So he was God incarnate and died a horrible death. He was God, so he knew he was not ultimately going to die, right? So what’s the big deal? Or so one might ask. Especially this time of year when people seem to drag Jesus out, dust him off, and place him in their nativity scene. I’ve used to ask myself this question on occasion. It wasn’t until I came to better understand the triune God of the Bible that I really felt I had a satisfactory answer. I think for a lot of my life, I got that the historical Jesus was fully human, and at least on the surface recognized that he was fully divine, but never really thought much about the ramifications of such a being. I used to think to myself, that if I had to lay down my life for my friends, or my family, or even for strangers, that I could do that. If somebody said to me, “You choose. Will you die a horrible death, or all your friends and family die a horrible death?” Could I exercise the kind of love that would allow me to trade my life for theirs. Isn’t this basically what Jesus did? So what makes him so great? I hear stories about soldiers in battle jumping on grenades for their buddies all the time! If they can take pain and death for somebody else, what’s so great about Jesus? Isn’t it the same thing? This is really a wrong-headed view of what Jesus did though.
First, it must be recognized that the God of the Bible is the source of objective Good. If you have perfect goodness on one side, and some badness, say murdering somebody, on the other side, how much difference is there between the goodness and the badness? It turns out that infinite anything against finite anything leaves you with an infinite difference. This applies even against a finite badness of a lower magnitude, like stealing a pack of gum. It also turns out that when you measure these things against infinite goodness, that the stolen pack of gum and the murder start to look a lot the same in relation to the perfect goodness. It’s even an infinitely greater magnitude of difference in moral equality than, say, between Mother Teresa and Jeffery Dahmer, though we’d typically say the two were separated by an unfathomable moral chasm.
Now, keeping this vast difference between goodness and badness in mind, understand that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t sacrifice himself for his friends and family. The sacrifice he made was more akin to trading himself as ransom for the population of San Quentin. This guy who had done absolutely nothing deserving of death, or even after-school detention, was tortured in unimaginable ways in the place of the worst mankind has to offer. That’s you and I by the way. Sure it may look to us like we’re vastly different from Jeffery Dahmer, but in scale it’s a bit like us equating the size of the beetle to the size of the ant. In relation to each other one is much larger, but from the perspective of a human being, the difference is fairly insignificant. Measured against complete goodness, morally speaking, I’m that beetle compared to the ant that is Jeffery Dahmer. Now this being the case I’m forced to amend my comparison from earlier, and ask myself a new question. Would I sacrifice myself for the likes of a bunch of Jeffery Dahmer, Adolf Hitler (you didn’t think I’d leave Hitler out did you?), Charles Manson, and Joseph Stalin types? Not only that, but would I be willing to be unimaginably tortured before being killed so that they could have a get-out-of jail free card? I’m afraid this is where I’d take a pass. But this still isn’t really the complete picture.
The God of the Bible is triune. Three persons (ie minds) in one being. Yes, this is a mind bender, but this is the Biblical view of God. Jesus is one of these ontological persons, keeping in mind that we’re not talking about human persons, but centers of consciousness. The pre-incarnate Logos (Word) existed prior to Jesus the man. The most straightforward scriptural data to this is in the first sentence of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) John goes on to say that all things that have been created, were created through Jesus. Jesus wasn’t just some guy, he was with and, at the same time, was the eternal uncaused first cause of all things. Now, if I’m God (which I’m not) and I created some beings, gave them freedom to do as they please, and it turned out what they want to do is lie, cheat, pillage, rape, murder, and turn on me, do I really want anything further to do with them? It turns out God did. He tried all kinds of things through history to turn people around, which the way I read it seems as though it was largely to prove to us that none of those things work. We’ll never be able to meet God’s standard directly. It’s like asking a beetle to become the size of a human being. Finally, he decided he (Father) would send himself (Son) as a mediator (Merry Christmas by the way), leave perfection, and take on the form of one of us in order to lead us back to himself.
Now, given this fact that Jesus pre-existed as God and with God, having no particular need of human beings, I have to amend my question even further I think. I have to ask myself, as a human being, would I be willing to lower myself ontologically (ie change my very existence) and take on the form of…a beetle? And be tortured and killed in order to save a bunch of rebellious insects (imaging for a moment that insects were free moral agents)? Now not only would I take a pass, I’d laugh in your face. Explain to me that after I am tortured and killed that I’ll be restored to glory as a human being, and ask me if it matters to my decision! I see no good reason why I would submit to condescending to the status of an insect to be tortured and killed, even if not doing so meant the extinction of every beetle and ant on Earth. Why should I care enough that I’d suffer even a hangnail’s worth of discomfort for such nonsense? I see no reason for the general to step into the battle and throw himself on the gernade…to save the lives of the opposition.
That’s what is so great about Jesus.