One thing I used to wonder before I came around to the faith was “if this Christianity thing is real, why would God have to die for us?” I thought it might be a little easier if God just decided to be super merciful and forgive everyone. I remember reading things like “Our sin caused so great a debt that we could not pay it back. God had to come die for us in order to pay the debt that we couldn’t afford”. While that is true, it still didn’t really answer the question for me at the time. I figured that if the debt is owed to God then why does he have to pay himself back? Why not just forgive the loan?
Much More Than a Legal Matter
As I came to understand more about Christianity from the perspective of JP II’s Theology of the Body I began to understand Christ’s death as much more than a legal matter. I came to find out that the answer is… he didn’t have to die for us. He chose to die for us. This is why it is much more than a legal matter. It is a matter of romance and that it is called “The Passion of Christ”. Death was not the goal. I don’t believe Jesus came to Earth to die. I believe he came to Earth to court us, to evangelize, to heal, to comfort, to challenge and encourage. However, he knew that coming to Earth and taking human flesh would make him vulnerable to human death. He chose to take on flesh to be with us despite being vulnerable to death.
Why It’s Significant
We still haven’t answered the question, though. Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t he have just used his powers to destroy his enemies, take himself down from the Cross, and avoid any sort of suffering and death? Again, the answer is yes. He certainly could have but the reason he didn’t is the answer to our question.
Evil can only be defeated by authentic love and authentic love requires sacrifice. God certainly could have forgiven us our debt and we would have simply racked up more debt. If your credit card company kept forgiving your debt how financially responsible would you be? We needed to learn that sacrifice is the only way to get out of debt. Now, the reason Jesus didn’t come to Earth and rule with an iron fist or pull himself down from the cross was because he also wanted to teach us that authentic love requires us to be vulnerable and vulnerability often leads to suffering.
Jesus allowed himself to be vulnerable because that was the only way he could truly show that he was willing to sacrifice himself out of love for us. He followed through with his offer and did not give up despite great suffering. That display of self sacrificial love spoke to us in a way that words could not. When a person is willing, or unwilling, to suffer for another their true intentions are revealed. His death opened a portal to Heaven and paid a debt we could not afford because it taught us a lesson we could not learn without his example. It taught us that the key to Heaven is a willingness to sacrifice yourself for the good of others.
So, no, he did not have to die for us… and that’s what makes it so awesome.