How Is the Cross Necessary? [Questions That Haunt]

The question this week comes from Elise, and it’s puts an even finer point on our Lenten #progGOD Challenge (there are already some great responses). When you read her question, you’ll hear traces of Calvinism in what she’s been taught, so I hope that some Calvinists will chime in. Implicit in her question are all sorts of other questions about the nature of God and the nature of justice. Here’s what Elise asks:

I have had an ongoing relationship with Christianity in which I alternately really get it or really don’t. I really dug into this the last time I fell away, and the biggest issue I have is with the Cross (the very thing most Christian’s find so empowering).

That’s not to say I have a problem with Jesus sacrificing Himself on the Cross; I understand the mercy, the sacrifice, the love that is inherent in that gesture, and that part I think is awesome. The issue that I have is that it was required in the first place. How could a loving God heap death and/or eternal damnation on his children for their sins and call it justice? Why did Jesus have to step up in the first place?

I have heard the argument of unknowable justice, but I don’t think a majority of us would think eternal damnation is a reasonable response to a mistaken belief or a wrong action. Sure, punishment is necessary sometimes, but I much more understand the Catholic idea of Purgatory (adjusted slightly); it seems just that a loving God would purge us of our sinful nature, and this might not be the most pleasant experience, but after that’s purged out of us, then we can go to heaven. It makes sense that this period of purgation would be longer for an unrepentant sinner than for a good person who is a non-believer or for a repentant believer, but not that it would be eternal.

Also, currently only about 33% (estimated from various sources, I can site if need be) of the world is Christian, so the other 67% seem pretty out of luck on this if only believers get to Heaven; and that doesn’t seem just either. To reference Rob Bell, I find it unlikely Ghandi is in Hell. Assuming God knew Jesus would sacrifice and fix the problem, it still seems wrongs. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say “the ends justify the means” on this one. I’m sorry that was long, but it really all blends into one complete question for me: How is the Cross’s necessity combined with the fact that only about 1/3 of the world’s population identifies as Christian/Believer a demonstration of the justice of a Loving God?

Here’s the drill: you respond to Elise below, and I’ll reply on Friday. See all of the questions in the series here.

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  • God created human’s in God’s image. As such, humans have the innate capacity to be in unity with God. However, humans are born into a state of separation from God. For all of creation, humans have tried, through their own will, to restore their lost connection with God. However, those efforts were always futile; the connection with God was never achieved through human effort.

    To restore God’s lost connection with humans, a part of God chose to enter the life of humans in the person of Jesus. In doing this, God finally made the ultimate effort to restore humans to God. That connection, or “salvation”, has been possible, because of Jesus, ever since.

    To restore connection between people and God, in order for Jesus to be both fully God and fully human, it was necessary for Jesus to experience not only the life of the flesh, but also the death of the flesh. That is what the cross if for, so that God may experience death. Because of the cross, the we are re-connected with God.

    This salvation is for all people, not just for the 1/3 of the planet that calls themselves “Christian”.

    • Chris; You leave me hanging with why anyone should bother with religion at all. I mean no snark here. You say salvation is for everyone and nothing about that other 2/3 needing to make any statements about accepting it or even needing to be aware of it. I’ve never found a justification for the sacraments, so I have no problem with this, but I’m surprised to hear a Christian say the work of reconnecting to God is done. This implies there is no reason for church.

      • Church is not about achieving salvation. Church is about how one responds after they realize salvation. Church is about entering into community with each other, and performing service toward others.

        We do not need church for salvation. Church is for having fun together, and for performing the work that God asks of us.

        • Church is also good for chill cook-offs!

        • Okay, but there are lots of ways to be in community and to serve and to have fun. Are you implying that there is a REQUIRED response to the realization of salvation or a REQUIRED structure for how to go about God’s work? And what about those who don’t “realize” their salvation because they never heard the story? I can’t tell if you think God would let them feel a connection without specifically naming it “Jesus”.

          • I think you know my answer to this. There is no requirement at all. Not even a requirement to call it “Jesus”.

