How I Began to Understand Jesus' Sacrifice
Wednesday, March 28, 2012Tweet
I have a hard time conceptualizing extreme suffering.
Without having experienced it -- or anything close to it -- myself, I can't claim to understand what it's like to experience severe physical pain. I can't wrap my mind around the millions of children suffering from hunger and malnourishment. I can't feel the pain of all of the 9/11 victims.
This is why I struggle to have appropriate awe for Jesus' death.
For example, I went to see The Passion in theaters with a friend who cried during the movie, as did many other people. I just couldn't make myself feel whatever I was supposed to. I have no past experiences, no personal scale that I can attempt to magnify in order to feel in my body what it's like to be beaten raw. It's beyond my comprehension in the way that really understanding "a billion" in any real terms is beyond my comprehension.
This is something I felt guilty about for a long time, as if I really needed to feel Jesus' death in order to be a good Christian. I needed to comprehend how horrible it was in order to "appreciate" what He did.
But then there's the fact that, as Madeleine L'Engle points out in her book Two-Part Invention, Jesus suffered physically for maybe half a day, while her husband was in excruciating pain for months on end. We see God allowing Jesus to suffer as somehow justified because it had to happen -- to fulfill Scripture, to forgive our sins, to conquer death -- however you frame it, but we have no easy explanation for why people we know and love have to endure as much or more suffering.
A few years ago, when revisiting the Passion story during Holy Week, I suddenly had a realization that made it all click for me. Something that put Jesus' sacrifice in terms that made real, visceral sense to me.
Jesus' death was unjust. He was free from sin, yet He was treated like a criminal and killed for it.
And He didn't try to stop them. He didn't try to clear His name.
This realization was huge for me as a person who has generally lived my life in fear of getting in trouble. I've mentioned I'm a compulsive rule-follower. And that my worst fear is being wrongly accused of a crime, arrested, and tortured. Truly, as uncomfortable as it is to get caught doing something I shouldn't be doing, few things shake me to the core like getting yelled at for doing something that I didn't know I shouldn't do, or that I didn't even do.
You can bet that if someone tried to throw me in jail for a crime I didn't commit, I would fight tooth and nail. I would get a lawyer. I would do research. I would do anything I possibly could to clear my name and get that stain off my reputation.
What did Jesus do? He let people arrest Him, mock Him, torture Him, and kill Him, even though He did nothing wrong. All He'd ever done was told the truth, and they hated Him for it and found a way to get Him killed. And He just took it. Because he knew it was God's will.
I don't know if I can understand the depth of love it takes to do that. I honestly don't know if I would be able to put myself through that -- not just the physical torture, but the wrongful, completely unjust accusations and consequences -- for my husband. My husband! And Jesus did it for everyone, even the people who couldn't give a damn about Him. Even the people who did it to Him. He suffered for them, and asked His Father to forgive them.
Holy. Freaking. Crap.
That is a love beyond my comprehension. But I do begin to have a sense now of just how great His love must be to do what He did.
This, at the root, is why I am a Christian. You can talk morality and theology all you want, but when it comes down to it, I see a man who came to tell us that loving God and loving each other were the most important things we could do, and then showed us what true selfless love looks like, and that it is greater than death.