Despite being a Christian mystic I’ve always been puzzled by the facts around the life of Jesus, more specifically how God can forgive mankind collectively by sending his son to earth to die for us when both the son and the father are the same being.
This is a point that often comes up with the atheists that I know who love to point out that to a being like God, sending yourself to Earth to die for humanities sins is a bit like one of us breaking one of our own fingers in order to forgive someone who might want to break our fingers. Couldn’t God simply forgive? Why was there a need to send Jesus to earth in the first place?
Most believers just shrug their shoulders and state that God works in mysterious ways, which needless to say is not an answer that satisfies non believers who relegate the life of Christ to history in the same way that they relegate the Grecko/Roman pantheon of gods, heroes, philosophers and history to the murky world of myth and fable that has become inexplicably mixed with some true live events. Many might agree that Jesus existed but may not agree that he was, in fact, the Son of God or that he performed miracles.
“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.”
Yet nevertheless, something significant undoubtedly happened in ancient Galilee. For anyone to state that Jesus didn’t exist or that his ministry and life isn’t that relevant today is to deny reality when we can easily see the results of Jesus’s life and works around us all of the time, in every place that we look in the form of our liberal and decent civilisation that whilst imperfect is a better place to live than in non-Christian parts of the world.
Thanks to the core principles that come with Christianity, such as ‘loving thy neighbour,’ ‘the forgiveness of those that would trespass against us,’ and the philosophical tradition that encourages the pursuit of truth at all costs we live in a country that has good public services with government institutions are relatively free from corruption when compared to parts of the Middle-East and sub-Saharan Africa. To deny that Christian countries are the best places to live is to be willfully ignorant of the history of Europe and the Christian message that has shaped it.
Thanks to the work of Jesus and his disciples, over time the people of Europe within the former Roman Empire saw their values shift away from idolatry, selfishness and immorality towards goodness, liberty for all and selflessness to create a modern world in which the bad very rarely prosper. Thanks to the ministry of Jesus criminals are usually caught and punished appropriately. Very rarely does a man or woman get away with bad behaviour? Might is no longer ‘right,’ in the Christian world. The rule of law prevails, making the king the equal of any peasant within the legal system. The very concept of ‘fairness,’ and ‘equality under the law,’ runs through every aspect of our society shaping every government policy.
The world that sprang up as a result of Christ’s ministry is one in which liberty and the right to live as you please on your own terms without harming another is deemed to be a God-given right. All men and women are born free in the kingdom of Christ (Christendom). To recognise this is to see a living miracle. The world before Christ’s ministry was a nasty and brutal place, the world beyond Christendom is in many places still as harsh and unforgiving. It should be obvious that not all cultures are equal, some are better than others, but the recognition of this fact should not make us arrogant or complacent, because we live in a walled city, a living shadow of the city of God and there are forces from within and without that would love to see those walls torn down.
Our duty as citizens is to keep on repairing the walls, to innovate and to fix them in a way that makes them even more beautiful so that as time marches on they become stronger and more valuable, like priceless art, our earthly city of God is not only functional but should be made ever more ready to become more like the heavenly city of God so that we can continue to create a society that seeks and rewards those that have the purest intentions and the noblest of values, those being the values of God made manifest in the world around us.
The jewel in the crown of the Christian west is the symbolic relationship that we have with God who speaks deeply to non-rational and emotive minds. To love is to be good, to be good is to walk with God in all of his ways. This is not something that can easily be summed up rationally, but intuitively it makes perfect sense.
Religious truths are not necessarily factual truths. They are more like archetypes that play out in the mind bringing meaning and structure to our lives.
Hence the example of Jesus dying on the cross as an atonement to God the father for all of mankind’s sins is highly symbolic because when we sin someone else suffers as a result of our actions. Those who suffer as a result of our miss-deeds are always innocent. They didn’t consent to the fall out of our bad choices. Hence the highly symbolic nature of Jesus’s death on the cross. Jesus was the ultimate innocent and in doing so revealed to all of mankind the intrinsic relationship between sin and suffering.
