Saturday, 24 February 2007

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

This was the title of a cover story in TIME magazine a few years ago. I was disappointed that neither the article nor any of the letters to the editor gave any satisfactory answers to the question.

"If God really is Love, how can he send people to hell? Surely God wouldn't condemn a good person, a truth-seeker, etc." This is the major recurring theme amongst arguments against the existence of God. The magical fairyland grandfather God we like to imagine certainly wouldn't do such a thing. There's only one problem with that soft-hearted, white-bearded God - on this, the question-askers will agree - he doesn't exist.

The God presented by the Bible is vastly different from our candyfloss version. There is a simple reason why he doesn't just hand out free tickets to heaven to everyone who has "some good in their heart": he can't.

What?!!! God unable to do something?! I can hear the gasps. The God of popular imagination can do anything - anything!
Ask yourself this: If God were really able to wave his magic wand and let you into heaven, scot-free, what kind of a sick-o pathetic God would he be to let his own son be killed for absolutely no reason? Or what kind of a God, when designing the rules of the universe, would say, "Okay, I could make this easy and just forgive everybody, but I'm going to make the rule that first, I have to kill my son and then everybody has to believe in him"...?

I'm going to be a little bit harsh here. Your God is a psycho. Lucky for us he doesn't exist.

Let me tell you about the God who is. He is logical. He is Love. But he is not magic. He can't, as you imagine, always get what he wants. He cannot be, even for a moment, what he is not.

"Wait a minute," I hear you saying. "Isn't God omipotent - all-powerful?"

Yes. He is. That means that his power is not limited by anything outside himself. But it is limited by who he is. To smug-grinned middleschoolers everywhere who ask, "Can God make a rock so big that he can't lift it?", the answer is, quite simply, "No. He can't." The fact is, reality limits everything. Being real limits God. In your dreams, he can do anything because he doesn't have to make sense. The God who is has to make sense.
The Bible says that God doesn't want anyone to go to hell. (2Peter 3:9) Then it goes on to tell about at least one man who has already gone there (Luke 16:23), and about many more who will.

Quite simply, God isn't getting what he wants. Why?

As human beings, we may take on traits and then supercede them. A person who is normally truthful may tell a lie to save someone they love from trouble. God is different. He is immutable, which means that he cannot change. (Hebrews 6:17) He can't be loving at the expense of being truthful. What he is he must be equally and absolutely. This is what makes him God. A person who tells a little lie may still be judged, overall, to be truthful. A God who tells a little lie must be judged by different standards - such a God would be weak, untrustworthy.

The Bible says it is impossible for God to lie. (Hebrews 6:18) As a child, I refused to believe this. I reconciled it this way: "If God wanted to, he could lie, but he doesn't want to. After all, can't God do anything?" I didn't know God. He can't lie.
Being holy, God can't ignore sin. Being God, he is in the position of having to enforce punishment for sin. Even when he doesn't want to, he has to, because of who he is. The truth is, it's not God who condemns you to hell. It's sin. God, being God, is the one who must enforce the universal laws.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Didn't he MAKE the universal laws?' That's what you wanted to say, wasn't it?

God didn't choose the laws of the universe the way we choose things. They came into being as a result of WHO GOD IS. God can't change himself, and he can't change the laws of the universe that result from who he is. He tells us what the laws are in relation to sin:
Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. (James 1:15)
Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. (Hebrews 9:22)

God became bound by these rules when he made human beings, because we are not like the rest of his creation. We are like God. (Genesis 1:27) We are like God because we are able to choose, and able to love. One necessitates the other. The ability to love makes us like God. The power of choice that allows us to love limits the God who is Love.

God tells us how he is limited in the book of Ezekiel. He sees the injustice and lies that have polluted the land of Israel (his chosen people, remember - he loves them dearly for Abraham's sake) and he knows that it is his responsibility to judge their sinfulness. He looks for a way out. So powerful is the choice he has given, that had even one made it against herself and for the God who is Love, she could have offered that choice to God as a way to satisfy his love and his justice. But no one did. "I looked in vain for anyone who would build again the wall of righteousness that guards the land, who could stand in the gap and defend you from my just attacks, but I found not one." (Ezekiel 22:30)

Think about it: our power to choose means that we have the power to oppose God. God gave us this power because it means that we are able to choose God, who is Love. We are able to love, as God loves. This is not a creature-power; it is a God-power. In us, God has re-created himself. But in giving us this kind of power, he has allowed us to affect the natural creation; each other; and himself. In allowing us to make choices, God has done something dangerous - he has allowed us to supercede what he wants for us. Why?
Because, with this power, we can also choose him, who is Love.
Love shares. Love gives. Love accepts hurt. Love is not afraid of danger.
That's what God did. That's what God is.
That's why Jesus had to die.

God, who is Love, created human beings who are like him, and able to choose love.
When the first humans, against God's warning, chose sin and allowed it to rule over all of humanity, God, who couldn't go against the laws of the universe and the laws of his character, had to punish sin.
But God, who is Love, became a human, and accepted his own punishment. As Jesus, he stood "in the gap" to accept the attacks that justice had to give.
The choice he gave is still ours. It is ours because we are made like God.

Just before Jesus was taken to be crucified, he prayed to God alone in the garden at Gethsemane. He prayed, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
He didn't want to accept God's punishment for sin. It was no easy thing, even for God. But because of Love, he became a human. He exerted his power of choice, and chose Love, against his own wants. That's what love is.

That's why Jesus had to die. He is God, who is Love.


Slapdash said...

***God didn't choose the laws of the universe the way we choose things. They came into being as a result of WHO GOD IS. God can't change himself, and he can't change the laws of the universe that result from who he is.***

Hi jennypo - I'm curious how you know this is true? Are there Scriptures that support this idea? It seems flatly contradictory to Luke 1:37: "For nothing is impossible with God."

jennypo said...

Must Luke 1:37 mean that God may alter on a whim? If so, then God may not be both all-powerful and immutable, and such a description is simply nonsense. The moment Truth alters itself, it becomes non-truth.

However, if the statement that nothing is impossible with God be understood in conjunction with Hebrews 6:18*, then it becomes meaningful. God (who cannot logically become non-God) has absolute power over all else.

*Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrew 6:17, 18)

God's unchanging nature is not something that weakens him or impedes on his power - rather, it makes his power firm and keeps him from being the kind of nonsense conundrum we end up with when we imagine a "superbeing" who creates a rock so big he can't lift it.

Luke says "there's nothing God is unable to do". Exodus 3:14 ("I am that I am") gives us an "and", not a "but": "and that's not gonna change".

If we just read what it says, all of it, instead of trying to read through the lens of human-directed theology, it's straightforward enough for a kid. No theology degree required.