Today, I’m participating in one of Tony Jones‘ #progGOD challenges. The question for this round is “Why a Crucifixion?” But, as you, my readers, are intellgent, thoughtful people, you probably figured that out from the title (hey, a little gratuitous sucking up never hurt anyone). Now, there are plenty of people who will tell you the answer to this question is that Jesus had to die because humanity is nothing more than a vile, wretched pack of sinners who deserve to burn in Hell and could not be reconciled to God without a price. To say that I disagree with this statement is like saying the 7th Cavalry had a bad day on the Little Bighorn; true but it doesn’t begin to convey the magnitude of the situation. There are multiple points of contention in that sentence (total depravity, the physical existence of Hell,etc.), but I especially take exception to the idea that God is bound by justice to require blood to forgive anyone.
The idea that God required someone to die so humanity could be reconciled leaves you with two options. 1) that God is not all powerful or 2) God is a vindictive jerk. Both paint picture of deity unworthy of worship. There are multiple theories as to why a crucifixion. The one expressed above is known as penal substitutionary atonement. It was not the first theory put forth as an explanation, that would be Christus Victor and the Ransom theory; PSA didn’t come about until the Reformation.
Having said that I don’t believe God required blood to forgive humankind, you may be wondering if I even believe that Jesus’ death was necessary. I do, but it wasn’t God who required it; God forgave our sins as soon as they were committed. No, if blood was required, it was required by us. To understand that, you have to look at history. Early religions held that the gods could only be appeased through sacrifice, usually of that which was most dear to the individual making the entreaty. Oftentimes, this meant child sacrifice. That was rejected early in Judeo-Christian tradition with the story of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, Isaac. While children were no longer offered, blood sacrifice was only way for a Jew to be forgiven of sin.
Considering this tradition reaches back into the mists of time and was ingrained in every culture, it becomes clear that while God had already forgiven us, humankind would never be able wrap their collective head around that. No, the only way people could even begin to accept that their sins were forgiven and all was right with God was through the spilling of blood. And, even that didn’t work perfectly, which is why we’re still arguing the point today.
Now, we can argue about this till the cows come home, but the simple fact is that we don’t know “why a crucifixion”. Oh, there are plenty of ideas, theories and opinions floating around, but we don’t know. The why and how of atonement is, was and probably always will be a mystery. And, maybe it’s better that way.