            All humans respond to love in some way. But it is true that not all people have realized love. That is the work we are put here to do, working along side many others. Yes, that work is even being done by people who do not call themselves “Christian”. Whoever is not against us is for us!

            • If you were to confirm what you have said so far, yes, I could have guessed your answer. But surely you realize what you say is rare. If true, then why are there creeds? Why are there membership ceremonies that ask for commitments? Why are there Bible schools? If I actually saw all religions joining hands and building bridges I wouldn’t be challenging you.

              What you are saying doesn’t match up to how Christianity is practiced. Even what you say is inconsistent. You say your connection to God is special and necessary for all mankind and that it does not need to be acknowledged by most. Do there have to be some Christians somewhere to maintain the connection, to make sure all people have the opportunity to realize love?

              I’m not trying to be mean, but I’m not going to let you have it both ways. Once you claim monotheism, you create a division down here on Earth. You don’t get to then claim that somehow YOUR god heals that division. Not until all Christians everywhere denounce the violence of the past and start doing this work you allude to and do it without asking everyone to join them in prayer.

              • Christianity is one religion among many. Christianity has its creeds, membership ceremonies, and so on. If a person wants to be Christian, they are welcome. But Christianity is not the only religion.

                In terms of salvation, religion is completely optional. In terms of culture, I don’t think so. I think every culture has some way of looking at the larger world. And the way one looks at the larger world dictates certain behavior that is expected of each person. That is what religion is, a way of looking at the world, and behavior that follows from that way of seeing things. Everyone has a religion.

                Within Christianity, I get to claim that my god heals everyone. That is what my religion teaches. But I respect that other religions teach other things.

                • If you’re going to redefine “world view” into “religion” then we’re done here. I wish everyone did what you’re saying and accept that there are other views and work together, etc. But it’s not reality. If you can do that, then I can say I am a Republican, not the war mongering, McCarthyist, CIA special opps kind, but more like Lincoln. I can tell my kids about good things Republicans have done and ignore the bad, and meanwhile donate to the current party and pretend like there is nothing wrong with it.

                  • You can look at my reply to AJG and go on from there, if you like. But I look at things from the other direction. I start from myself, and go from there. I don’t think that is selfish or narrow-minded, just human.

                    One’s religion (word view) starts with finding peace. Then goes from there. Much of it is inextricably tied to our culture. So be it. I was born to a German family in St. Paul, MN. The likelihood of me choosing to follow Buddhism, while not impossible, is very, very small. I am Lutheran. Is anyone surprised? Of course not.

                    So what do I do with a quest for self that starts from a baby in a German family St. Paul Minnesota? Do I insist on righting all of the wrongs done by Germans, Christians, Lutherans, and the Vikings professional football franchise before I even start to address my own self?

                    No. I start with myself and work from there. I think there is something within the meleiu into which I was born that is workable. Same with every other meleui in the world.

                    I’ve travelled the world, gone to college, read tons of books, and keep reading and studying. I’m not blind to the rest of the world. But I am who I am.

                    One’s religion (word view) starts with finding peace. Then goes from there. Much of it is inextricably tied to our culture. So be it. I was born to a German family in St. Paul, MN. The likelihood of me choosing to follow Buddhism, while not impossible, is very, very small. I am Lutheran. Is anyone surprised? Of course not.

                    So what do I do with a quest for self that starts from a baby in a German family St. Paul Minnesota? Do I insist on righting all of the wrongs done by Germans, Christians, Lutherans, and the Vikings professional football franchise before I even start to address my own self?

                    No. I start with myself and work from there. I think there is something within the meleiu into which I was born that is workable. Same with every other meleui in the world.

                    I’ve travelled the world, gone to college, read tons of books, and keep reading and studying. I’m not blind to the rest of the world. But I am who I am.

