Sunday, January 22, 2006
Why He did it
My son Isaac asked me last night: “Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t He have just found another way to make things work out?”
He was implying that since Jesus is God, He could do anything He wants. Why did He have to suffer?
First, it is inaccurate to say that God can do anything. He can’t.
When we say that God can do anything, there is a hidden assumption. What we mean is God can do anything that is intrinsically part of who He is. He cannot do anything that is self-contradictory.
God cannot sin.
God cannot deceive.
God cannot do anything that is not within His character.
A silly comedian posed this silly question: “Can God create a rock so big He can’t move it?” First, rocks can only get so large before they can no longer be called rocks. At some point they become worlds, or stars, or black holes. (A world has mass enough to pull itself into a sphere. A sun has enough mass for a fusion reaction. A black hole is massive enough that light cannot escape its gravity.) The rational answer to the silly question is “Yes, no, and haven't you something better to do?"
He can create anything, and "movement" is only movement in relation to other objects, and everything is in motion. God can move the universe. Is that big enough for you?”
God has qualities that are constant, true, and reliable. He cannot be other than who He is. He can love. He can forgive. He can create anything that fits within the laws that He maintains.
A man once asked God who He is. The amazingingly poetic, unbelievably intense, incredibly powerful answer was “I am.”
So... could He have rescued us from ourselves without suffering?
I told Isaac that God is love. He is a being of purity and community. He has always existed in ways we cannot understand. He was real, He was here, He was loving and thinking and creating, before anything of this universe existed. He was a community of three. He was/is/will-always-be the tangible, conscious expression of love so pure that the entire universe, all of of the particles of creation, are a mere exhalation of His living Word, His breath, His love.
And in that trinity of purity, of completeness more complete than humans can experience, He felt such love and joy and holiness, He could not help but create other beings to share that love, that joy, that holiness. He created us.
I told Isaac He created us to experience His love. And to keep everything fair, He gave us the choice of loving Him back or loving ourselves. We have the choice in opening up ourselves to momentary fragments of that purity of the triune God, or do what we want. Without the opportunity for choice we would be automatons. Love means that we consider the other first. So God had to give us a choice, and that means He had to find a way to connect with us that kept that choice intact.
And the first man, the first woman, thought it over, and chose selfishness. They decided it may be interesting, or good, or whatever, to focus on something besides God
At that moment we, humanity, pulled away from God. And since that moment, since that instant of selfishness and self-centeredness, God has been looking for ways to open our hearts to the joy, and love, and holiness for which He created us.
Not an easy thing, for we are born beings of ultimate selfishness. We are born as creatures which demand the universe recognize us as the center of all things. We demand to be loved, and fed, and changed, and played with. We gradually learn to share, and to play beside, and to play together, and to love. It is a long process of maturity that is never quite complete.
I told Isaac that since that first act of selfishness human beings have known an intense sadness. It wells up from deep within us, a void, an emptiness that cannot be filled by the selfishness we lavish on ourselves.
I told Isaac that from that moment we have all felt sorrow for ourselves, and sorrow for what we have done, a sorrow for who we are. Our consciences, the part of us that tells us when we do things that are wrong, tells us we are not good, we are misshapen, tells us that something is missing. And so, a long time ago, men started to say they are sorry to God by giving him things that are special.
We began giving the best of our possessions, gold, the first offspring of our animals, the first of our crops. We began killing things that were important, even each other. Every place where people began to build a civilization on this little world, they tried to appease their consciences, and their gods, with human sacrifices.
So God worked to fix what was broken.
He guided a people, a special group of people, a family actually, onto a path where we could work our way to a point where He could do something to show us the way back to Him.
He protected, and guided, and taught, and punished a people, the Israelites, until they had a set of ideas that helped them to see their sins in a clear way. They needed to see how they can not help but fail in their rules and laws. And when they had gotten the rituals and rules and laws down to a science that proved their inability to follow even ten simple rules, He stepped into the world.
He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." --Mark 7:6-8
I told Isaac that God, Jesus, came into the world to show us how to live a perfect life. Then He let us do to Him what we had been doing all along to animals, and crops, and even people. He let us sacrifice Him. He went quietly, like one of the meek lambs that had been laid on altars for centuries, and we slaughtered Him. We practiced deicide. We killed God.
He let us hurt Him. He let us spit on Him, and call Him names, and torture Him, and put nails through his body, and kill Him.
I told Isaac Jesus could have stopped it at any time. He is the Living Word, He holds the universe together; He could have made it stop at any time. And He was a real man. He really hurt. He really suffered. And even without the power of being God incarnnate He could have stopped them. He could have told the authorities what they wanted to hear and they would have stopped hurting Him.
I told Isaac that we have to remember that Jesus had to do this. We must remember that He is God. That He is, at the deepest core of who He is, love. He had to show us that He loved us with a love that moves beyond what we can understand.
I told my son that it is an amazing story, this sacrifice that Jesus gave to the world. But if it had ended there it would not have been enough for us to follow Him. There was one final thing He did.
I told Isaac that three days after the creatures He created and loved had nailed him to a piece of wood and buried Him behind a big rock, He proved who He was by stepping out of that tomb. He walked among His friends and followers. He ate food. He showed us He was a real, physical person who could touch things, and people. He showed He had could do anything, including coming back from the dead.
Then I told Isaac the most important part of the story. I told him that we can never truly love God the way He deserves. I told him that we are by nature selfish creatures who can’t stop thinking about ourselves and what we want. But God is willing to make a small concession to our nature. He is willing to accept us into His family, to love us forever, if we will just accept what Jesus did. He knows we will continue to make mistakes. But He also knows that if we will just take that act of sacrifice as our own, and try to draw as close as we can to that heart that loves us so much, He is willing to let us into His kingdom and be close to Him forever, in a place where we will be freed from the weaknesses that we have in this world.
God cannot take us back to a relationship with Him as long as we have desires that pull us away. To take away the desires would be to take away our freedom to choose to love. To force us to love would be unloving. We have to choose.
Jesus had to come and suffer and die. It was the only way He could lead us home.