Did Jesus Suffer Enough?

Jesus suffered in a limited span of time for the sins of the entire world. How many sins is that per minute?

Before you think that question is stupid, I want to point out that it’s actually rooted in a serious (and more sophisticated) question: how could Jesus die for the sins of the entire world?

I was recently (and briefly) part of a Facebook conversation in which someone argued that Jesus didn’t suffer enough. Shouldn’t he be in hell, if his intent was to share in all the punishment that was coming to us? I’d never heard someone complain that Jesus didn’t suffer enough, but that’s exactly what this person was saying.

The conversation ended last night, but I’ve had more time to think and here are my answers to this question.

1. First, an observation. If you know someone is enduring pain so you won’t have to, then why on earth would you insist that they suffer more? Imagine what it’d be like for an American soldier to come back home and have his family complain that he didn’t suffer enough, that he’d only been shot but hadn’t lost any limbs. That’s how I see this attitude regarding Jesus’ death.

But, since it does raise some good theological points, my answer doesn’t stop there.

2. If you’re willing to accept that Jesus’ death played an important part in reconciling you to God, then you also have to realize that there’s a certain amount of mystery here with which you’ll have to learn to be comfortable. We can’t explain how the Cross worked. That’s not asked of us. What is required of us is that we trust God when He says that the death of Jesus was for us. There’s also the point that if you believe that God became man but also subjected Himself to death, then you’ve officially entered the realm of Things That I Can’t Explain.

3. Now, the question of how Jesus could only suffer for a limited time if his suffering was on everyone’s behalf.

First, there’s no direct correlation between Number of Sins Committed and Number of Hours Spent Atoning for Them. This isn’t like balancing your checkbook with your online bank statement and trying to make sure that your debits (“Sins Committed”) and credits (“Act of Atonement”) line up.

Second, the Bible doesn’t give us a single picture of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Jesus is the Passover lamb who averts the wrath of God. He’s also the sacrifice that brought to an end the sacrifices required by the Law. His death undermines the powers of evil. There’s more than one aspect to the Atonement, which means that you can only take these aspects so far before you try to get them to answer questions that they never were addressing. I think this person, though not intentionally, was doing just that by demanding that a particular picture of the cross give more information than it was ever designed to give.

Third, the apostle Paul gives a great explanation of how Jesus’ death becomes effective for us (and mind you, this isn’t the only explanation):

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Link)

Through baptism, we each can be united to Jesus. That union means that we died with him on the cross and we walked out of the grave when he did. Because we are united with Jesus, we are changed. We are not the people we were, subject to sin and the eventual consequences of sin (death).

That’s beautiful. I also think that this answers this question of how one person’s death could pay for everyone’s sins, how Jesus’ limited suffering could somehow be enough to save people from the eternal suffering they would have otherwise endured.

Jesus’ suffering didn’t need to last as long as everyone’s suffering would have lasted … because anyone and everyone can be united to Jesus and his one death.

We don’t have the benefits of Jesus’ death imposed on us, and there’s no risk of those benefits running out just because Jesus didn’t suffer for as long as he could have. Jesus’ suffering does not function as a divine allowance that everyone gets a stake in until the money runs out.

Jesus died, and we each can be united to him and his one death. We don’t ever have to worry that Jesus didn’t earn enough salvific benefits for others through his one death, because we participate in his very death.

So, there’s my answer, dear readers. If you have any complaints or anything to add, there’s a comments section for that.

Forgiveness

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

I can be deeply resentful and spiteful. In my worst moments, I have nothing but the lowest regard for who I see as the lowest of people–myself.

Jesus taught us to forgive others or we wouldn’t be forgiven by God. We will not receive what we do not give. Until recently, I didn’t realize that he also meant I have to forgive myself.

Forgive myself of the times when my love failed and I was cruel. Forgive myself of the poor choices I’ve made. Forgive myself for how I take things for granted, for how I’m not appreciative enough of the many, many people in my life who have made that life worth living in the first place.

I find it hard to believe that Jesus would command us to release others of their debts but give us permission to beat ourselves down for things that we’ve done wrong. He told a parable once in which a servant was forgiven of his debt and, upon his release, went out and was harsh toward someone who owed him money. When his master heard about it, he gave the servant over to the torturers.

Being a forgiving person is a serious matter. That’s very clear in the Sermon on the Mount (which is where you can read the verse I cited).

At first, it sounds harsh. It sounds like Jesus is resorting to threats to get us to be more graceful people (which sounds pretty counterproductive, if you ask me).

But maybe there’s more to it than Jesus showing you what the consequences of your resentment will be.

Maybe he’s trying to get you to see how serious he is about getting you to forgive yourself.

There are moments in my life where I am the only one still condemning myself. In those moments, I can’t find the grace of God. It’s impossible. Someone whose heart refuses to give forgiveness cannot receive it, won’t ask for it, will never be thankful for it.

