PROBLEMS WITH CHRISTOLOGYBy Shlomoh Sherman
April 27, 1998
This essay is in response to a friend's argument that the death of Christ as a SACRIFICE is no big deal since, if he is god and knew that he would be resurrected to eternity, so what if he knew he was going to be put to death? He knew his death would have no finality.
According to the understanding about the "nature" of Christ reached at the Council of Chalcedon, Christ had two natures, one as god and one as human. These two existed in one HYPOSTASIS or "person". This hypostatic union is believed to be indivisible yet each "identity" or "nature" is separate one from the other. In becoming human, Christian theologians assert, Christ accepted upon himself all the CONSEQUENCES of being a human being, including the possibility of dying.
It is important to realize that for Christianity to posit Christ as a SACRIFICE, it is necessary for its theology to insist that Christ was very much a man as we are men. His divine nature was separated from his human nature, as it were, by a spiritual membrane so that they remained separate. But don't forget that each nature was aware of the existence of the other as part of the HYPOSTASIS.
Paul VanBuren in his book on the secular meaning of the gospel states that "Jesus, as true man, was like us in all things except sin." Which really means that HE WAS NOT LIKE US AT ALL. You cannot be ALMOST like something and be that thing. Either you are COMPLETELY like that thing and thus identical to it, or you are a poor xerox copy. You are LIKE something or you are SIMILAR to it.
Sinning means being human and being human presupposes sinning. That is our nature according to both Judaism and Christianity. Christ was also UNLIKE us in that he "accepted upon himself all the consequences of being a human being", a consideration which neither you nor I were allowed at our birth. We did not accept those consequences. We had no choice. They were our HUMAN consequences from the beginning. Christ was also unlike us in that, regardless of the separation of his natures, as THE HYPOSTASIS, he always knew that his death was temporary, and that his suffering on the cross would last only three hours. How many martyrs in history have willingly suffered for a much longer time, fully aware that the end of their suffering is the end of their life?
Considering this, I am in complete agreement that the death of Christ as a sacrifice is no big deal. There have been much greater sacrificial deaths in history than that of Christ, most notably in the history of Israel
If Christ asked G-d to forgive his crucifiers because they were not aware of what they were doing, how much less meaningfull is the sacrifice that people do not even realize that they are offering. Add to this the fact that the self-sacrifice was not even fully voluntary since Christ asked his divine nature to spare his human nature from the ordeal ("let this cup pass from me"). Then he said, "Nevertheless, Thy will be done", indicating that it was not really his human nature that had the desire to go through the crucifixion ordeal. It was no self sacrifice as such then but a divine ORDER which his human nature was constrained to follow.
Contrast this with the sacrifice of martyrs who willingly gave themselves over to death for the sake of their faith by the thousands rather than submit themselves to the ignomy of forced Christian baptism. Death was preferable to them to the cross.
Only a man who believes that there is absolutely no hope for himself as an individual yet chooses to lay down his life for others can be said to be a perfect sacrifice. Who then is the paradigm for this kind of a sacrifice? The paradigm is someone who does not ask to be spared the "cup" of martyrdom but who goes to the slaughter silently like a lamb. Such a paradigm is Isaac upon whom the whole IDEA of crucifixion sacrifice is modeled on. Isaac went to his death willingly and without a word of repraoch to anyone. Legend says that he was actualy killed by Abraham and resurrected as a reward for obedience. That's why the MIDRASH says of him that he went to the altar carrying the wood of the burnt offering "like one who bears his own cross to the place of his execution."
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