                    • I didn’t say YOU had to solve all the problems of Christianity, I said for your statements here to match reality those problems would have to be solved. I’m all for attempting to fix an organization from within, or even existing within one without worrying about all its warts, but there are limits to that. And you are denying the problems, which helps no one, not even you. It is hard to even accept your “I don’t give a whit” statement. It makes the “why church” question worse and does nothing for this QTH.

                      You are answering the question as if it is, “What could the symbolism of the cross mean if you ignore 2,000 years of theology?” Which is a great question, and your answer would be just fine if that was the question. But you’re creating a new theology, then claiming it fits the definition of religion and can be reconciled with everything back to 3,000 BC.

                    • Well, more like 1500 years. With the last 500 years being the most problematic. In the scheme of things, 500 years is not so very long.

                    • Jonnie

                      No offense guys, but for the question at hand this is getting a little bit obtuse right? Sounds more like something to work through over beers or something. 🙂

                    • Yes and No Jonnie. The question of the cross is not new, and my question is, what did Jesus mean when he said “it is finished”. If, as Curtis says, it means God is fully reconciled to humans, that has huge ramifications. Unless you believe you have to keep doing the sacraments every Sunday, then you’re back to the ol’ “love me or I will punish you” model. The answer may be in between those two extremes, but Curtis has taken off on his own tangent, so I guess we aren’t going to find the truth today.

                    • Jonnie

                      I’m just talking about your actual exchange becoming bloated and caught in some unnecessary and confusing binaries. Sacraments or “love me or I will punish you”?, is church/religion necessary or not?, etc. Many more ways to think sacramentally than the antinomy kind of talk here. I respect your pushing Curtis to flesh out his quite individual take though.

  • Out of our/my own preference towards violence the cross was necessary.

    One of the best details of the crucifixion story is the Roman soldier’s reaction to the cross. Here is someone that understands violence, but when faced with the stark reality of the cross his world is shattered.

    Maybe this soldier’s new reality should help shape our understanding of the cross.

    • Jonnie

      Fantastic. God capitulating to our violent tendencies, and thereby undoing us with the monstrosity of it. I like it. Not necessary sacrifice for divine fulfillment, but utter self-giving sacrifice of himself for our sake.

      • Elise

        I actually really like this thought. I once heard someone refer to Jesus as “dirty” as in He got into the mud with us … the whole incarnation I definitely understand. I can see the value of God becoming embodied. This response really speaks to that for me.

        We can see in the (quite famous) “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” passage (John 8:7) that Jesus addressed the human tendency to judge one another. He acknowledged it, and he radically turned it around in a way that encourages us to be our best, most loving selves. Judgement is some of the mud we as a species wallow in.

        The same seems to be true of violence, it is part of that metaphoric mud. But, in that Jesus didn’t sin like we did, the way that he could take on our violence, to understand it, feel it, process it, and show us a better way was to experience it as the victim. And crucifixion was certainly a very violent act. So I think there is some truth to this vein of thought.

        Thank you for this!

  • kevinwilliams07

    The cross is the ultimate solidarity with the world. Jesus is only good news to the opressor and the oppressed if he takes the place of the cursed. Jesus’ suffering and death goes to the very depth of human experience. It is on the cross God shows active suffering with the whole world, even to the point of Godforsakenness.

  • Jesus died on the cross to demonstrate his unwavering faith and radical centerdness in God; his death on the cross is the logical conclusion of his non-violent, subversive, world-negating lifestyle. So I don’t know if anything metaphysical happened at the Cross, but I do think it was necessary. Not in the sense that God needed to find a loophole within his intra-Trinitarian nature in order to be both merciful and just to save humans from himself and hell. Necessary in the sense that Jesus must live the life as a True Human, and also as Israel’s representative, in order to be the true and decisive disclosure of God: being a True Human means to live and reflect God’s will out into the world; to stand against oppression, to stand for and love the marginalized and the disenfranchised; to be willing to forsake the self completely to the point of death (even death on a cross!). So too, by living and immolating we come to bear fully the image of God, and being the image of God is our human function. So, get rid of these legal aspects of the cross and the atonement. Stop thinking about personal salvation (or making it the priority), and just live like Jesus, see him as the fullness of God in a human life, love God with all your heart, and love people.

