Friday, April 14, 2017

Making America Good Again: Why Did Jesus Die?

I have a confession to make.   I don't know why Jesus had to die.  I don't know why Jesus had to die the horrible way he did.

In seminary, we were taught what are called theories of Atonement to explain Christ's death on the cross.   All point to the same goal - the reconciling of sinful humanity with a Holy God.   The short-hand version of this is to say - At-One-Ment - making us one with God.  All the blood and pain leads to the forgiveness of the whole world's sins which is what makes this Friday "Good."  All the blood and pain paves the way for us to be filled with the Spirit of God.

Each theory tries to grasp some aspect of the the profound spiritual truth of what is going on on this Good Friday, but none quite reaches to the bottom of my soul.  None quite satisfies.

One atonement theory is that Jesus took the punishment for our sins to satisfy divine justice.  That is the primary "party line" in the United Methodist camp where I come from.  I believe it to be true, but surely there must be more?

Another atonement theory is that Jesus is the full and final sacrifice for our sins to satisfy God's anger at our disobedience.

Another atonement theory is the He paid the debt we owe God the Father for our disobedience.

In these three theories, Jesus exchanges His life for ours so that we appear blameless before God.

Another theory is that Jesus' death paid the ransom to Satan to whom we have sold our souls since the time of Adam.  Yes, I do believe Satan is real, that the spiritual world is populated with angels and demons that seek to influence us.  This is where the battles for our souls truly takes place.

Another theory is that Jesus was a righteous and moral teacher whose horrible and unjust death emphasized just how right and true is teaching was.  This one completely ignores that Jesus is the Son of God, but does include the importance of his teaching.

Another theory, perhaps one of the oldest,  is that through Jesus' death and resurrection Satan and his rule over the world was defeated.

Another theory, also very ancient, is that through Jesus' death and resurrection humanity is freed from our slavery to sin and death.  I really like this one too.

I'm sure there are more atonement theories, but these are the major ones.

Beyond the atonement theories, I also hear the questions of others for which I have no easy answers:  Would God the Father really kill God the Son?  Why did Jesus have to suffer so?  Surely God, being God, could find a better way.

There have been many times I have sat in an empty church and stared at the cross, asking God why?  Why this way?

And I came to know that I cannot fully know.

I can get glimpses of the depth of human sin - and my own - but I can't know the depth of how sin separates us from God.

I can get glimpses of a Heavenly Love that suffered and died to reconcile an imperfect person like me  (and you) with a Holy and Perfect God - but I can't know the depth of that love.

I was reminded of a passage from Isaiah 55:6-9:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,call upon him while he is near;let the wicked forsake their way,and the unrighteous their thoughts;let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.
I cannot know or understand the thoughts of God on that first Good Friday.  All I do know is that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died an unthinkable death; He did it for me, for you and for the whole world.  Jesus did it because Almighty God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit -  loves us and wants to satisfy the emptiness in our hearts that can only be filled with Him.

I am humbled.  I am grateful.  I am overcome.

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