Some time ago, I heard an audio clip of self-proclaimed non-theist describe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world as a horrible thing. To hear this person talk, salvation (based on what the Bible teaches) was as bad as child sacrifice, as a father condemned his son to death for a bunch of sinful human beings; i.e., “the death of the innocent for the guilty”. Like many trained speakers, this man had the ability to capture points with carefully-crafted phrases and emotional images.
Before I comment on this, though, I should put this in context. I make it a point to sometimes listen to or read what others say when I suspect that I won’t agree with them (although this particular case may have been my listening to someone else who was doing the same thing). This gives me the chance to consider their point of view, and compare it against my own. And, it allows me to evaluate whether or not there is a logical reason for me to disagree with the other person (if their point of view does indeed not align with my own).
Sometimes, when doing this, I’ve learned new things. I don’t claim to know everything, and there have been times when I have reconsidered something that I thought was true. Other times, the discrepancy is obvious. (By the way, I encourage everyone to read a simple book – of which there are many – about logical fallacies. A lot of conversations – and commercials – could be a lot shorter if we quickly identified common errors in the process of persuasion, and skipped directly to the facts.)
In this case, though, the answer was not necessarily immediately obvious. This point seems to make sense on the surface, if we consider only portions of how Jesus redeemed humankind from the consequences of our sins. In fact, Jesus (God the Son) did die on a cross, at the will of God the Father.
When this happens, there can be a bit of a setback for our core beliefs. A claim that feels contrary to the truth, but isn’t immediately demonstrably false, can be challenging. If we’re honest, though, and if we want to believe the truth, we should be able to investigate and study statements like this further, to see if they really are true.
The good news here is that Jesus Himself already gave us the answer to the claim that He was an unwilling sacrifice:
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
John 10:17-18 NLT
There are two kinds of people who suffer because of others. The first kind is a victim, who has no say in the matter. As a result, a person in this situation experiences the consequences of someone else’s will. God has looked out for victims throughout history, whether it was a substitute for Isaac, or helping the marginalized. Still, we should mourn for many who are victims, and seek to both defend them and advocate for them so that they can receive justice and be restored.
Still, there is a second kind of person who suffers because of others. This is a hero. We may imagine the lead roles in action movies, who give up their comfort, their safety, or even their lives to rescue others. However, heroes are much more common than that. Whether it is someone who puts on a uniform (or scrubs) and endures risk to serve others, or a family member trading their free time for the chance to serve a loved one, we can find heroism in a lot of places.
This is the difference between a victim and a hero. The hero has a choice. The victim strives to escape, while the hero moves in – often knowing the likely cost – for a better cause: a more nobler purpose. Of course, we must not devalue victims, but we celebrate both those who overcome on their own, and the heroes who help those who cannot.
Regrettably, my own sinful condition, and the eternal death sentence that it earned me, were not the result of my being a victim. I chose to sin, and in doing so, I chose to separate myself from God. Despite the fact that I wasn’t a victim, and deserved punishment, Jesus came in as a hero and rescued even me. As the apostle Paul wrote:
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:6-8 NLT
There is no greater hero than Jesus Christ. I can only imagine becoming even a fraction of the hero to others that Jesus was to me. However, I’m willing to keep trying. I hope you are, too.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.