If our sins were paid for at the cross and we have indeed found new life through the resurrection, then refusing to forgive ourselves is to deny what Jesus so wants to give us. It’s to hear the message of the Gospel–that, in love, God sent His Son, the messiah and rightful king of the world to die for sinners and to save them from death through his own resurrection–and say that we refuse to accept that we are no longer under condemnation.

When you refuse to forgive yourself, you reject the Gospel. You’re saying it’s not true.

Because the Gospel, with its many beautiful and disturbing claims, declares that sinners are forgiven. It says that God’s love includes everyone and that His only Son has acted in such a way to reconcile each and every person to His Father.

When you refuse to forgive yourself, you’re saying that the Gospel is wrong and that Jesus is mistaken when it comes to you. You’re not lovable, despite God’s claims to the contrary. You’re not forgiven, even though Jesus promises that it can be so if you’d trust him.

It’s time to stop hating yourself; even in your worst, God has never hated you. It’s time to forgive yourself for what you’ve done; Jesus went to death and back to make sure that such a thing was possible.

Simply put: it’s time to believe the Gospel could be true, even for someone like you.

Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

God’s world doesn’t need you to be strong in order to take it.

It already has a strong leader who brings it forth–Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose from the dead.

You can’t take this kingdom by your own strength; He is stronger. You can’t add to this kingdom something that it is currently lacking; He is enough.

What you can do is come to terms with your weakness and realize that, in certain ways, your attempts to be strong are really your cowardly methods of avoiding the truth about yourself.

You haven’t loved like you should. You’ve broken promises, lied, resented.

You’ve set standards for yourself and failed to meet them. You’ve pursued things that you thought would fulfill you and found that you were drinking sand, not water.

You are not the strong person you think you are, and the boasting in which you engage only disguises that fact.

It’s not how to be happy. Jesus has already told us how: the poor in spirit are happy, because theirs is the kingdom.

Not the strong. Not the rich.

The poor.

You can’t take the kingdom. Jesus will give it to you.

You can’t bring anything of worth that He doesn’t already have. He has given you Himself, in the form of a servant who became obedient to death.

You can’t generate within yourself the things that make for life. He has broken death’s back.

Because, unlike us, He is strong. And He is enough.

Review: ‘The Early Church on Killing’

Introduction

It’s not always easy to find out what the early church believed about a particular topic. But if you want to know what post-biblical Christian leaders thought of violence—in particular, war, capital punishment, abortion, and the gladiator games—then Ronald Sider’s newest book The Early Church on Killing needs to be at the top of your to-read list.

The question of violence–and whether there is ever any justification to resort to it as a follower of Jesus Christ–is an important topic on which the Bible isn’t always clear. Does Jesus’ command to love our enemies prevent us from taking violent action if that enemy is trying to hurt someone we love? Is it right for a nation of largely Christian people to support their nation’s war, if the cause is just? Can Christians serve in the military, knowing they might be put in a position to kill someone else?

To be clear: the questions I presented are not all addressed in this book. I am trying to point out that we can agree that Jesus’ command to love our enemies is the right one—right before we disagree on what that means in practical terms. Sider’s book shows, with quote after quote, exactly what the early church thought of war and other means of violence.

The Book

The sections themselves cover different Christian persons or groups. The first section, for instance, covers notable figures such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, and Irenaeus, as well as the Didache. It’s here that you can find some great gems from some of the most well-known leaders of the post-biblical church.

On war, for instance, I found this quote by Cyprian to be worth remembering:

“The world is soaked with mutual blood, and when individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state.” (To Donatus)

Arnobius of Sicca argued that the entire world would have peace if it obeyed Jesus’ commands.

“But if all without exception, who feel that they are people not in form of body but in power of reason, would lend an ear for a little to His salutary and peaceful rules, and would not, in the pride and arrogance of enlightenment, trust to their own senses rather than to His admonitions, the whole world, having turned the use of iron into more peaceful occupations, would now be living in the most placid tranquility, and would unite in blessed harmony, maintaining the sanctity of treaties.”

In the section on Origen, Sider quotes the infamous theologian, who clearly had trouble reconciling the book of Joshua and its conquests with the commands of Christ. It appears that Origen valued Joshua in so far that it taught people how to fight spiritual wars against “spiritual adversaries”:

“Unless those physical wars bore the figure of spiritual wars, I do not think the books of Jewish history would ever have been handed down by the apostles to the disciples of Christ, who came to teach peace, so that they could be read in the churches. … And in order for us to have examples of these spiritual wars from deeds of old, he wanted those narratives of exploits to be recited to us in church.” (Homilies on Joshua, Homily 15)

The book presents some strong statements against abortion; later, in the Afterword, Sider writes that there was a unanimous consensus in the early church that abortion is murder. The Apocalypse of Peter describes how people who committed abortions will be punished in hell. Tertullian is quoted as saying the following:

“In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier killing of a human being; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a human being which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.” (Apology)

The second section goes into church orders and synods, including the Apostolic Tradition and Apostolic Constitutions. The former said that Christians serving in the military should refuse to kill another person, even if their personal convictions lead to their deaths. Likewise, someone with the “power of the sword”—that is, the authority to impose capital punishment—should relinquish their position if they wish to remain a catechumen. The Canons of Hippolytus say something similar:

“Whoever has received the authority to kill, or else a soldier, they are not to kill in any case, even if they receive the order to kill. … Whosoever is raised to the authority of a prefect of a magistracy and does not put on the righteousness of the gospel is to be excluded from the flock and the bishop is not to pray with him.”

