After a discussion with a friend of mine, (yes, I still have one or two), my thoughts turned to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Though no longer faith-based in our philosophy, we still talk about such things from time to time to explore the possibilities. It was from one such conversation that these inquiries sprang. I welcome thoughtful discourse with anyone who happens upon these ramblings. Lunch is my preferred setting for thoughtful discourse. 🙂
1. My understanding of sacrifice is that something important must be voluntarily, and permenently relinquished. In the case of the sacrifice of Jesus, I am at a loss as to what that might be. According to orthodoxy, Jesus was god from the beginning. As god, he was creator and ruler of all, even before there was anyone to rule. On earth, he had knowledge of who he was, and memory of where he was from. He also had access to his power.
According to the gospels, he suffered for a few hours, temporarily died, and was back in the saddle after a couple of days. He resumed his life, power, and status as deity. As near as I can tell, he lost nothing, absolutely nothing. The most that can be said is that he suffered a temporary inconvenience. For an eternal being, it wasn’t even a fraction of an instant. I am still trying to work out, theologically, how the momentary, corporial death of an immortal god is considered a sacrifice, ultimate or otherwise.
2. Why couldn’t a human be the sacrifice? I have heard it said that the point of god coming in the form of a human was to live the perfect, human life. Only one who has lived the perfect, human life could atone for the sins of humans. I have also heard it said that humans could live a perfect life if only they would. If these propositions are true, then why couldn’t god raise up one, perfect human that proved the rule? Why did he have to come and do it himself if it could have been done by one of us? The fact that he had to do it seems to make the case that no human could live the perfect, human life. That seems wrong on a number of levels.
3. Why so young? Even in the Jewish culture of the day, 33 was still young. I’m not sure how many 33 year olds would have been considered wise. While I am not trying to disparage youth, I am suggesting that at 33, there is a definite lack of life experience. This is important because it is said that Jesus suffered all things in his humanity. This complete range of human experience is, in part, what made him the perfect sacrifice.
It is difficult for me to take this claim seriously. Using only the biblical text as a guide, Jesus never married or fathered children. In his society, one was hardly considered a man before having a family of his own. Even today, it cannot be said that one has experienced the fulness of the human experience without raising children. I speak with the sensitivity of one who has not fathered children.
As a man, I find limited value in advice from other men who have not loved a woman, (in both senses of the word), drooled at the sight of a woman, or had a salacious thought. Any heterosexual male who has not experienced those things, has not had enough life experience to be taken seriously. No teen anxiety, no heartbreak, no children telling you they hate you, no mortgage, no car payment, no work-life balance, no health or geriatric issues, equals not enough human experience to represent me as any kind of sacrifice, especially one that claims to have conquered all that I have suffered.
4. Why so violent and gruesome? Accepting, for the moment, the idea that there can be no forgiveness without blood — though why we would accept such a notion, I have no idea, That still does not explain the masochistic passion required for our redemption. There is nothing in Jewish theology that necessitates the loathsome crucifixion at the heart of the sacrifice.
If Jesus was the ultimate lamb to be slaughtered for our sins in the tradition of the Jewish religion, then why was he not killed, humanely, by a faithful priest? Why was his offer of blood and life not done as respectfully as was the sacrifice of lambs, bulls, and goats? There is nothing of intentional cruelty in the Jewish system of sacrifice. The passion story played out in the gospels makes good theater, but bad theology.
5. Why must we live a life of sacrifice? My final thought on the matter comes from a lifetime of sermons informing me that I must live a life of constant sacrifice. I am to willingly suffer persecution. I am to accept false accusations quietly. I am to be robbed without demanding my rights. I am to abstain from worldly pleasures. I am to put myself last. I am to humble myself. I am to bear my cross. Everything about the Christian life seems to call for greater and greater sacrifice. Why?
If Jesus offered the ultimate sacrifice on my behalf, then why is more sacrifice needed? Many good people have martyred themselves even younger, and more gruesome ways than Jesus. What of their sacrifice? How many more people have to suffer and die? How much more sacrifice is required? Is further sacrifice required in the afterlife? If not, then why is it required here, after the ultimate sacrifice has already been made?
And speaking of the afterlife, why did history not end after the ultimate sacrifice? Why are we still here? Why didn’t the gates of heaven open at the time the sacrifice was completed? What is gained by another 2000 years of suffering and lost souls who will not be covered by the ultimate sacrifice? The only reason I can come up with is that the sacrifice was insufficient. Once again, bad theology. Such is the theology of the ultimate sacrifice.
In the end, the ultimate sacrifice leaves me with unanswered, and likely, unanswerable questions. This much I know: I no longer attempt to live a life of sacrifice. I do not pursue the course that would lead to a martyr’s death in the name of one who was supposed to have already offered the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than a life of sacrifice, I just live a life, and the best one I know how. I offer love and respect without expecting repayment in kind. I offer polite society to other social creatures. And I squeeze out as much enjoyment from every drop of life I can get my hands on.
I bid you all a holiday season, not marked by suffering and sacrifice, but by conspicuous joy and love.