    I come from the Calvinist background, by the way.

  • The penal-substitutionary model of the atonement (the idea that God demanded the blood of his son to appease his honor) is a peculiarly western aberration. The Christian east doesn’t know it; neither is it in the Bible per se.

  • Claudia

    I like Paul Rack’s answer very much. I’m frightened to say too much, still being a fairly new believer in Eastern Orthodoxy, but the original understanding was that the cross was necessary “for the life of the world”. That through the Cross, the sin nature was canceled. Therefore we can choose to love God. This is quite far from Calvinism, which teaches that we, as fallen individuals, cannot choose. So, in that teaching, salavaion is not a matter of “accepting Jesus as your personal savior”, (another western invention), but choosing to come into a life of loving God and each other. A life of learning what pleases Him.

    • I almost became Orthodox a few years back. Mainly I wanted to get away from Augustine and the original sin, penal-substitutionary atonement thing. It was quite liberating to discover that not only is this not the only way to frame the atonement, it isn’t even the oldest or most authentic.

  • Jonnie

    While, I think there is not clear metaphysical necessity to the cross— a situation that would create some meta-juridcal reason why Jesus ‘had to’ sacrifice himself in order to save us—there are a variety of biblical and theological ways to flesh out what we might call a ‘contingent’ or ‘practical’ necessity. I’ll sketch three of perhaps many.

    1.) Biblically, in Jesus’ unique fulfillment of his messianic role, cobbling together OT imagery from Daniel (Son of Man) to the suffering servant of Isaiah, his death amounts to the utter fulfillment and inversion of the eschatological expectations of the messiah. He extends the suffering element to it’s absolute extreme, thus imaging God’s power and fulfillment of his promises of salvation in completely inverted and anti-imperial ways. In this way, biblically, the cross is the radicalizing component of Jesus’ subversive and creative fulfillment of biblical expectations of the eschaton swirling around Israel at the time of his ministry.

    2.) The NT writers, in the aftermath of the crucifixion and resurrection appearances were seeking to make sense of the Christ events as they eagerly awaited the parousia (second coming). In this way, different authors are retrospectively theologizing about the cross. They are thinking very differently. For example, the author of Mark seems to have no theology of forgiveness of sins inherent to the cross, while Paul does (though some think the author of Mark was familiar with at least some Pauline thought…which is interesting). In this way, there are multiple theologies of Jesus and the reason for the cross. Much like Jesus’ own working with the OT witness, they are piecing together a reasoning for the cross. In a similar way, we work in that tradition continuing to flesh out the radical and subversive way the cross can be made sense of.

    3.) Here, I think is where we need to understand Paul’s work with the cross (and resurrection!) as his own reflection on what happened in Christ, and what needed to happen for reconciliation with God. In Romans he is seeking draw lines of continuity between Adam, Abraham, and Christ for the sake of reconciling the relations between Jews and gentiles in the burgeoning Christian community. He is looking for what binds us together in Christ and finds in Christ’s unique action of redeeming us from the universal stain of sin (and I would use Curtis’ thoughts above here) through participating with Christ in his death and resurrection. In that way, we are ‘justified’ (meaning included in God’s family) through faith which is participating in dying and rising (Christlike living) with him. It is therefore not some cosmic justice model he is working off of, wherein a supernatural measure of justice needs to be fulfilled, but a need to make sense of Christ in the context of Israel’s history, and ethnically divided believers.

    I think what’s happening in Elise’s situation, her rightful confusion and being irked by the cold abstract logic of certain atonement models, is the absolutizing of a certain line of biblical thinking that is embedded in deep narrative and ethnic boundary issues into some cosmic justice model that we can appropriate without understanding the authorial creativity at work. That individualized model becomes reified, and I would argue nasty and self-serving, as THE explanation of what is accomplished in the cross. The real mystery of the cross is the eternally subversive and shocking way it can be applied and theologized about across the millenia.

    Sorry this was so long.

