this fruit. Adam instantly knows shame over his nakedness and as a result he is afraid and covers himself with fig leaves. When God enters the garden, he calls out to Adam with two questions “Where are you?” and “Who told you that you were naked?” These questions show the resulting isolation and separation God’s prohibition foretold. Adam, not in a physical way, but possibly in an even more real way, died.
Death is separation. Physical death is the final separation of body and spirit. The reason God asks “where are you?” is because Adam is separated from him, he is no longer in union and communion with his heavenly Father through the Spirit of God. When God asks, “Who told you that you were naked?” The answer is – no one. Adam always knew he was naked, but this nakedness and transparency became shameful and something that needed to be hidden upon the internalization of the fruit.  Shame is now separating Adam from life with God, others and himself. The final result of this separation and death is an existence of covering and exile.
But God does not leave his children without a promise. A promise in which God swears, “I will not leave you in exile, I will come for you.” The whole Old Testament can be seen as the echoing of this promise. Humanity is now orphaned from their heavenly father, with the buried knowledge of their exile and a lie planted within their hearts: “no one’s coming for me.”
Mark, the evangelist, carefully recounts the history of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection emphasizing that throughout Jesus’ entire life and ministry no one recognized his true identity (Bauckham, 2008). Three times in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is declared to be “the Son of God.” The first occurrence is at his baptism, here as Jesus enters the waters, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and the divine voice sounds from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
The second occurrence is at Jesus’ transfiguration. Here Jesus is transformed from his humble state to a state of glory and again we hear the divine voice announcing, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7) But still throughout Mark’s gospel no one recognizes him, despite the divine pronouncement of his true identity.
There are only whispers and questions asked about Jesus’ identity thus far: “Who is this that even the wind and the storms obey him.” (Mark 4:41) “What is this? He commands the unclean spirits and even they obey!” (Mark 1:27) “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God!?” (Mark 2:7)
The last occurrence is on the cross, as Jesus cries the cry of the godforsaken, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And here, at last, as Jesus cries out in his god-forsakenness, someone finally recognizes him. “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely, this man was the Son of God!'” (Mark 15:39)

If actions speak words then what words would they speak? What are the realities to which they point? What deep-seated knowledge do they awaken? And what response do they invite? In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, we meet two brothers Ivan and Alyosha, the son of Fyodor Karamazov. Their mother died when they were both young and Fyodor, their father, a drunk and a fornicator, handed over Ivan and Alyosha along with their elder brother Dmitri to be raised by various relatives.
Ivan and Alyosha have come of age. Ivan is a strong atheistic intellectual and Alyosha is a novice under Father Zossima in a monastery of the Eastern Church. They were separated when Alyosha was eight, and Ivan, Alyosha’s elder, confesses how much he loved him when they were young, and how sad it is that they hardly know one another. They meet for dinner and Ivan challenges Alyosha to ask him whatever he would like. Alyosha asks questioningly, “You declared yesterday that there was no God.” Ivan laughs and replies, “I accept God and am glad to, and what’s more, I accept His wisdom…I believe in the underlying order and the meaning of life; I believe in the eternal harmony in which they say we shall one day be blended…Yet would you believe it, in the final result I don’t accept this world of God’s, and, although I know it exists, I don’t accept it at all. It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and can’t accept.”
Alyosha queries more closely, and Ivan elaborates saying, “I must make one confession…I could never understand how one can love one’s neighbors. It’s just one’s neighbors…that one can’t love, though one might love those at a distance. For anyone to love a man, he must be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.”
Ivan struggles with the world that God has made, his own inability to love his neighbors, and the pervasive suffering that exists. He says, “There is suffering… degrading, humiliating suffering such as humbles me.” It is not suffering altogether that causes Ivan to reject the world God has made, rather it is the suffering of children, for “(adults) have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all!” Children alone are the focus of his objection, for “children can be loved even at close quarters, even when they are dirty, even when they are ugly.” Ivan tortures Alyosha with story upon story of the brutalities inflicted upon children who ought not to suffer for they have had no time to sin, which is the root cause of all suffering.
