Why Did God Have To Die?

Part of the new #snaphots series - short contributions to big questions
Part of the new #snaphots series – short contributions to big questions

“So, why did God have to die?” This question, asked by many, runs to the heart of the Christian faith.

Had To? Chose To.

One of the most well known Bible verses starts this way, “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16).

Love is a choice. It has to be. Coerced love is no love at all. You could spend years of your life studying robotics and then creating the perfect machine to meet your every need, but you wouldn’t have created something to love you, rather it would exist to serve you.

Other religions – not to mention a few cults – detest the idea of God dying. The idea of the most holy God suffering and dying as a human is repulsive to them because it brings shame on their God. God would have to be less than God if he suffered a human death.

Yes, I would agree, if God were not a God of love. But what greater act of love could someone perform than willingly exchanging their life for yours? If love were of immense value, surely the greatest person (God) would be capable of the greatest act of it? (More on that in a moment).

To Pay The Price

The problem of sin runs deep. The Bible speaks of Jesus coming to pay the price for our sins to offer us forgiveness. But why, it may be asked, did not God just ‘click his fingers’ and be done with sin? Why choose to live and die as a human to pay for our sin?

Seems like an easy out, but it would cheapen the character of God to someone not worthy of worship.

The things that are most valuable are the things that people steal (like the recent Cannes diamond theft – it was diamonds, not sand, that was taken). The perfect love of God is of immense value, and when it is stolen from – through sin – the cost of forgiveness is immensely high. Perfect love requires real, costly, forgiveness.

Tim Keller uses this example in his book, Reason For God.

“Imagine that someone borrows your car, and as he backs it out of the driveway he strikes a gate, knocking it down along with part of a wall. Your property insurance doesn’t cover the gate and garden wall. What can you do? There are essentially two options. The first is to demand that he pay for the damages. The second is to refuse to let him pay anything. There may also be a middle-of-the-road solution in which you both share they payment. Notice that in either option the cost of the damages must be borne by someone. Either you or he absorbs the cost for the deed, but the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air.”

If God were to choose to forget, rather than forgive, then there would be no price to pay, rending the love of God cheap in the first place. If the French police turned around and said, “Ahh, they’re just diamonds – no big deal”, there’d be an outcry. You pay high for a theft of great value and the payment for sin is death. The love of God sent Jesus to the cross to bring us our forgiveness. In love he created us and in love he redeemed us.

To Show Us His Love

What is the most loving thing you could conceive of? The greatest loving act imaginable?

The philosopher Alvin Plantinga thought about this and in the end came to the conclusion that the cross of Christ is the best loving act not only that has happened, but also that could ever happen.

If God exists, and is all loving, and we are in sin, then the greatest act would be to make his existence known to us, reveal that he loves us, and redeem us from sin.

In Jesus’ incarnation – coming to earth as a man – and atonement – dying to forgive us – we have the greatest possible act of love conceivable.

Just pause for a moment. If Jesus really was God, and Jesus really did die for you to forgive you, forget all the other objections you may have for a moment – if that were true, what would you say to Jesus if you met him? What would you feel, and what would you think about him?

The evidence for resurrection of Jesus is compelling. There are hard things to wrap our minds around and we continue to think about them. But if Christ rose from the dead then that changes everything. That would reveal the act of a perfect, loving, just God who forgives and redeems.

Further Reading

The Cross of Christ by John Stott

  • The Cross of Christ by John Stott – perhaps the best book written on the cross.
  • Reason for God by Tim Keller – particularly chapter 12, The (True) Story of the Cross.