Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Questions on the New Testament Part 4: On the sacrifice of Jesus

On the sacrifice of Jesus

At the core of Christian doctrine is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one can expect to be reminded of its importance at least once in most church services, even when a completely different topic is being discussed.

Why did Jesus have to die when so much couldhave been avoided or stopped altogether?
In any event, why did he not come before the flood? Why were people not offered a chance at repentance then? Did God for some reason love these people less?

The obsession of some Christians with scenes or images (such as crucifixes) of Jesus being horrifically tortured, beaten and crucified is worrying. Most religions have nice pictures of the deities they worship (the other two Abrahamic religions are not so keen on the idea). Christians have few nice pictures of Christ, although this seems to have been noticed by some contemporary churches, since many show him dying on the cross or already dead. The passion of the Christ certainly takes this to another level, although in all fairness, the movie gets the point it is trying to make across rather well, as the torture was beyond realistic with Jesus losing far more blood than the average person has. This actually makes me think more on my previous point, why did Jesus have to suffer and die in such a way? When all of the suffering caused by sin could have been averted. Although many Christians have told me it was the only way God could show that he loved us I doubt this as people can show they love someone else without dying or killing an innocent. One would expect Jesus to be offended, or displeased at the constant reminder of his least pleasant experience by his devotees. The obsession with images of the crucifixion reaches unhealthy proportions when some pastors start thinking God made some black holes in the shape of a cross for the exact purposes of being a testament to the crucifixion. To be fair there are streaks of dust being sucked into a black hole in the centre of the whirlpool galaxy that looks like an X If it had a bible verse written under it out of the nebula that would be far more interesting and very difficult to dismiss as a coincidence. It is that or Christianity’s origins are in fact extra-terrestrial and the denizens of the whirlpool galaxy disguised as humans introduced it, but that is delving into the realm of science fiction. This is hardly the first time humans have seen a celestial pattern that has reminded the observer of something on Earth. Many nebulas and constellations have been named because of the object bore resemblance to something on Earth (although I fail to see how some of the constellations resemble the things they have been named after). There is even a name for this phenomenon, pareidolia, Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to its occurrence in religions including Christianity. To illustrate this point, I have included a second picture of a nebula that resembles a human hand, minus a digit, also known as ‘The hand of God’.

Figure 1: The 'Hand of God'

Figure 2: The Hand of God
Despite the enormity of it all, a good 2/3 of humanity at least are destined for hell, the bible and demographics agrees with this. Would God not be displeased with this number? It is as if he is resigned to circumstances beyond his control and is unable to avoid that so that Christ’s sacrifice was a desperate measure. Based on the fact the he is both omnipotent and omniscient, this does not work. I also am not entirely convinced by my former brethren that asking someone to apologise for something or you will make them suffer is really a great means of apologising but according to the Christian doctrine we must apologise for the wrongs we have committed against God or go to Hell.

Christian’s often cling to the emotional impact that the fact that Christ died for their sins has. In fact, the emotional impact is immensely strong for most; it would probably be decidedly odd for a Christian not to be emotionally impacted by this. I certainly felt an emotional impact when first introduced to the idea. Much of the impact behind this idea lies in the fact that when an individual makes the choice to die for another it is not something the person doing this can come back from and their life will be lost forever. There is no coming back. In fact, not coming back is why such a thing is so powerful, a theme found throughout much of literature often invoking an emotional response in the audience. It is well accepted by the Christian community that Jesus did come back. Agreed the event was highly unpleasant, especially the way it is portrayed sometimes, but did Jesus lose something permanently in doing what he did if he came back? To him, and indeed should be to Christians, death is obsolete in the face of eternity, especially since a new and perfect body awaits. If he did take our punishment, assuming it is not death because everyone die sand it is impossible to dispute that and that the punishment for our sins is actually an eternity in hell would not Jesus taking our place mean that he would, as farfetched as it sounds, go to hell? The Apostle’s Creed suggests this did happen for 3 days, but there are passages in the gospels that do not support this idea (including the story of the thief on the cross beside Jesus in Luke 23:39-43). Some Christians will argue Jesus lost something in being tortured, but the only thing one loses through such a psychologically traumatic event is their sanity, and I am going to assume Jesus was not, and as a divine being could not be, driven insane. The psychology of the damage caused by such an event is complex and beyond the scope of this blog. While I find it impossible to believe if Jesus was not 100% human that he would not be affected by being tortured, he was also (at least apparently) 100% divine, and that would suggest that humans could harm God, which could almost be regarded as blasphemous.

On the subject of Jesus’ sacrifice, at the heart of Christian doctrine is the fact that Jesus died so that we could be forgiven of our sins. Yet despite the fact that this is often repeated by evangelists, it is not mentioned that although Jesus died for your sins you aren’t forgiven unless you ask God for forgiveness. In essence, despite this sacrifice, God is only willing to forgive those who ask for forgiveness. Is this type of conditional forgiveness, “I’ll only forgive you if you say sorry”, truly sincere? Usually the process of forgiving someone is on the shoulders of the one who has been wronged, which is part of the reason why so many people find it difficult to forgive someone that has hurt them. True forgiveness is selfless and doesn’t demand anything in return, it certainly does not involve threatening to torture the offending individual if they do not apologise for their actions and worship you.