  • The question seems to beg a definition/defense of substitutionary atonement or satisfaction theory of atonement. Christians ought to reject both outright.

    By saying Jesus had to die for our sins and was somehow the way that God would “save” us completely misses the historical meaning of his death. Jesus wasn’t just killed, he was crucified. This was a very public way for Rome to attempt to assert its authority (over God). Crucifixion is political.

    Not to mention that subsititutionary forms of atonement impugn the character of God. It turns God into a judge and lawgiver (completely missing the relational aspects of God’s character: specifically love and grace).

    Christianity is not about a balance scale or a measuring stick. It is not about eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth. It is not all about sin, forgiveness and correct belief. Christianity and salvation are about transformation. Transformation of both us and the world.

    So, it was neither a necessity for Jesus to go to the cross nor a demand of God to put Jesus on the cross. Humans (Romans) were the ones who killed Jesus. And Jesus was willing to remain so faithful to God’s mission on earth that he went to the cross and died because of that faithfulness. He was crucified, which is political. His death and resurrection are models for us to die and rise with Christ in our own lives because this is the path to transformation.

    And most importantly, Jesus death shows us the love of God. Jesus is the full revelation of God on earth. He taught us what it means to stay in love with God and through his actions we come to know who God is like. And we (humans) killed him for showing us this.

    People in this world often sacrifice their lives for something bigger. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King, Jr. People will put their life on the line when they are following the love of God and God’s love for people. It is with this greater love of God in which Jesus died. The same way a firefighter might risk her own life to run into a burning building to save another.

    It is not because God requires it, but because Jesus (and other Christians) believe in a greater love, a different kind of world—God’s kingdom. In that regard, Jesus offered his life as a gift to God.

    Which begs the next question: To what are you offering your life?

  • Elise

    I wanted to start by saying a huge THANK YOU to Tony for posting my question. This is a nagging one that’s always bothered me (hence my submitting it) and I’m so excited and encouraged by the responses already posted in comments.

    I love what Curtis said, that the cross counts for everyone. I really attracted to the idea of Universalism (I’m not sure if Curtis is, but the implication seemed to say he was), to me it feels most like what a loving God would do, hence my concern with the (quite Calvinist) things I had been taught with regards to substitutionary atonement. I only recently realized that substitutionary atonement wasn’t the only Christian option.

    • It seems you are off to a great start on this new path.

  • AJG

    Christianity doesn’t make sense and the search to try and make it make sense just leads to a bunch of theories that have so many holes or so much injustice in them that the task is pointless. Why would a God who foresaw all that would happen still choose to create a world in which so many would suffer, the fortunate few would live a mere eighty years, and then the vast majority of all humans who ever existed would be punished for eternity for being nothing other than what they were created to be? How does God punishing Himself (Jesus) and dying help to satisfy His own wrath towards those to whom He gave life? It’s all so convoluted that it makes the head spin.

    If man was created in God’s image, do you really think that He would impart us with a sense of justice that can see that eternal damnation is too huge a price to pay for a pittance of a life filled with some good, some bad, but mostly indifference? Would a God who commanded us to love Him and to love each other give us a commandment that He Himself is unable or unwilling to fulfill? Why would anyone want to even worship a God so foreign to the sense of justice and fairness that is so natural to us?

    After obsessing over having the right theology or sufficient faith for most of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that only two possibilities exist that make any sense. Either there is no God and Christianity is just another creed for trying to live a life that benefits yourself and others, or Universalism is the one and true Christianity. No other possibility can give peace to a mind troubled by man’s ultimate destiny in the universe.

    • Who says we need a one and true anything? It is easy to dismiss the religion of others, but what are you going to do about yourself? Either you believe something, or you choose not to believe. Which is also a belief. The choice is yours.

      Personally, I am more concerned about my own peace with myself than I am with the silly beliefs that everyone else has. I trust that, through peace with myself, I will, at least, do no harm to others. And, it would be a great honor, but I’m not sure if I am worthy, that I could be of some help to others But it starts with me. I don’t really give a whit what anyone else believes.

