The idea that Jesus was “born to die” is central to the theology of the Christian Right. Bestselling author John Piper wrote Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. Among the reasons he lists are: to absorb the wrath of God, to cancel the legal demands of the law against us, to provide the basis for our justification, and to rescue us from final judgment. The introduction to this book on Amazon.com states: “The most important questions anyone can ask are: Why was Jesus Christ crucified? Why did he suffer so much? What has this to do with me? Finally, who sent him to his death? The answer to the last question is that God did.”
Deterministic teachings such as these raise troubling questions about the nature of God. They also disregard the value of Jesus’ life, ministry, and freedom of choice, and ignore the social and political factors that led to his death.
To believe that Jesus was born to die and that God’s intent was for Jesus to die can lead to the acceptance of the suffering of ourselves and others, and to apathy in the face of injustice. This allows us to justify not only Jesus’ execution, but other injustices as well. For if all is well and it is God’s will for one man, Jesus, to be tortured and executed by the State, why not others? (This question takes on new meaning as Donald Trump promises to revive and expand the policy of torture practiced during the Bush administration.) If things have been set right by the death of Jesus and everything is going according to God’s plan, why try to change anything? Why not accept everything that happens, every injustice, every execution, as God’s will?
This is religion that supports Empire. This is the antithesis of the spirituality of Jesus. It serves the Powers. Entrapment of the innocent, torture, and execution by the State are not now and never have been in accordance with the will of God.
The death of Jesus was not God’s intent. God’s intent in sending Jesus was to show us what God is like and what human life and community can be when lived in the presence of God. Clearly, such a life is a threat to the Powers that Be. Jesus had settled for himself long before that being a beloved child of God meant being at odds with the world’s power structures. He had been tempted early on to seek status, wealth, and worldly power. Instead, he chose the “foolishness” and “weakness” of Love. He chose “the wisdom of God, secret and hidden,” which the rulers of that age did not understand. “If they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2). That’s why Jesus died—because the ruling Powers killed him.
Fortunately, we don’t need to jump through ideological hoops in order to have a personal, life-giving, Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus Christ. We don’t have to adopt a deterministic belief system in order to come to terms with suffering and to experience forgiveness, spiritual connection, and the unconditional grace and love of God.
The story of the execution of Jesus brings about a great reversal of spiritual perspective. Instead of seeing God as a King, Judge, or Director of human events, in the crucified Christ we see God as the object of scorn, shame, ridicule, and judgment, as abandoned and broken-hearted, as lover, as Love. God rejoices with us when we rejoice, weeps with us when we weep, showers both the just and unjust with all the blessings of creation, and calls us to embody Love in this world. Jesus was one who did just that. Those of us who follow him are called to do so fully and completely, renouncing fear and paralysis, living in the power of the Spirit, and heading straight into the heart of the struggle for a better world, as he did.
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