Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Reason for God: The (True) Story of the Cross

Here is the positive case for belief in the Christian faith so far:
- There are clues to believe in a personal Creator God / Moral Law giver
- Not only that, we already presuppose God by living as if moral laws really exist
- That’s bad news: We break our own ethical standards by self centered living
- The solution is not moral improvement, but radical grace from God

But why must Jesus die on the cross for us in order for God to forgive our sins? Isn’t that His job anyway? Some calls it 'cosmic child abuse' (a fierce Father needs to punish the innocent Son before He could forgive the guilty).

Keller argues that real forgiveness is costly suffering. If someone damaged your car, you can either ask him to pay all/share the costs or you absorb the full cost of his misdeed yourself. Someone has to bear the payment.

If someone wronged you, you may try to take revenge and make him suffer. But it takes a toll on you – make you hard, cold, cynical, prejudiced and vengeful. The cycle of retaliation can spread and intensify (The Prestige). The other option is to forgive (refuse to make them pay for what they did). It is a form of suffering. But it leads to new freedom, life and peace. It breaks the cycle of violence.

 Shouldn’t we confront the wrongdoers to restrain them, ask them to repent or protect others? Yes, but out of love/first seek forgiveness. Otherwise what we seek is not justice but revenge, not their change but their pain. Example: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since forgiveness means absorbing the debt of sin yourself instead of making the guilty pay for it, should it surprise us that when God forgives us that He went to the Cross and die there? It is important to realize that Jesus is not just a third-party bystander. For Christians, Jesus is God Incarnate. He is the Judge Himself receiving the punishment. He is eternally one with the Father. The cross is biblically portrayed as a Trinitarian conspiracy of love where the Father ‘so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son’ (John 3:16) and the Son voluntarily accepts the cross as the supreme expression of His own love: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” (John 15:13) It is not primitive deity that demands blood for their wrath to be appeased but God became human to offer his own blood so that he can destroy all evil without destroying us.

Some people argue that the cross is primarily a display of how great God’s love is for us. (Romans 5:8). His sacrificial death melts away our hate, awakens moral change and moves us to imitate Christ (moral influence). The sole obstacle to salvation lies in the subjective resistance of sinners. But unless the cross objectively rescues us, it would be an empty show of sentimentality just like a silly lovesick boy who declares, "Darling, I will prove my love for you by jumping off Niagara Falls". It is only a meaningful act of love if the beloved is in real danger so that diving into the waters would be an attempt to rescue her.

We can’t have a God of love without the cross. It is impossible to love people with a problem or need without in some sense sharing or even changing place with them. Consider parenting. If you don’t allow your children to hinder your freedom in work and play at all, they will grow up emotionally needy, troubled and over-dependent. The choice: You sacrifice your freedom or theirs. All love toward people with serious needs is substitutionary sacrifice.

Stott: The essence of sin is we human beings substitute ourselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us.

Ironies of the Cross: Properly understood, the Cross cannot encourage the oppressed to simply accept violence because Jesus died to honor justice. He identified with the oppressed.
He went to the cross to save the world by losing His life, to triumph through defeat, kingdom through weakness and service, glory by giving up everything. N.T. Wright: “The real enemy, after all, is not Rome but the powers of evil that stood behind human arrogance and violence… On the cross, the kingdom of God triumphed over the kingdoms of this world by refusing to join in their spiral of violence. On the cross, Jesus would love his enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile”.

This upside-down kingdom creates an alternate reality and reversal of values of the world with regard to power, status and wealth. It is a new counter culture in which we no longer need justify ourselves through pride of race, class, career and money, but transcend them in ways that are life-giving and community-building.

The stories that always seem to move us most deeply are those in which someone faces loss or death in order to bring life to someone else. (The Matrix? Lord of the Rings?)

A Tale of Two Cities: Charles and Sydney look very much alike and both love the same woman, Lucie. During French revolution, Charles was arrested and sentenced to die. But Sydney exchanged places with him so that he and his family could escape.

But the gospel is not just a moving fictional story about someone else. It is a true story about us. Jesus has come to us in our prison and despite our unwillingness to be saved has taken our place. When you realize that you are actually inside Jesus’ story (and He is in your story) it changes you inside out.

The fact that Jesus has to die for me humbled me out of my pride.
The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear. 

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