Dying for our sins

“Christ died for sins, once for all.” So says the apostle Peter in the New Testament. That sounds great. Humanity is redeemed, our relationship with God mended, and we didn’t even have to show any contrition or kindness. I was nearly going to write that we “didn’t even have to lift a finger”, but of course that isn’t quite true.

For the plan to work, humanity did have to torture and execute what the New Testament describes as the purest soul to ever walk the earth. And this act of moral evil is rewarded. The enquiring mind must examine the implications of such a notion, and consider what it tells us about God, Christianity, and ourselves.

The most striking implication of Jesus dying for our sins concerns God, and his nature. That God required a blood sacrifice to fix his relationship with humanity tells us that one of two things must be true. Firstly that without a blood sacrifice, God was unable to mend the relationship. Put simply, the blood sacrifice was necessary. But this threatens the notion of God’s omnipotence. How can God be all powerful, if he is unable to change something without a great personal sacrifice?

Alternatively, in order to protect the notion of his omnipotence, one could posit that God didn’t actually require a blood sacrifice, but orchestrated one anyway. This shows a particular cruelty in God’s nature, and is incompatible with the notion of God’s omnibenevolence, a second tenet of the God of classical theism as propounded by Christianity. Either way, Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of humanity is incompatible with God as described by the Christian faith.

A second important consideration of God’s nature stemming from the notion of Jesus’ blood sacrifice concerns his role as a judge. There is something decidedly unfair about humanity not having to work for its redemption. Whether one is saved, or damned, is not a matter of whether one has earned, or deserves, redemption, but simply whether one lived and died prior to or after Jesus’ death on the cross nearly two millennia ago. There is an inconsistency and simple unfairness to this which should make one question whether the God of Christianity is even worthy of worship.

Jesus’ death on the cross tells us much about human nature, at least when perceived through a Christian worldview. It tells that human beings are incapable of redeeming themselves. The moral agency of human beings is essentially worthless, we are loved by God, but not truly worthy of his love. This is a particularly bleak view of humanity and disregards our great capacity for love, kindness and altruism, while focusing exclusively on our capacities for violence, unkindness and selfishness.

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