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The Death of Jesus

- Pope John Paul II on the 'scandal of the cross'

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(Last Updated:  27 Sep 1999 )

In what sense was it necessary for God to allow His Son to be killed on the cross in order to achieve the salvation of humanity?  This extract is from Pope John Paul II's book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (1994, Jonathan Cape Publishing), pp 62-63.

Given our present discussion, we must ask ourselves: Could it have been different?  Could God have justified Himself before human history, so full of suffering, without placing Christ's Cross at the center of that history?  Obviously, one response could be that God does not need to justify himself to man.  It is enough that He is omnipotent.  From this perspective everything He does or allows must be accepted.  This is the position of the biblical Job.  But God, who besides being Omnipotence is Wisdom and - to repeat once again - Love, desires to justify Himself to mankind.  He is not the Absolute that remains outside of the world, indifferent to human suffering.  He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, a God who shares man's lot and participates in his destiny.  This brings to light another inadequacy, the completely false image of God which the Enlightenment accepted uncritically.  With regard to the Gospel, this image certainly represented a step backward, not in the direction of a better knowledge of God and the world, but in the direction of misunderstanding them.

No, absolutely not!  God is not someone who remains only outside of the world, content to be in Himself all-knowing and omnipotent.  His wisdom and omnipotence are placed, by free choice, at the service of creation.  If suffering is present in the history of humanity, one understands why His omnipotence was manifested in the omnipotence of humiliation on the Cross.  The scandal of the Cross remains the key to the interpretation of the great mystery of suffering, which is so much a part of the history of mankind.

Even contemporary critics of Christianity are in agreement on this point.  Even they see that the crucified Christ is proof of God's solidarity with man in his suffering.  God places Himself on the side of man.  He does so in a radical way:

"He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross."
  (Phil 2:7-8)

Everything is contained in this statement.

For another perspective on why God chose the method that he did to redeem us, the death of his son Jesus Christ, have a look at this extract from the book Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, from the chapter called "The Perfect Penitent".

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