Why did Jesus have to die?


In his book, Moral Lessons, Richard Selzer MD, writes: “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

– via The Ragamuffin Gospel, chapter 6

Jesus had to die to conform God’s lips to our twisted life. We can only understand the quality of love in terms of sacrifice. So God set it up that he could make a sacrifice so big we’d understand the enormous quality of his love for us.

In the title, I’m not referring to the standard question of “Why did Jesus have to die?” that most Christian are answering. This question with the answer so our sins would be forgiven. Or to atone for our sins.

I’m referring to the question of why did God set it up this way. Why did God make the rules so that Jesus’ death would some how make up for our sins. Couldn’t he have found a way other than sacrifice and blood?

I think the answer is yes. But in so doing he would have had to change how we experience love.

I’m not sure our understanding of love only being in terms of sacrifice is a reflection of God’s love or our fallen nature. But God’s desire to show us just how much he loves us is why Jesus had to die. And the more horrible the death the greater the quality of his love in our eyes.