    • Elise

      AJG, I definitely on a gut level relate to a lot of what you’re saying. I certainly agree that eternal torment doesn’t seem very loving. I see the love of Jesus in the cross, laying down His life in that very painful death as very loving. I just don’t see the love in God requiring the cross in the first place. That view of requirement is certainly starting to break down (which I’m super happy about, because it was the place where my foundation was built of sand, per say. I’m very hopeful that this QTH will shore that up and help me build a better base and strengthen my faith in this regard).

      However, I don’t see in the case of the Universalism you call the “one and true Christianity” the necessity of the cross in the first place. Why couldn’t Jesus have just been smote and died instantly and painlessly? A sudden stroke in His sleep? Some other less violent/painful manner? I understand the argument that He needed to die, after all He was fully human and death is certainly a part of the human experience. I just don’t understand why the cross?

      Also, assuming Universalism, it does sort of beg the question of why bother with the Christianity anyway, as touched on in the first comment thread, but I largely resolve that with the assumption that if it is accurate, there is virtue in recognizing Truth as what it is. After all, if you know the sky is blue, why keep telling people it’s purple? So that’s rather easy for me.

      Tying it back to my question: I can’t see God punishing people who legitimately believe something else and act out of a good and loving place. Back to the sky analogy, knowing the sky is blue, I wouldn’t curse or forsake someone who claims it is purple, but I would try to show them it is blue. If they don’t believe me, or find my evidence unconvincing, I can’t find anything loving in the act of rejecting them because they are sticking to what they find true and good. And if measly little Elise can’t, I have a hard time reconciling a God of love who could (especially applying the principle of Imago Dei to apply to our gut moral sense, which I love that you did, AJG). But, back to an earlier paragraph, if that punishment is then unneccessary because we are all saved (as Universalism does posit), why did Jesus have to die so terribly?

      Right there, that tight rope walk centering on the potentially unknowable “why”, is where I’m getting a little caught up.

  • Phil Miller

    The issue that I have is that it was required in the first place. How could a loving God heap death and/or eternal damnation on his children for their sins and call it justice? Why did Jesus have to step up in the first place?

    The phrase “eternal damnation” is a very loaded one in the first place, but I think the notion that the consequences of sin is something that God heaps on people is something that’s read back into Scripture more than a concept that is explicitly given in Scripture. Sure, there is a notion in the OT that God will punish for sins, and that’s tied to wrath in some ways, but I think a bigger view is that the consequences for sin is something that is hardwired into the cosmos. So the problem that the Jewish people found themselves in was that they were supposedly God’s chosen people who were to be a blessing to the world, but they themselves had sinned, and because of that sin were part of the problem.

    So to the problem of justice. Ignoring sin and letting the perpetrators of sinful acts get simply get away with them isn’t loving. If people who are perpetuating slavery, murder, extortion, etc., are simply allowed to go on facing no consequences for those actions, it actually means God is unloving and unjust. That’s why the prophets are so often crying out for justice. But on the other hand, they know that in crying out for justice, they are asking for the Jewish people to be judged as well because no one is truly innocent. So sin had to be dealt with, and how it was dealt with was by Jesus taking it on in all of if it’s God-forsakeness on the cross.

    I like how N.T. Wright puts it:

    The Bible doesn’t speak of a God of generalized benevolence. It speaks of the God who made the world and loves it so passionately that he must and does hate everything that distorts and defaces the world and particularly his human creatures. And the Bible doesn’t tell an abstract story about people running up a big debit balance in God’s bank and God suddenly, out of the blue, charging the whole lot to Jesus. The Bible tells a story about the creator God calling a people through whom he would put the world right, living with that covenant people even when they themselves went wrong, allowing them to become the place where the power of evil would do its worst, and preparing them all through for the moment when, like the composer finally stepping on stage to play the solo part, he would come and take upon himself, in the person of his Son, the pain and shame, yes, the horror and darkness, yes, but also, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Paul and Acts and Hebrews and 1 Peter and Revelation, in Ignatius and Irenaeus and Augustine and Aquinas, in Luther and Calvin and Cranmer and Hooker, in Herbert and Donne and Wesley and Watts – he would take upon himself the condemnation which, precisely because he loves us to the uttermost, he must pronounce over that deadly disease we call sin.

