Is God ready to die for us? Christians would ask what a question that is supposed to be, as the answer is an emphatic yes, proven by historical facts. Did Jesus not do precisely that?
I propose a different narrative. Let us, for a moment, look at Jesus’ death as a prophetic enactment of a more profound truth.
Our Western society is deeply rooted and imprinted in the Judeo-Christian tradition and story. Today, most people believe in things like science and human rights, forgetting that both have their roots in precisely that paradigm.
I will focus on human rights in this article, but have a word, an incomplete word, about science first: The Judeo-Christian narrative is one of curiosity and meaning. It portrays our search for purpose in the dialog with the transcendent, giving us an evolving understanding of what that transcendent is, calling it God but looking at it through ever-changing lenses.
Paul tells us that we can see God in nature, the creation story tells us that we can see God in ourselves, as we are made in his image, and Hebrews tells us that we can see God in Jesus, the bodily incarnation of the Father himself.
No wonder we turned to ourselves and nature to understand, giving birth to natural and human sciences.
But what about human rights? The early proponents in the 11th and 12th centuries deduced human rights from the actions of Jesus. Jesus tells us that the rich are to care for the poor, providing them with food and shelter. That had to mean that the poor were entitled to live and have their basic needs met.
While most people today would not consciously agree that they are living fundamental Christian values, that is precisely what they are doing. Christianity has been ingrained into our lives to the degree that God saw the possibility of dying.
What do I mean by that?
Having a monotheistic God as an external being sitting on a throne in heaven, giving us a holy scripture teaching us how to live, has brought us to the point that we are now. As Jeremiah put it, we are a people with the basics written on our hearts.
You might say this is not true, looking at all the bad things happening in the world. But God always was ahead of the time, extending unbelievable trust to his children.
He entrusted Abraham, a single human being, with a message that would in the future bless all nations when there was chaos and human sacrifice in a tribalistic world.
He sent his son when there were only a handful of people that got the implications of this act to a small degree and ran with it, and it took centuries to spread, and currently is spreading in the non-western world as it did in medieval times in Europe.
When the time had come, God took himself out of the picture and allowed Nietzsche to deduct and exclaim that God was dead.
This sent us on a journey of discovery and, eventually, self-discovery.
We stood in awe of the divine for a long time and saw ourselves as sinners, redeemed and put right with God to worship him eternally.
For a long time, we concluded that obedience to a rule book and constitution of the heavenly realm was our deed. At the same time, God did his work in us of engraining his character into our worldview as we do with children when we give them rules.
But now, it was time to grow up. The last 2000 years have been a transition time. We applied the new covenant, the new testament, within the framework of our old understanding. We made it a new set of behavioral rules and requirements.
We finally recognized that God had died and refocused. Like teenagers have to find their way and view of life, deeply engrained by the ways of their parents, we set out, superficially denying our heritage but unconsciously living it, being held by it, and building on it.
But Jesus did not only die, prophetically showing us the time we would pronounce him dead. He rose again.
Nietzsche said that God was dead but that his body still casts a big shadow on all things, expressing concisely what I have put in many more words.
And this body is to rise again. There is the hope of resurrection. There is the promise of Christ’s return.
We make the same mistake as we always have. We apply that promise within our framework, the worldview we entertain. Traditional Christianity is waiting for the bodily return of Jesus as King. Humanism is waiting for the emergence of the Übermensch. Paul told us what it would look like in principle: Christ, he the head, and we the body. But what that will look like when it manifests, we will discover.
May we be more willing and open to recognizing God in the new than the Pharisees of old.
We will discover if we trust in God and his path, letting go of the old and reaching for the new.
Hear me out. I am not saying that the resurrection did not happen and did not serve a purpose when it happened. I am saying that there are different facets to the death and resurrection of Jesus, important to different stages of our development as humans and humanity.
Trust God’s ways past obedience, rules, regulations, and requirements. He has given us hope and purpose for our time in his death and resurrection, way beyond the forgiveness of sin and attaining heaven. Just trust.