Tom Gilson

What Christ Does for Us, Part 9: The Cross, Again

In a series on what Christ does for us, one post on Christ’s cross and resurrection is hardly enough. I must linger a while longer.

Ravi Zacharias once said (according to a friend of mine), “The only alternative to the cross is the trivialization of sin.” I’m sure he was speaking pastorally, to Bible believers, for if he had been speaking philosophically he could have suggested other alternatives. The cross–Christ’s death, in other words–is presented in the Bible as a drastic solution to a most serious problem. The problem is our sin: our rebellion from the God who created us in love; and the pain, alienation, and death that result. Christ’s death was the payment of the death penalty on our behalf, and a costly payment it was, being a torturous sacrifice made by God Himself.

So if the cross means nothing, then sin must mean nothing, says Zacharias. But let’s consider some other alternatives. If Christ’s death is not, as the Bible says, a drastic solution to a serious problem, then we have these choices:

  1. There is no serious problem: sin is not what the Bible says it is.
  2. There is a serious problem, but the death of Christ on our behalf is not the solution; there is another (at least one) way out of it.
  3. There is a serious problem with no solution.

Option one cannot be entirely true. We don’t need the Bible to tell us we have a serious problem. We are at each other’s throats, in war, in office backstabbing, in greedy competition, in racism, in political maneuvering, and on and on. Every parent knows we do not need to train our children to do wrong; we need to teach them to do right. Moreover, there is pain, sickness, and death, which the Bible explains as the result of having turned our backs on God.

What we cannot see just by these observations is that the true source of these problems is in our rebellion against a true God. We cannot tell without God’s revelation that our conflict, self-centeredness, and pain and death are the result of this untrendy, meddlesome concept of sin. Perhaps it’s just a matter of competing for our place in the reproductive scheme of things. That’s what evolution implies: all of life is a fight for position. Some win, some lose. All die, but some leave more behind.

There is one observation from nature that counts against that view, I think: of all the organisms engaged in this struggle, only humans seem to care about it. Only we notice injustice. Only we have a vision of the good: love, joy, right relationships, giving, altruism. Only we foresee our own deaths, fear what comes after, and truly recognize and mourn the loss of others. This hints that there’s something different going on, something that doesn’t fit in the evolutionary scheme of things, something that may just have come from elsewhere. As the Bible says, we have the image of God impressed upon us; and by it we understand so much more than the animals do.

Option two accepts that we have a serious problem, something more than the obvious ones of death and discord, something spiritual; but suggests that there are many solutions. The alternative to Christ’s death might not be the trivialization of sin, but some other remedy that takes care of it another way: “there are many paths to God,” or if not to God, then at least to wholeness, or oneness with the cosmos, or some such thing.

We could spend a long time on this, which we will not do. Consider a few brief points in response. If there are many paths to God or to some sense of right living, then they ought to agree on the fundamentals. They don’t. The major religions and philosophies of the world disagree mightily as to the nature of ultimate reality, the truth of the human condition, what constitutes the ideal goal (heaven, Nirvana, whatever), and how one attains to it. If any one of these religions or philosophies is true, then the others are false; for contradictory beliefs cannot be true together at the same time and in the same relation.

If the cross of Christ is the solution for our problem, it is the only solution. If there is another answer, then the cross is irrelevant. But only Jesus’ death for us satisfies our need for being brought into right relationship with God, through the forgiveness of sins we could never rise above on our own; and only his resurrection satisfies the need for the defeat of pain and death.

Option three is more honest than option two. It recognizes our alienation from one another, it takes seriously our impending deaths. But it throws up its hands and says there’s nothing we can do about it. This was Bertrand Russell’s stand. It is a philosophy of despair, and Russell’s brave posturing cannot make it otherwise. It is nevertheless the only conceivable outcome of a materialist philosophy that considers all reality to be just the result of matter and energy interacting through natural law and chance. I do not suggest that Russell did not have try to rise above injustice, or that he gave up working to improve the human condition. I merely say that his philosophy provided no hope of ultimate success in that quixotic effort.

This series has not been about proving the Biblical view is the correct one, and I do not have space here to start down that path. I have been trying instead to make more clear what the Bible teaches by contrasting it with other views. These other options all float around our consciousness, for they are all to varying degrees prominent in our culture. Even Bible-believers can be affected by them: and thus, we can easily trivialize sin, as Ravi Zacharias said.

Make no mistake, the cross of Jesus Christ is a drastic solution to a serious problem, and the problem is our fundamental distance, because of rebellion, from the God who created and loves us. He loves us enough that He was willing (“for the joy set before him” Christ did this) to sacrifice Himself to solve our problem. There is no other solution for such a deep difficulty as we are in. It was, as was already said, a very costly solution. Do we trivialize our own faults? Do we recognize the sacrifice by which we are freed from them?

Thank God for the price He paid! Let us not regard it lightly, nor let us regard lightly our own sin, which led Him to pay it.

Part of a Series: What Christ Does For Us

Related: How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions. This post elicited a short question, to which I’m writing a very long answer in the form of this series.

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6 thoughts on “What Christ Does for Us, Part 9: The Cross, Again

  1. Tom

    We cannot tell without God’s revelation that our conflict, self-centeredness, and pain and death are the result of this untrendy, meddlesome concept of sin.

    Are you saying that sin is ontologically different from immoral action? You write as if sin is a compound, a poison, that induces immoral action. Is this just a manner of speaking?

    This hints that there’s something different going on, something that doesn’t fit in the evolutionary scheme of things, something that may just have come from elsewhere.

