Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Part 1

It is Good Friday.  The day Jesus died on the cross.

For some, this day raises a significant question: Why did Jesus have to die? 

I remember when I was just starting my theological education and I visited my home congregation.  One of the confirmation students asked me during Sunday School, "Why did God have to pick such a lame way to save the world?"

I didn't have a good answer.  Thankfully, through time and education, things are much clearer for me, and I share with you so that you may share with others.

First, here are a few of my underlying assumptions: this world is broken.  I'm not sure I need to make much of a defense of this statement.  Unless you believe that it is perfectly O.K. that people die from hunger, that people suffer at the hands of others, that people are killed by tragic circumstances in nature and in human conduct, that in order for one entity to survive in this world some other entity has to die, and a host of other evidences, then you, like me, believe the world could be better, much better.

Second assumption: the world was not always broken.  My faith teaches that the world was created perfectly.  It was made to have no violence, no death, no animosity.  Everything lived in perfect harmony.

There was one little issue that had to be dealt with; however.  When God created humankind, God desired to be in a real relationship with us.  He didn't want us to be puppets on a string.  He didn't want us to be mindless, obedient fools.  If you truly want to be in relationship with someone, that means you freely choose that relationship.  It cannot be forced.

So, to solve this little dilemma, God gave one choice to humankind.  "Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  For on the day that you eat of it, you shall die."

The choice was plain, freely choose to live with God or eat and die.

Those who know the story now know a serpent enters the picture.  Some question, "Why did God put the serpent in there if He knew what the serpent would do?" 

Think once again of relationships.  Think that perhaps God gave creation the same choice He gave humankind except in a slightly different fashion.  Think that God desires to live in relationship with creation as well as humankind.  Now, perhaps you might think this is quite daft, but if you accept in the story that the serpent can talk, then you can certainly accept that God desired to live in relationship with creation--and relationship demands choice!

The serpent had obviously chosen its path.  It desired to be free from the relationship with God, but for some reason, it desired to bring about the downfall of all of creation, and it knew that to do so meant to bring down the pinnacle of God's creation: humankind.

And so, it offered temptation, "Eat of the fruit and you will be like God knowing good and evil."

Some question whether or not this is indeed a temptation.  After all, what is wrong with wanting to be like God?  As Christians, do we not even have the command to be imitators of God in the book of Ephesians? 

There are a few things that must be addressed:

1. There is a difference between imitation and independence.  One could assume that the temptation by the serpent was founded to tempt man and woman to imitation.  Man and woman so admired God that they wanted to be just like Him, and all they needed was a push to eat the fruit.  But why the need to be like God at this point?  Why the need for discernment for good and evil?  Since the world was created perfectly; in harmony; evil did not exist.  The only choice was to be with God or break God's rule.  Thus, the conclusion is that the temptation is not one of flattery but one of disobedience--disobedience and the desire to be independent of God.

2. The second thing that must be addressed is the matter of hubris.  The serpent was tempting man and woman with the idea they could be "like God knowing the difference between good and evil."  The assumption is that the human mind, even with its limits could somehow garner enough perspective to see as God sees.  Somehow, we could see the long term consequences of our choices and see whether or not those consequences were good and evil.  The temptation to be like God was the temptation to think that we could indeed do such a thing.  It is the pinnacle of arrogance.  Without a doubt, it has been shown that humanity is incapable of seeing the long-term consequences of its actions.  As individuals, we know this to be true.  There are times when we do something that we think is very bad, but as time passes, we see that the event actually brought quite a bit of good.  And, of course, we know the adage "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."  Many times, we set out to do good, and for a time things seem well, but then, indeed, all hell breaks loose.  We are simply incapable of seeing good and evil from God's perspective. 

It is more than obvious that humankind's selfish desire to be independent and like God--in quite a negative way--led to the fall of creation.  Such selfishness has not departed from our species.  It is quite evident.  If one spends any time with a baby, one will see quickly that selfishness is something we are born into. 

We are fallen. 

We have sinned and continue to sin against God through our selfish-disobedience.  It is more than the things we do--it is who we ARE!  It is bred into our very being.

This leads us to ask, "How can we be restored?"

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