My friend James wrote a fascinating question to Facebook and tagged me. I’ve been thinking about it since I read it but I feel my answer is too long to post to Facebook. I decided to answer James here.
James is an incredibly kind and generous person and late last year he entered the world of fatherhood. Here is his post:
Theological quandary I’ve had recently:
I believe that God is all-loving. We sing “God is love” in church. And the Gospel of John says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That is a lot of love for God’s creation.
But think about this from Jesus’ point of view: Was God showing love to him by sending him here to live, spread the word, die and be resurrected? Seems like a bit of a crappy thing to do: hey, I’m going to send you to some people who will put you to death, but it’s ok you’ll get better because as part of the Trinity, you’re eternal.
There is a parallel to this in the story of Abraham being tested by God in the near-sacrifice of Isaac. In the end, God is satisfied with Abraham’s faith, and spares Isaac (who probably never wanted to go in the wilderness alone with his dad ever again), but with Jesus, where is God’s mercy? or justice? Is this the act of an all-loving God, a single dad to his son?
Or is this a semantic thing? God the Father giving His Son is the same thing as Jesus the Son choosing to go because Trinity.
EDIT: the main point I’m getting at here is whether God truly is all-loving or not, using the act of God giving Jesus to death from Jesus’ POV: Was God all loving to him?
You ask several wonderful, puzzling, frustrating, and eventually faithful questions. Let me see if I can parse this out.
I’m going to start with the Abraham/Isaac question. Nearly everyone who reads this passage from Genesis has the same reaction: horror. How can anyone, especially God, make this demand on a father? And what father would agree to this? I think we all agree that we would’ve had more respect for Abraham if he had told God to go bother someone else.
Fair enough, but in that time the idea of human sacrifice was not unknown. Those who followed pagan gods often saw human sacrifice as something that was demanded of them. The best description I’ve found on this came in the first few pages of James Michener’s book Hawai’i.
I’m not certain that I’m right about this, but I think God was telling Abraham that human sacrifice will no longer be a requirement of his faith. “The pagans do human sacrifice but those who follow me will not. Unlike the pagan gods I find human life to be sacred and will never demand that you kill as a sacrifice.”
That said, I’m troubled by the idea that God let Abraham get that close to sacrificing his own son. Every time I read this passage I wonder if Isaac lived the rest of his life with PTSD.
But I’m also heartened by the reality that the God of Genesis, the Old Testament, and the New Testament does not demand sacrifice. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ ultimate throw down centered on his cleansing of the Temple in Matthew 21:12.
The phrase “throw down” is a modern term and it means this: someone “throws down” when he or she wants to make a point so badly that he (or she) makes a statement with no regard to the consequences. Jesus’ throw down is the last straw that leads to his arrest and execution.
But James, your point is well taken. What do we say about an all loving God who allowed his Son to be killed (and killed in such a horrible way)? We all understand that Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected unless he died, and had he died of natural causes his resurrection would have meant little more than Lazarus’.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us nothing about Jesus before his conception and if we had only those Gospels we could easily make the argument he didn’t exist before then. Only in John’s Gospel is Jesus described as being “in the beginning with God.” Perhaps Jesus “volunteered,” knowing what he was getting into. This doesn’t make his death any more horrible or painful, but it at least gives Jesus the advantage of knowing that it will turn out well in the end.