Jesus’ Death, God’s Culpability

Jesus’ Death, God’s Culpability September 12, 2014

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

I spent the summer revising and rewriting Did God Kill Jesus? That meant that the subject of Jesus’ death was front-of-mind much of the time. Even as I mowed the lawn or biked to work, I was thinking about this.

My editor has expressed some trepidation over the question. Of course, God didn’t kill Jesus, in the sense that God didn’t pound the nails into his wrists and hoist the cross upright. But even if God stood aside and allowed to happen, God is somehow responsible, right?

(Which reminds me of Richard Pryor’s famous bit. God’s invited to a dinner party on Earth, but before he leaves, he asks, “Hey, can I see my son?”

“Oh, um, shit, we cruficified him.”


Asking the theological questions that swirl around the death of Jesus is not unlike peeling the layers of an onion, one leading to the next. Could there have been another way to save the world? Did the redemption of humankind require violence and bloodshed? Was Jesus’ divinity a necessary component of what happened?

Like Jürgen Moltmann, I find the cry of dereliction (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) to be the most theologically and existentially potent verse in all of scripture. Therein lies the key, I think, to understanding what happened on the cross.

But the questions continue to compound in my mind, one on top of the other. I do not think that a bloody, violent death of a divine being was the only way to save the world. I believe that God has more freedom than that. But that makes the problem more complex. If this were the only way to save us — as many believe — then the questions pretty much stop. God did that because God had to.

But if God could have redeemed us in another way, why did God choose this brutality? Many have proffered answers to this, and I find each of them unsatisfactory in one way or another, as I’m sure some will find my answer less-than-perfect. Nevertheless, I’ve felt a strong call to provide my own response to what I consider one of the most vexing questions of the Christian faith.

Having turned in a revised draft and awaiting the next round of edits, I’m finding that the question continues to haunt me…

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