    • Elise

      Phil, I’d love a little elaboration. If God is the creator of the universe, and thus made the cosmos and that which was hardwired into them, how is it just to hardwire the sin penalty in to the cosmos (as you indicated), especially if God (being all-knowing) is aware that we will have free will and are imperfect so very likely will muck that up?

      I’m not saying we should have no consequences (if I murder someone and end up in jail for it, that’s a consequence, but not an eternal one; as I stated in my question, a sort of purging for those unrepentant doesn’t bother me, nor does temporal reward/punishment for our virtues/sins), but I am saying the punishment should fit the crime. This understanding of justice seems quite hardwired in me (and in virtually everyone I’ve encountered), so I find it hard to think that God would let that understanding of justice exist in us if it didn’t serve some purpose.

      Though the point about the loving nature of Jesus taking it all on Him on the cross, fixing that snarl in the fabric of the cosmos, I do get. I see how Jesus on the cross is loving and merciful, just not that the necessity of the cross (as a consequence of our sin) in the first place was. Why make such a terrible consequence in creation if it’s so very probable that we will trigger that consequence?

      • Phil Miller

        Why make such a terrible consequence in creation if it’s so very probable that we will trigger that consequence?

        That question is kind of getting into some deeper philosophical issues regarding agency and free will, and I don’t know if I can actually a fully satisfying answer to it. The one general thing I would say is that things that have the capacity to do the most good often conversely have the capacity to be the most destructive. The classic example is nuclear energy. When used to produce electricity, it can actually be one of the cleanest and more environmentally-friendly energy sources we have. But on the flip-side, the same technology could be used to wipe out the entire human race.

        On a more human level, I’d say that it’s many times those who we love the most that have the largest capacity to hurt us. So I think this sort of “with great power comes great responsibility” (to quote Stan Lee, haha!) is sort of a principle at work in the universe, too. I guess I would say that God endowed humanity with great power, relatively speaking, and because of that we have the capacity to do great good or great evil. And without living in a universe where facing consequences for our actions are a genuine possibility, than what we have is something less than real freedom.

        Btw, when I talk about consequences, I’m not really thinking about eternal damnation, but I do think there are real and serious consequences that we can still take seriously.

        • Elise

          “I guess I would say that God endowed humanity with great power, relatively speaking, and because of that we have the capacity to do great good or great evil. And without living in a universe where facing consequences for our actions are a genuine possibility, than what we have is something less than real freedom.”

          That! I love that. That actually really does a lot to answer my question about the hardwiring of the cosmos. Thanks!

          If you don’t mind, if you aren’t thinking of eternal damnation, what do you think of when you envision the consequences? And if Jesus saved us, what consequences do we avoid then (because I certainly don’t think you mean a Christian who repents of murder is let out of his temporal jail sentence, which is a sort of consequence for sin; I assume you mean metaphysical consequences)? I haven’t had a lot of exposure to the thought of spiritual consequences outside of eternal damnation/Hell, so I mean this in an exploratory way, not a condemning way.

          • Phil Miller

            I think there can be a case made that something like a purgatory-type of metaphysical punishment is a possibility, but I don’t think looking at it as it’s presented in traditional Catholicism is too helpful. I tend to think of it in our coming to terms with losing our lives to save them, and the idea that the things we cling to are often the things that are most harmful to us. So I think we have the choice to pursue giving these up now, or we face having them burned away from us in the future.

            At the root of it, I don’t see much use in seeing punishment as retributive. I see the purpose of punishment as restorative. But I still think that even restorative measures can and will be painful. I would not say I’m a universalist, but I do think it is God’s desire to heal and reconcile all people. Where I would leave a caveat is that I don’t think that this is something God forces on people.

