As we move into Easter, the emphasis on that little phrase, “Jesus died for our sins,” is becoming more and more problematic for many people. It invokes meaning they can no longer adhere to. The dominant perspective is this. All have sinned against God and stand guilty before God. The only way in which our sin can be forgiven is through an adequate sacrifice. God’s justice demands it, so God sends Jesus as the perfect human making him the perfect sacrifice. Jesus dies on the cross and this sacrifice makes forgiveness possible, but only for those who believe that he died for their sins.
There are real difficulties here. What kind of god demands sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, demands pain and suffering before forgiveness is given? This not only sounds primitive and vengeful, a life for a life, but also imposes restrictions on the power of Divine forgiveness. It holds that forgiveness is not forthcoming unless someone pays the price. The image of Jesus’ cruel death on the cross, somehow placating God’s anger and calling forth forgiveness out of the Divine heart, is one many struggle with.
A second difficulty is with the fact that the cross was not just the consequence of Jesus living out Divine truth in the world, but an absolute necessity for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus had to die. It was foreordained. Reconciliation could not take place without his death. His death was essential to the Divine plan of salvation. So Jesus’ death becomes a kind of inbuilt automated path which overrides human freedom and choice. There’s something rather inadequate about this as well.
Far more comforting and acceptable is the approach which sees Jesus’ life (not just his death), along with his death and his resurrection, as “the way” or “the path” through which spiritual transformation takes place. That transformation becomes ours as we follow him. It is the way of an expanding consciousness of the Divine life and its call on ours.
It was Jesus’ expanding consciousness of his relationship to the Divine and its call on his life that ultimately led him to the cross, not because it was ordained to be, but because that was the ultimate consequence of that path. And when he uttered those words from the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” he did not see himself as a sacrifice for sin enabling Divine forgiveness, but rather as expressing forgiveness because at that moment his humanity was so permeated with Divine life and forgiveness that it flowed from him too. That’s why we are able to say that in Jesus we see the expanse of Divine forgiveness itself.
In his life, death, and resurrection Jesus demonstrates what is already there, and possible for us, a reality of Divine grace, love and forgiveness, that doesn’t have to be wrung out of a reluctant God through blood and sacrifice.
Does that mean there’s no cost involved? Of course not! The cost is immense. There’s a tremendous cost to growing into God-consciousness. Jesus revealed this, only too well, in all that happened to him.