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:
- There is no serious problem: sin is not what the Bible says it is.
- 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.
- 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.