Why must the Son of Man undergo great suffering and rejection and be killed?
Why must any of us, and all of us, suffer and die?
Why is life so casually and cruelly unfair?
Why does Jesus keep talking about carrying the cross and forfeiting the lives we treasure?
God gave us reason, then says things that don't make any sense without any sufficient
or satisfying explanation.
So we try to fill it in ourselves.
If you have an instant answer to the question about why Jesus had to die on the cross, you can thank, or blame, the church.
The gospel of Luke makes it repeatedly clear that his death is necessary without explaining why.
Some people can't stand to live without an answer: in the church we call these brilliant, unfortunate people theologians.
They have come up with a number of hypotheses we call atonement theories.
Because God's gifts of reason and intellect are good and wondrous and limited, all of
them have merit and insight, and all of them have holes and problems,
You've probably heard one of them, which is popular in the west, possibly presented not as a
theory but as pure, unfiltered biblical truth: substitutionary atonement.
It goes like this: Jesus had to die because God's justice demands equitable punishment for human sin, which is greater than any sinful human can satisfy.
So God needs a perfect human to suffer a lot and die, meaning Jesus has to take one for the team.
This provides an outlet for God's righteous anger which must be avenged while keeping
the rest of us safe from it.
The divine rage has to go somewhere, and Mel Gibson is happy to film it for you.
This theory bleeds into and out of other ones: the sacrifical theory, the hero theory, the
ransom theory, the solidarity theory.
God's glory requires a worthy sacrifice, and only the Lamb of God is a good enough scapegoat.
Or God is so impressed with how much and how well Jesus suffered that God decides to
write off the entire bill.
Or Satan kidnaps humanity in bondage to sin, God pays a steep ransom price, then pulls a fast one on Easter to get the blood money back with interest: The Art of the Deal.
Or the cross reveals the depths of God's love and the lengths to which God will go to be with us, even into hell; watch the movie What Dreams May Come to get a feel for this one.
All of them combine a glimpse into the heart of God, pure with a perfect love we'll never be able to comprehend completely, with human assumptions about the way things work.
All of the theories at some point become violent, financial, or transactional: it simply has to be about power, money, or control by force, because that's just how life works.
When we take one or more theory and run too far with it, we reduce God to a ruthless business tycoon, a merciless judge, an egomaniacal tyrant, or a child abuser: none of which align with what Jesus said about his Father.
We also court the risk of social distance from God: talking about rather than talking with.
Postulation is safer than prayer, and a head game is easier than a trusting heart.
Faith is not saying and believing, "Jesus died for me so I can go to heaven."
Faith is following Jesus into hell with no idea why.
This is why Paul celebrates Abraham and points to him as the model of faith, which is a trusting friendship with a God who makes all kinds of questionable statements.
God promised Abram and his barren wife Sarai a child, then told them to leave the retirement home and wander west.
That was during the as Clinton administration.
Now they wake up, as Paul so delicately puts it, in bodies already as good as dead and God
stops by to talk about the kids they still haven't had.
Let's change your names to Abraham and Sarah, because you will be the parents of nations full of your offspring.
Sarah will have a son, God says again, preposterously.
Abraham trusted God.
Sarah, who could not come up with any atonement theory to explain this, named her baby boy Laughter, or maybe someone else did because that was the only thing she could get out of her mouth in the NICU tent.
God brought life out of her womb that had been dead for almost a century.
This is the same crazy God who told Jesus to go to the cross.
Jesus invites us to come along.
Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
When we lose everything, when we are reduced to nothing, when all hope is gone, now God can work.
Good luck trusting that without seeing the blueprint.
That is why Paul celebrates Abraham so much.
Following impossible rules is so much easier than faith.
There is an end to the pandemic that we cannot see.
There is a life beyond death that we cannot see.
There is healing and wholeness in the cross that we cannot see.
The deep shadows in our lives are cast by a light that we cannot see.
We are given only the glimpses we need by the One who can see beyond our near and narrow horizons, and the path this One chooses is usually the scary and impossible one.
Set down your backpack, take up your cross, and follow me, he says.
Love your neighbor as yourself – that doesn't add up either.
Resist violence and hatred with love, even if it means pain and suffering.
Trust that God will see you through barren places like Sarah's womb and Christ's cross
and the hopeless hell of that person with the problems you cannot fix.
Love is deadly dangerous.
Faith is outrageously foolish.
Do ask questions, but do not expect neat and tidy answers—what begins with us trying to master a subject leads us to the deeper, sometimes darker, often scarier, and ultimately better place of being subject to the Master, whose mysterious heart is an open secret too
breathtakingly beautiful to deduce.
Along the way, when it looks hopeless, keep going, keep hoping against hope, because around the corner from the cross hides Easter, and Sarah and Abraham have the last laugh.