FIRST OF A NEW SERIES: Fr Simon tries to explain some common and key questions about the faith in “There is no such thing as a dumb question”
The first thing to say is that there are a lot of different perspectives on this, which is at its heart an almost unfathomable mystery: all theology and faith is grasping the edge of something quite beyond our human understanding, but we can see glimpses, and the best clue we have to getting a grip on what God is, and what he wants, was when he stepped into this world as a human in the form of Jesus Christ.
This mystery is call the atonement and is about the reconciliation of God with us. We broke the system because we do the bad things: ‘sin’. Metaphorically this is described as the Fall in Genesis (eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil – not an apple!) but that is just an ancient way of trying to describe why we as humans mess up. God is constantly trying to win us back (sending prophets etc) but we still didn’t listen and went our own way. Finally he comes himself in the form of Jesus (understand that ‘Son of God’ means the same as ‘God’ himself). That was a bit of a threat, so they had him killed. He foretold this in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19).
The purpose of the Incarnation (God born in human form) anyway was to overcome the pile of mess we made and wipe the slate clean, to make it right. Some fundamentalist churches will tell you its because someone has the take the punishment and so Jesus (the one who never sinned) takes it for us, but that’s a little child-abuse-y. Others might say that God himself beats sin and death by absorbing and overcoming it (not punishment, but a sort of cosmic moral battle), and so the cross is the weight of our sin and the winning is the resurrection.
We might be so dumb that we need a very clear demonstration that sin and death is overcome. I can tell you that God has forgiven you, but you might say “how can I tell?” My response might therefore be to point to the Cross and the Resurrection which shows that the God who overcomes death demonstrates the reality of wiping the slate clean. For all of us, fear of death is the most prevailing and universal fear of all: it’s going to happen to all of us and so the Christian promise is that God makes it alright.
Does that mean that if God has sorted it, then I can do just what I want? Murder? Eat Drink & be Merry? We are called to a good life because it is a response to that forgiveness, not because if I am bad I will be cosmically smacked. This is more carrot than stick. The thing is, although my faith in Christ and the power of my Baptism buys me into that victory, I get up the next day and mess up again. I will have to face up to that, like standing outside the headmasters study (which I did a lot of) which I think will probably be worse than any medieval notion of being poked by demons with little pitchforks. Ultimately, I will gain that which Christ won for me: because he loved me so much he was prepared to take on my bad stuff and overcome it for me in that sign of victory – the cross and prove it by the resurrection.
This is not a dumb question, it’s a very fundamental one, and this is not an exhaustive answer, but merely a scratch on the surface.
This video tries to demonstrate this very powerfully..