The third section includes miscellaneous writings, such as The Infancy Gospel of Thomas and those from Paul of Samosata.

The fourth presents further evidence of Christian soldiers prior to Constantine, such as a group of Christians whose prayers to God were said to aid Marcus Aurelius in battle and a prayer hall discovered close to a military camp. Other examples are also provided.

Sider gives a summary of the quotes in the Afterword, as well as what he believes to be the general attitude toward serving in the military by the early church. It actually might help readers to read this section first before going over the rest of the book, as Sider’s summary is going to be an easier and quicker read than the quoted material.

The Great

– The direct quotes from various Christians, works, and stories might discourage some readers from digging into this book, as there is a lot of material to work through. But I promise: it’s worth it. The numerous quotes are the book’s main strength, and there aren’t a whole lot of popular-level books—at least, none that I’ve seen—that take an issue like violence and address it in a Christian perspective by quoting the post-biblical church.

– I never knew how many Christians quoted from passages like Isaiah 2 to show that Christians were not to kill. This is the passage in which the prophet says that nations will not wage war anymore but will instead beat their weapons into farming tools. (It’s also the passage that you can find inscribed on a wall near the United Nations building in New York City.)

– I wanted to review this book, in part, because I myself am trying to figure out the approach to war and capital punishment that most respects the Bible and especially the teachings of Christ. (On abortion, there’s never been much doubt in my mind as to where I stand on that.) It’s very helpful to have a book like this, which does a great job of showing the early church’s attitudes toward those very things.

– Seeing the direct quotes from early Christians for myself makes me think that Sider did not intentionally ignore quotes that would contradict his own tradition (Anabaptist). I can’t say that with other Christian books, as the authors don’t always provide quotes to support their claims, leaving me to wonder what material they might have ignored in order to say that so-and-so agrees with them. Sider covers such a large ground, though, that it’s hard to imagine that there’s a plethora of early Christian writings that contradict what he’s collected in his book.

The Not-So-Great

– Honestly, there’s not much I can say here. The way the book is laid out—by presenting quote after quote after quote, some of which are very lengthy–makes it more difficult to read through, but I don’t think that’s Sider’s fault. I’m not going to blame his book for being too thorough, although I will say that it doesn’t make the most engaging read, either. Informative? Absolutely, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I hope Sider isn’t offended if this book isn’t what I bring to the beach.

Conclusion

Sider’s book is great. It may serve readers better as a resource to be referenced occasionally instead of a straight read. But hey, if you’re looking to learn, you’re not going to complain.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book as part of Baker Academic’s blog-review program. I was not paid and am not obligated to give a favorable review.

Publisher: Baker Academic

Release Date: July 2012

Pages: 216, including the index

Format: Paperback

For Those of You Who Suck at Your Religion …

… you should read The Oatmeal’s latest.

Some parts are funny; other parts will be more funny to people who find convincing the types of arguments against God that circle around the Internet but don’t often find their way into more mainstream venues (and for good reason).

Although, I do have a question about the ending, in which the author says that it’s okay to keep your religion–albeit, to yourself–if it makes you a better person and helps you to cope with the fact that you’re an insignificant bag of meat. Here’s the full text:

… does your religion inspire you to help people? Does it make you happier? Does it help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space and that someday you will die and you are completely powerless, helpless, and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic sh*tstorm we call existence? Does it help with that? Yes? Excellent! Carry on with your religion! *Just keep it to your f*cking self.”

(Note from blogger: I’ve edited the text to make it easier to type. It obviously appears much different in the cartoon.)

This section comes right after the author says you suck at your religion if you’re motivated to kill or hurt someone in the name of God. With that, I agree fully. Any religion that encourages you to do violence against outsiders–and has you thinking you’re accomplishing the divine will in the process-is not a religion worth keeping. In fact, it’s worth opposing with all of your might.

What I can’t help but wonder is this: why is killing a person, whether it’s in the name of religion or something else, a bad thing if all you’re doing is disposing of an insignificant bag of meat? I know, it’s just a cartoon, but it seems like the author joins a lot of people in wanting this both ways: to insist that we have no real significance and then argue for the inherent significance of human beings.

I don’t know how those two ideas can be embraced simultaneously, but I’ll leave the comments open for anyone who’s willing to chime in.

(Note: be disrespectful, and I’ll block you. I’m under no obligation to tolerate the vitriol that characterizes too many discussions on the Internet.)