When we fail to do the right thing, someone else suffers. That’s sin in a nutshell. Our unwilling victims didn’t ask to be affected by our poor choices, but nevertheless, they are, just like the children of alcoholic parents that have drunk away the shopping budget, they go hungry because their parents have done the wrong thing. That’s the nature of sin when we act selfishly or in an unloving manner, someone else suffers.
Likewise when we are good, other people always benefit, they didn’t ask for the blessings of our goodwill, but nevertheless, their experience of life always improves when we do the right thing.
All of our actions whether good or bad have repercussions that go on throughout all of time and into eternity, like the ripples seen when you drop a pebble into a still pond. These moral, ethical and spiritual ripples never die out, they might gradually fade or disappear from the senses as other ripples caused by other things wash over them, but they nevertheless combine to make up the whole fabric of reality.
Life is the eternal reverberation of an intense web of souls, by our actions people prosper or suffer, the choice is binary, boolean in fact, it’s simply true or false, good or bad for every decision that we make.
This is an unconscious realisation that we tend to skip over when thinking of the crucifixion story. It’s not something that easily registers in our waking, thinking and logical mind, but at a subconscious level in the domain of symbols and archetypes it hits us hard making us aware that no sin is without harm, a sin against the self, still negatively affects others, which is why suicide is considered to be a sin. When you give into imperfection, you are doomed to cause suffering in the lives of others. It’s unavoidable.
That’s all that sin is, a giving-in to imperfection, a failure to live up to our best potential in any given situation. The opposite of ‘sin,’ is love, when we act lovingly, then we minimise the potential for harm.
The alcoholic parents might resolve to get some professional help with their drinking issues so that they can spend their money on good quality food for the kids. They might suffer in the short term with the effects of alcohol withdrawal, but with every passing moment, they become closer to God as they atone for their previous mistakes. If their children can forgive them then they become innocent again in the eyes of those kids, because of the astounding power of forgiveness. Those that forgive emanate the best attributes of Jesus and God the Father and will surely enter the kingdom of heaven because it exists in the heart of the believer, not in any particular place.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,”
Romans 14:17 – New International Version.
The thing to understand is that Jesus suffered so that he could reveal to us all the relationship between sin and suffering. When you look at the state of the world which often seems to be full to the brim with suffering, you can see that nearly all of it comes about as a result of human imperfection, carelessness and bad deeds or for want of a better word ‘sin.’
It’s interesting to note that the origin of the word ‘sin,’ is in ancient archery. To the Hebrews it simply meant ‘missing the mark,’ at the centre of a target like a bullseye on a modern day dart board, or in other worlds being not as good as you could be, making a mistake or an error.
‘Missing the mark,’ is simply failing to live up to your true potential, with practice we can all hit the target and score 50 points for our team!
Missing the mark can frequently cause another to do the same. Our misdeeds can cause other people to react in a way that is less than perfect, hence sin leads to another sin, the ripples of bad deeds eventually touch all sides of the pond…
A man who shouts abusively at his wife should be prepared to hear something equally unpleasant coming straight back at him! Both have ‘missed the mark,’ and have completed the cycle of sin, (one actively, the other reactively by allowing one miss-deed to create another yet another as the blazing row escalates. The cycle of sin can be broken however by forgiveness, empathy and compassion that comes from love felt within and without by one another.
Life on earth is frequently hell, but it’s the worst kind of hell because with a little bit of effort it could easily be heaven. That, dear friends, is our choice and our duty as Christians. To try our best to be the best that we can be at all times, to hit the ‘mark,’ as often as we can, knowing full well that as we do so we tilt the balance of life away from hell and towards heaven.
To end suffering is to make all innocent, to forgive those that caused you suffering is to make those that trespass against you innocent once more breaking the cycle of sin because the innocents can go to heaven, which is why we forgive those ‘that trespass against us,’ and in turn ask God through the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us our sins.
Your willingness to forgive is their redemption as illustrated by Jesus on the cross who said:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:34 – New International Version.