I have been told this more than a few times. Maybe you have heard it said as well. Maybe in a very well meaning way you even said it to somebody. Maybe you even said it to me.
When I ask why Jesus died, then I am told that Jesus died for my sins or maybe even for all the sins of the world. When I ask again why he died for sins, then I am told that it was God's plan. When I ask why it was God's plan.... ah, here is where the answers start to get a little bit confusing.
1. satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) Theology. the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, esp. as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.
3. Christian Science. the experience of humankind's unity with God exemplified by Jesus Christ.
4. Archaic. reconciliation; agreement.
The word was invented by William Tyndale in the 16th century. But that doesn't mean that Jesus Followers haven't been trying to explain what was happening in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from the very beginning. More recently even Mel Gibson tried to explain it all to us, although he pretty much left off the life of Jesus and only gave a couple of minutes at the end to the resurrection, leaving many pop-culture Christians to think that Jesus' death is really the main point.
This week, thanks to Brian McLaren and Rowan Williams, I've been RE:Thinking what it might mean to take atonement theory seriously. More specifically, what is a potential way for a Jesus Follower to look at the cross?
There will be many good people hunting Easter eggs with children, many people will dress up and head out to Christian churches, families will gather and share time and soul nourishing food and laughter. But, there will also be a few folks wondering what it all means. Some of these questioners will be Jesus Followers, some will be Atheists, some will just be weirded out by the Christianized language about blood, death, and God.
So, let me start where an original Jesus Follower might have started, with Hebrew Scripture:
"Come, let us return to the LORD;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth."
The reason I start with Hebrew Scripture is simply because those closest to Jesus, those who first tried to make sense of his life, death, and resurrection, those who tried to make sense of his words and deeds, well, we know they turned to Scripture. I know many postmodern people would object to this today but I do think it is somewhat logical to try and think about Jesus the way people originally thought about him. So hang in there with me a little longer, and see if we can come up with something slightly more helpful that bumper sticker slogans about "God's plan" etc.