    Unfortunately, evolution is predictive, but theology is not. Not to reopen our long-standing disagreement on the nature of explanations, but it seems to me that, aesthetically, a predictive explanation trumps a non-predictive one (assuming we thought non-predictive ones existed). And IIRC this series is really about aesthetics.

    Of Russell, you say:

    I merely say that his philosophy provided no hope of ultimate success in that quixotic effort.

    Does your philosophy offer hope of ultimate success? It seems like your own philosophy implies an extraordinarily high body count. Indeed, Hell sounds worse than death. That’s not very hopeful, IMO.

    Personally, I am quite comfortable with a lack of “ultimate success.” More success seems better than less, and this fact alone seems quite adequate to inspire whatever actions (or, at least, ambitions) are necessary.

  2. DL says: “Are you saying that sin is ontologically different from immoral action?

    Wait… this is the same person who, while admitting to no philosophical bona fides, holds to the personal opinion that metaphysics is “irrelevant” and calls the science of being “ontology-smontology”? [edited by Siteowner]

    So, again, we witness [edited by Siteowneer] attempts to impose upon others [the view] that his own personal, subjective scientistic view of reality is the only acceptable form of “explanation.”

    And, as a moral relativist, DL in absolutist terms criticizes other views for the alleged “body count” (unscientifically, of course: after death for which he has no empirical evidence) when, in fact, we do have clear empirical evidence of DL’s own atheistic worldview accounting for more bloodshed than all religious faiths combined throughout history. Moreover, DL is a proponent of “transhumanism,” which promises plenty more experimentation upon the weaker to benefit the stronger, i.e., more and more bodies: for example, Simon Young, a leading transhumanist, openly advocates a biologistic, eugenic type of ethics to make “designer” human beings—see Simon Young, Designer Evolution: A Transhumanist Manifesto (New York: Prometheus, 2006); reviewed in First Things 164 (June-July, 2006; 48-49.) “Unsuccessful people” are those who have not managed to “upgrade” themselves biologically. Didn’t we hear something similar from the Nazis (untermenchen) and from those who justified slavery by reducing blacks to “fractional humans” and “non-citizens” (Dred Scott vs. Sanford), and what we hear now from pro-abortionists who reduce humans in the womb to the status of “non-persons” dependent on the mantra of personal “choice”?

    And, notice the sweet irony of the bloodied hands of atheism and transhumanism: evolutionary ideology rejects any “designer” God… and yet projects (like transhumanism, embryonic stem cell research, etc.) abound in which man himself declares himself the “designer” of evolution.

    Christ offers us the Cross as the path to everlasting life. Atheism offers us genocide and oblivion… preceded, of course, by intellectual death.

    Note from Siteowner: I am enforcing the updated comments policy. I’m holding open the right to exercise Item 10 in the policy.

  3. Holopupenko, I have very substantive disagreements with doctor(logic), as do you, but I have never heard him advocate the kinds of transhumanist atrocities you impute to him. Are you telling him what he really believes? And is it really on topic here?

    I think the body count to which he refers is metaphorical, speaking not of war, murder, or genocide, but the Christian doctrine of hell.

    I agree with you there is incongruency in his making that a moral issue when his moral standards are entirely his own, and not transferable, with any authority whatsoever, to any other person or group.

  4. doctor(logic),

    “Are you saying that sin is ontologically different from immoral action?”

    Good question. No, that’s not exactly what I’m saying, though I can see why you thought that.

    1. Immoral action is a species of sin. The difference is that it’s possible, obviously, to think of immoral action without reference to God. The term “sin” always includes reference to God: if I act immorally toward you, I am sinning against you and also against God.

    2. Further, sin is a condition and not just an action. It is a state of rebellion and separation from God, which produces the fruit of sinful action.

    “Unfortunately, evolution is predictive, but theology is not.”

    There is that long-standing disagreement, isn’t there. No, I don’t think evolution predicts this at all. The things that make us human can be force-fit into an evolutionary paradigm, but it’s not a good fit at all. These same things are entirely at home and predictable under theism. But “prediction” of something that’s been known to be true for thousands of years is a dicey business, no?

    “Does your philosophy offer hope of ultimate success? It seems like your own philosophy implies an extraordinarily high body count. Indeed, Hell sounds worse than death. That’s not very hopeful, IMO.”

    Of course there’s hope! There’s hope in Christ! But without Christ, you’re right, there is destruction. This says that ultimately it matters how we live our lives. Russell’s view denies this. You may be comfortable with that, and if so, then you are. You accept that oblivion is the end. In the end, nothing will matter. That’s the hopelessness I reject–not just on aesthetic/existential grounds, but because there is good reason to believe it’s not the truth.

  5. Tom:

    1st paragraph: Yes, I do… or, at the very least, for his “explaining away” or deflecting those “problems” away from the failings of his own world view. If DL doesn’t agree with what he promotes, then let him say so… but then, he’d be disagreeing with the moral problems transhumanism creates… which undercuts DL’s moral realtivism… again.

    2nd paragraph: of course—that was my point: he has “moral” problems with the doctrine of hell, but has no empirical evidence upon which to base that problem: I was bringing out his hyper-empiricism and “science” (clearing my throat) in issues to which they don’t apply. The obvious examples of the bloody, genocidal nature of athiesm in this world were just icing on the cake.

    3rd paragraph: Well put.

    Lastly: It’s the first two paragraphs of my response that, to me at least, brought out the most egregious gaffs of his position. Perhaps, I should have focused on these…

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