Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Did Jesus Die?

The last couple of posts have dealt with the death of Jesus, specifically the theory of Penal Substitutionally Atonement held by many in western Christianity. The conversation stemmed from the comment, "But I thought God was a good guy", my 4 year old daughter made while reading about the cross in her children's bible book.

I discussed briefly how I do not hold to PSA theory, that God, in order to forgive us, needed to take his wrath out on someone else... Specifically his own son. After all, Jesus forgives people of their sins before he ever dies on the cross.

So what do I think about the death of Jesus?

I think I need to begin by confessing that the "incarnation", that Jesus was somehow God in flesh, means a lot to me and affects much of what I believe about God and how I interpret scripture.

One of Jesus' disciples had asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus' response,

"...anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."

This statement speaks volumes to me. Ive heard someone put it like this, "It's not so much that Jesus is like God, but that God is like Jesus".

In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.

So I read scripture and try to see the world through this understanding, that God is like Jesus. So for instance, when I read stories in the Hebrew Scriptures of God demanding the deaths of innocent children and women (and everything else that moves) or floods the entire earth wiping out everything that exists, flags are raised because that looks nothing like Jesus.

So what does this have to do with the cross?

As I have insisted before, Jesus was non-violent. He taught non-violence, he lived a non-violent life, and he would have rather died than to have killed. You can in no way ever justify violence through Jesus because violence is evil. After all, Violence is a big part of the sin God is saving us from, read the first few chapters of Genesis.

That's why Jesus claimed that he came to show us a better way to live, and then would teach things such as "turn the other cheek", "do not repay evil with evil", and "pray for and do good to those who hate and persecution you".

I believe Jesus' ultimate example of what he taught was indeed the cross. Jesus chose to die rather than resort to the tactics and methods of the empire/world. It was Jesus who told Peter to put his sword down rather than violently act in defense of him.

God could not resort to violence in order to save us, but instead God saves us by way of the cross by showing us what we are to be. God becomes our example of how we are to live by exposing sin and violence and showing us that there is a better way. A better way than what the world offers. A way that looks foolish and weak to most people.

Also, the cross shows us that God is there with us. For that is what incarnation is about. God is not seperated from this world or its suffering as we sometimes suggest. Instead, God is present in the suffering. The climax of Gods humanity comes when Jesus is suffering and dying BECAUSE of our sin. In other words, I believe God has "been there". God rejoices with us, cries with us, grieves with us, and even suffers with us. In scripture, we see God weep, fellowship, die, and even repent. God feels and experiences what we do. Whatever you and I are going through God has/is experiencing it as well.

Because of what Jesus did on the cross (not to mention what he did three days later), we no longer need to respond to our enemies with violence and revenge, for we have been saved from that (so to speak). Instead, we can now confidently respond in love and say things like "Father, forgive them...". This is part of the Good News Jesus proclaimed, that there is a better way. A way that brings life and life more abundant.

Note that this is merely a little glimpse of where I am right now. I believe that the cross is full of mystery, and I am OK with living in the tension of that mystery. I don't think we do it justice when we isolate certain verses and metaphors given throughout scripture, and with them, formulate absolute statements and doctrines that other must follow or else. I believe Jesus (his life,death, and resurrection) is bigger than all that.

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