If God is Love, why would he kill his own Son?

I've been asked this question a number of times by High School students - its actually not an easy question to answer, partly because of the language that we've used to explain Jesus' death for a very long time. And the Biblical language gets mixed in with interpretation from a number of non-Biblical influences, like from a guy named St. Anselm, who talks about Jesus being punished with God's wrath in our place - the Bible SEEMS like it says this too, but it actually doesn't.

So, why would God the Father kill his Son? Well, that's not exactly what happened. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit decided they needed to do something about human sin, and subjection to it, our fate of spiritual death and separation from God, so TOGETHER, they decided that the Son should be sent in to the world.

The Father sent the Son, and the Son, went because 1) he loves the Father that sent him, and 2) he loves us.

But why death on the cross? Why couldn't God just snap his fingers and forgive our sins? Why did it require Jesus sacrifice.

Some people would say that God is not only a merciful God, but also a JUST God, and must have punishment for disobedience against him. Someone has to be punished, so rather than US being punished, Jesus suffered the punishment for us. Many people are perfectly satisfied with this explanation.

But WHY? This understanding is problematic for a number of reason. 1) Why would God be regulated by any set of rules, least of all his own? Can't he change his mind? Even the Bible says that God changes his mind from time to time. 2) If God HAS TO do anything, God doesn't have total freedom, in which case, God isn't really God. 3) This God of mercy vs. God of justice dichotymy gives the sense of being a split-personality. 4) There is also a certain monstrosity assigned to God that would will that his Son suffer so, particularly if there were another alternativ - this cannot be denied, no matter how hard we try.

So, there must be another explanation. And I think there is.

First thing we understand is that there is sin in the world, and the consequence of sin is suffering. I don't think this is too hard for us to understand - in fact, I would say that this suffering is what makes sin sinful - its that it causes suffering.

So, this gives us a different understanding of God's punishment or wrath. The Bible speaks of God's wrath against the sinner - but I think this can be understood, in light of Jesus' teaching, as the negative consequences themselves, of our sins, which I don't think that God CAUSES, but he does permit them.

WHY does God permit them? Because if he doesn't, he's essentially taking away our freedom. A sin is turning our back on God - the consequence is that our back is turned. Total, final separation from God, THAT WE PUT OURSELVES IN, would be what we call hell.

We all sin, we all experience the consequences, and these consequences, it would seem will lead us inevitably to final, total separation from God.

Except that Jesus came along. He was totally human, but one that NEVER turned his back on God. So why did he experience the consequences on sin? Simple: because he was here, in this world. In fact, history seems to show that the more perfect and loving a person is, often the more the world persecutes and victimizes and destroys that person.

Jesus willingly submitted himself to be here with us. And to suffer with us too. He accepted all the suffering for all of OUR sins that we sentence ourselves to.

And despite the temptation, he never sinned - never turned his back on God, His Father. That's where his being God the Son becomes important. No human could overcome the temptations.

In fact Jesus experiences even more suffering than any human being could. I'm not talking about his physical pain either, as the movie "Passion of the Christ" would have us believe. I'm talking about Jesus feeling of separation from God the Father.

What am I talking about? Anyone who has loved and lost knows that more we loved the person, the more PAINFUL it was when we lost them. Now imagine Jesus with his Father, loving each other PERFECTLY, knowing perfect union and relationship. Then imagine how Jesus would feel on his cross, as though his Father had abandoned him, as demonstrated in his statement, "My God, My God, Why have you foresaken me?" He would have experienced a pain unlike any human had every experienced.

That means that there is no experience pain that WE can go through that Jesus didn't.

And what good does that do for us? Easter Sunday is the answer to that question. If God can turn Jesus' death around, God will also turn around our suffering too. Every story has a happy ending, because Jesus died AND rose.

Here's a much more detailed - but much more complicated - treatment of this topic, that I wrote my first paper on in the seminary, back in 1997. Its way too long, and I may have been a little TOO hard on St. Anselm (so my Theology instructor told me), but this paper is the goods. I got a really nice grade for it too. Click HERE if your interested.