Why did Jesus have to die? – a long journey: part 3


Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive?

Part three

Jesus had to die to show us the truth of where our version of life was heading, and what it was doing to ourselves, to one another and to God. God couldn’t ‘just forgive’ us because forgiveness requires an acknowledgement of the wrong and the damage that has been done to the victim. And here we see that God is the victim (Ps 51:4).

Jesus did not save us from an angry God; he came to save us from ourselves, and the systems of oppression that enslave us (the idols we created that have ended up owning us; economies, governments, cultures etc). He died to show us, not what God wanted to do to us, but what we had done to him. And from the cross, in the midst of his agony he calls out, ‘Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing

This is astounding love. God does this because he knows we must come face to face with our frailty, to know ourselves honestly and understand that God is still full of love for us in this state. He does not love who we might become, or who we could become. He does not love the fake self we project to the world because we are ashamed of the real thing. He loves the ‘me’ who crucified Jesus. He loves me as he lets himself be crucified, knowing his death alone might open my eyes to the truth, truth that will hurt like hell, but truth that will rescue me from hell and ultimately set me free.

Franciscan writer, Richard Rohr writes,
Quite simply, until someone dies, we don’t ask bigger questions. We don’t understand in a new way. We don’t break through. The only price that Jesus was paying was to the human soul, so that we could break through to a new kind of God. Most of religious history believed that humanity had to spill blood to get to God (human sacrifice or animal sacrifice), but after Jesus some were able to comprehend that actually God was “spilling blood” to get to us.

I don’t want to have caused Jesus to have gone to the cross. I wish it was because of some cosmic loophole that Jesus found so he could save us from Grumpy-god. But the truth, the truth that hurts and also heals, is that all of God is for me; that all of God purposed to submit to the world I helped create, to show me the truth and the damage, and then when my eyes were finally open, to speak forgiveness over the mess I had made. Any other forgiveness would have been worse than meaningless, for it would have given me permission to continue. That world needed to ground to a halt, and it did when God died on a cross, because of me and for me.

Graciously, God is showing me how his love can be expressed even in the midst of our violence. In order to protect myself I figured God must be the one with the issues; the angry, holy God lashing out at anyone who strayed within his reach. But the truth is that it’s me who needs help. The cross is my testimony. It is part of my story. It is part of my relationship with God. But as I face the absolute worst that I have done, I encounter the very best that God has done. In the moment I touch the darkness of my own soul, I feel the hand of Jesus taking hold of me, because he has joined me in facing my terrors and assures me they will not be the end of me. Just as they weren’t the end of him, even though they killed him first.

Because I have come to see the cross is part of my story, I have real hope that the rest of Jesus’ story might be mine also.

Philippians 3:10-11
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Somehow. God only knows how. Thank goodness.

  • ian pittendreigh

    Hi Malcolm – as always Easter and the cross is a hugely solemn time with the inevitable questions of ‘why’ and ‘couldn’t there be another way?’ Jesus explains his death as a sacrifice to take away our sin and a key element of that is to appease God’s wrath – Just because we don’t like God’s wrath (except when it applies to real baddies) is no reason to try and ignore it and put what may seem to be a more palatable spin on it. In the cross we see that mercy is stronger than judgement (but not justice) and God in His great love sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin and Jesus in His great love for us became that atoning sacrifice for us – That’s how God’s word presents it through for example John (the disciple of love) in 1Jn2 – So yes, Jesus does save us from an angry God – a justly angry God , if He wasn’t there would be no need for the cross at all. We can’t fully fathom it but finding an angry, holy God too hot to handle is a reflection on us not on Him. What this ought to do is get us to pay attention, realize our great need and respond to His good news which is in His Son, ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ and to get that message across to as many as we can. It’s the glorious gospel that Easter proclaims, yes God is for us and at a cost greater than we can ever know. We get what we don’t deserve and don’t get what we do deserve, it’s grace at a great price.
    Have a blessed Easter brother.

    March 29, 2013
    • Thanks for the thoughtful response Ian. Much of what you’ve said I agree with (the grace at great price bit for example). I also don’t mind the thought of God getting angry, real love demands it. I guess I’m just reacting against an unhealthy emphasis on the ‘sacrifice’ angle at the expense of all others. The Biblical picture of the cross seems much richer. I have found much to be challenged/unsettled by in these thoughts, so wouldn’t call it ‘more palatable’, not for me at least! I remember being lent a book years ago called, ‘The many sided cross’. I think there is much mystery in the cross, and if we leave it unexplored, our faith will be limited. I’m also happy to be wrong 😉 Again, thanks for engaging.

      April 2, 2013
  • ian pittendreigh

    Good afternoon Malcolm – I appreciate your reply and wholeheartedly agree that there is more than one meaning in the cross, more than one way what God has done for us can and should be understood. My response to the blog was motivated by the suggestion of what the cross isn’t as opposed to what the cross also teaches us. So I can see the cross as saving us from ourselves because God saves us from our sin (the just reward of sin being death). Something also missed at times is how the cross was a ‘scandal’ something Joel Green has awakened me to in his book – I guess my main concern is that we don’t negate one thing, especially when it is expressed clearly, to promote another. Rather we need to add to our understanding which can of course also add to our discomfort! I’ll look forward to a good conversation when we can make the time and your back in ‘The Bay’. God bless. Ian

    April 4, 2013

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