The two climactic stories have to do with a young girl and a young boy. Ivan retells an account of a five year old girl who is tortured by her mother and father who would beat her “until her whole body was one bruise.” Ivan describes how it was the girl’s defenselessness that tempted them, “[It is] the angelic confidence of the child who has no refuge and no appeal that sets [their] vile blood on fire.” Finally, the parents “shut her up all night in the cold and frost in their outhouse…they smeared her face and mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this.” And all night, her parents heard her beat her tiny fists and cry out to “dear, kind God” only to find her dead from the cold in the morning.
Ivan challenges Alyosha to explain why this cruelty is allowed to be part of God’s world. Ivan says, “Without [suffering], I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil…Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God.” He then offers to relent due to Alyosha’s obvious discomfort. Alyosha makes no attempt to justify these children’s suffering; he only says, “Nevermind. I want to suffer too.”
Ivan tells one more story of the murder of a young boy who a nobleman takes from his mother in the middle of the night. In the morning he has the boy stripped naked and commands the boy to run like wild game before his hunting dogs, which catch the boy and rip him apart before the mother’s eyes. Ivan emphasizes that the monstrosity of this murder is not only that it is of a little boy but that it is done intentionally before the boy’s mother. It is this aspect of the boy’s cruel murder that makes the suffering forced upon him greater than the cruelties that beasts alone can inflict. Ivan again challenges Alyosha again, saying, “What [does the nobleman] deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!” Alyosha responds simply, “To be shot.”
Ivan agrees, “I must have justice, or I will destroy myself.” But he continues with his deeper inner longing for harmony and forgiveness, “I want to see with my own eyes…the victim rise up and embrace his murderer…I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for.” Yet he reels at immeasurable cost of this harmony, “Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it…why should they pay for the harmony?” He continues that excluding the oppressors from the harmony by sending them to hell is an unsatisfactory solution, “What do I care for hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured…I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the suffering of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest, that the truth is not worth such a price. I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the suffering of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him!”
Ivan, now having completed his argument, concludes that though he believes that God has a great plan of forgiveness and restoration in which at the end when all see it, all will bow their knees and cry aloud “Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.” Yet, while he still has time, he is resolved to “renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God!'”
Alyosha responds to his brother’s rejection of God by quietly saying, “That is rebellion.” Ivan answers with the following ultimatum: “Imagine you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it is essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature…to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?” Alyosha quietly says, “No, I would not consent…But there is a Being and he can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!'”
Ivan scoffing replies “No, I have not forgotten Him; on the contrary I’ve been wondering all the time how it was you did not bring Him in before.” He then recites a prosaic poem he has written about Jesus, entitled “The Grand Inquisitor.” In this poem Jesus returns during the height of the Spanish Inquisition. And while he is initially received with love and praise by the common people, the grand inquisitor has him arrested and imprisoned. That night the inquisitor visits Jesus and asks, “Why have you come?” Jesus gives no answer. The inquisitor then explains to Jesus that the church no longer needs him, because although he refused the three offers of the “great and wise spirit” the church has taken Satan up on his offer, they have bowed down and accepted all the kingdoms of the earth. So while the church pretends to be the servants of Christ, they are, in fact, the followers of Satan.
After the grand inquisitor finishes his monologue, Jesus still offers him no reply. Instead, he humbly and gently leans in and kisses the grand inquisitor on his dry, withered lips. That is his only answer. The grand inquisitor shudders, goes to the door and frees Jesus, telling him never to return. Ivan’s monologue now finished; Alyosha simply answers by kissing his brother on his lips.
What is the meaning of this intimate action? What effect does it intend? Alyosha’s kiss is not an accepting acquiescence to Ivan’s rejection of God. Nor is it a criticizing condemnation that tries to get his brother to confess rebellion. Alyosha’s kiss is a compassionate and challenging action, overflowing with speech. This communicative action points to mysterious realities, hidden within Ivan, humanity, and God himself. The kiss awakens these deep-seated realities, and invites Ivan to respond.