            • Elise

              Thanks so much for the clarification!

            • “I think there can be a case made that something like a purgatory-type of metaphysical punishment is a possibility”
              Why do you think that?

              • Phil Miller

                Well, the passage of Scripture that’s most often used to defend purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15:

                According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

                But as I alluded, I don’t think that this process is God turning the screws on us to make us pay for our sins. I think that it’s more related to the process of theosis, or us being made more like Christ. So everything that isn’t like Christ that’s in us will be burned up. The “purging” part of purgatory alludes to the process of purifying metals so that the dross is separated from the valuable material. So that’s the sort of process I’m getting at.

  • sacre bleu

    cross, necessary? nope.
    love, necessary? yup.
    in the Jesus story, his radical love faces push-back from the principalities and powers, resulting in his extermination
    was his crucifixion necessary for my/your salvation? nope.

    • DRW

      I love the brevity of sacre bleu and agree essentially. Reading all the above, geez, we overthink stuff as if having theo ducks in a row is crucially important. Just love radically and abide the consequences (this is true “belief” after all, not to mention genuinely cross-like). Much harder than thinking our way to salvation, whatever that means.

    • Would a love that was not radical enough to encounter push-back have been sufficient?

      Is love without the cross sufficient?

    • Elise

      *tips hat* This is succinct, but lovely. Never thought of it in quite the light that the crucifixion was just a consequence of His life in that culture, as opposed to a divinely ordained punishment achieved through the powers that were in place at the time. Thanks!

  • David Tamer

    I do not conceive of the Cross a being essential to salvation; nor do I believe that Jesus died for my sins. Instead, I see Jesus as being God’s Annointed. In that capacity, Jesus was appointed for the purpose of proclaiming the Good News of God’s Grace and Love. Nonetheless, Jesus was despised and rejected, and he died a humiliating death. I am willing to posit the truth of the Resurrection without understanding the means by which it was accomplished. For me, the fulcrum of the story is that God did not turn his back on the Creation that had rejected Jesus; instead, God chose, in the words of Paul, to exalt him through the Resurrection.

  • Eric James

    The premise of this question stems from a lack of understanding concerning the nature of God, as well as the nature of man, and the only place from which that understanding will come is the Scriptures.

    Consequently, it is futile to attempt to understand the truths of God’s Word merely by employing the faculties of human logic and reason, because the thoughts and ways of God are above the thoughts and ways of man. In other words, no one passes from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ by “proving” to themselves that Christianity is true based on human reason. God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

    This is not to say that Christianity is illogical, but rather that an understanding of the truth is preceded by a posture of faith. The Scriptures appeal first to a person’s conscience. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The purpose of God’s Word is not simply to present a set of facts that a person works his way through logically and then says, “That makes sense. I’m a Christian now because I agree with those things.” As it is written, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). The Bible is instead intended to reveal to man who God is (the Holy One) and who he is (a sinner), and bring him to the end of himself and down to his knees in repentance for his transgression against the glory of God.

    Now back to my original statement. If you earnestly desire to know why the cross of Christ is necessary, how it coincides with the justice and love of God, and what implications it has for you personally, then read the book of Romans. The real question after reading chapters 1-3:20 is not, “How can a loving God condemn people to eternal punishment?”, but, “How can a just God acquit even one guilty sinner?”

    One final thought: if you come to the Bible with a proud spirit, esteeming yourself wise, it will be a closed book to you. God hides Himself from the proud. But if you come to it with a spirit of humility, willing to learn and have the things of God revealed to you, He will indeed show you the truth. “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” – Hebrews 11:6.

    May God bless you in your search for truth!

  • Ric Shewell

    I know I can be a common offender, but I wish that comments had a word limit. We would see fewer quotations, fewer options to get off topic, and better conversation. Kinda like a pecha kucha for comments.

    • I’m with you, Ric. If you see comments that are clearly copied from elsewhere, please flag them for me by emailing me. I’m having a hard time keeping up.

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