Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

This is Love

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. ~John 3:16

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. ~John 15:13

Take a good look at that picture.  I’ve sat through so many sermons expounding on the torture that Jesus endured.  Graphic detail about how the cat of nine tails was made and the damage it caused to his flesh.  Thirty-nine lashes were the normally prescribed number because law held that there could be no more than forty.  It was cut just one short to ensure that the maximum number allowed were not exceeded.  Made of shards of bone tied to the end of each of nine whips to inflict maximum damage, it was also meant to humiliate and degrade.  Jesus was fitted with a crown of thorns, spat upon, and mocked.  All of this before being nailed to the cross where, according to scripture, he gave up his own ghost.

Think about that.  The God-man willingly lowering his status at the right hand of God the Father to become both fully human and fully divine. To die a cruel and hateful death, lay in a grave and go to Hell for three days, and be raised once again to ascend to the throne where he would forever remain in his rightful place.  He took our place.  This is the punishment we deserve for our sins, to die cruel deaths and be laid in cold graves and to be sent to Hell for…well…eternity.

This all sounds like such a romantic story of love, sacrifice, and redemption.  And when you are in the throes of some agony, tortured by your own past, facing your own mortality, or staring down your demons it feels like salvation.  When you are steeped in a culture that perpetuates this as the “greatest love story ever told” you scarcely dare to think for yourself about any alternative to this being the absolute truth.  In fact it is so pervasive in the culture I was brought up in that there is no question about it – no rational thought given to this depiction of love. It just is.  What is there to doubt?

I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone question this epic story.  It was in a discipleship training class.  One of the members was relaying a conversation he’d had with our town’s only professed atheist.  He, the atheist, was scoffed at by the members of the class for daring to say that this was no punishment at all.  He dared to ask what kind of sacrifice it was to give yourself to die when you know you’ll be raised back to life.  What kind of sacrifice is it for the Father if he knows he intends to restore the son to his previous status?  How long is that thirty-three years in the grand scheme of eternity?  How long is three days in Hell compared to all eternity?  How could this begin to be considered penal substitution? How is this…love?

I remember recoiling at the notion of such sacrilege.  And yet I could never forget it.  I consoled myself in the fact that God would make the wisdom of this world seem foolish.  I was a fool for God and proud of it.  It makes no sense but I would choose to believe because…well….God.  How do you challenge…God?  And that, in my feeble mind, made sense.  It was alright to be stupid for God.  Until I could no longer believe in that God.  Now none of that makes sense and it’s okay that it doesn’t.

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5 thoughts on “This is Love

  1. Indeed, well said. There is a virtuous humility in recognizing that an omniscient God would have a much better perspective on reality and necessity than we would, so I can (and did) identify with that notion of simply trusting God.

    Yet I think Shakespeare made a valid point as well in Hamlet:

    “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not. That capability and god-like reason. To fust in us unused.”

    If God, in His omniscience, gave us the ability to reason, surely He would want us to apply those reasoning skills as opposed to just letting them rot. And when you sit down and think about it, the taking-the-punishment-for-three-days-verses-eternity-for-us issue just does not compute.

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  2. Once one finally frees oneself from the obligation of accepting certain ideas on faith, all sorts of questions pop into the mind. And as you suggest, it’s okay that this happens.

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  3. Oh, but hell is so so bad that three days is just too much for an omniscient god-boy; thanks to that long weekend we will never have to know that torment. However, eternity in hell is not too long for that atheist… Who was credited as saying ‘they will know us by our love”?

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  4. The whole concept is very gruesome.

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  5. I went to see The Passion of the Christ with a lot of conservative Christian friends. They were very overwhelmed by all the torture scenes (and thus, most of the movie). I remember being a little aghast that they were carried away by what was essentially torture porn/orgies. In *any* other situation, they’d be screaming about the violence.

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