I don’t know if the people who read here have any interest in this subject or not, but I’ve often thought that Christianity at times doesn’t explain itself too well. Or maybe it’s just that Christians don’t.
The prime example of inadequate explanation is the very essence of the thing. On Good Friday Christians supposedly commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross which was, you know, the Big Event or at least the first part of the Big Event. Why was it the Big Event? He “died for our sins”, it is said.
Well, just what does that mean? Assuming we have sins and that Jesus died “for” them, what are we talking about here?
Christian theology is all bound up with Greek philosophy. Whether that is because it “steals” a lot of its ideas from Greek philosophy; or because in some respects Greek philosophy and Christianity deal with a lot of the same questions and answers them similarly because one substantially correct answer is going to resemble any other substantially correct answer; or for some other reason is not the point right now. We’re just trying to figure out what is being said in the first place.
Christianity says, over and over again, in explicit and implicit ways, that God is “perfect”. And the ancient Greeks had an impersonal conception of the perfect themselves: the perfect would be one thing, the same throughout, eternal, unchanging, and completely separated from anything that was imperfect, since even contact with the imperfect would render the perfect less than perfect, which of course is impossible if it’s perfect to begin with.
Sorry. This is how these things have to be expressed. At least, it’s the only way I know to express them.
Then of course you remember: Walk before me, and be thou perfect. And don’t forget: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.
So this sets up the problem: 1) God is perfect; 2) We are imperfect – because of “sin”; 3) the perfect can have no contact with the imperfect; 4) therefore, we can have no contact with God.
But since “salvation”, as conceived by Christians, is precisely to have contact with God, then by this chain of reasoning salvation is impossible. But it might not be impossible if the imperfect can somehow be made perfect.
I know this doesn’t strictly make sense, but if you’re interested bear with me. I’m not advocating for the idea here, I’m just trying to explain it.
If it were possible to make the imperfect perfect, how might that conceivably be done? You would have to, in some way, as part of such a feat, go beyond perfect. But even assuming that isn’t incoherent, can we imagine what such a thing might be or what it would consist of?
I think we can. You take something that is perfect. You inflict upon it the consequences of imperfection – that is, the separation from God and death that the imperfect have brought upon themselves but of which the perfect is, of course, completely innocent – and then if, somehow, the imperfect can participate in this stringent beyond-perfect cleansing they can be dragged up, from imperfection to perfection. Through that “sacrifice”, as it were.
And if that happens, they will have become perfect can have contact with the perfect God. They can be saved. They can be restored to “life”.
God is supposed to be life’s author and originator. So in terms of an equation we have God giving life to man:
We have man making his contribution to the whole thing: sin. Man, in case you hadn’t realized, is a major screw up in this context:
Life + sin
We have the consequences of man’s screw up:
Life + sin = death
We have the perfect Jesus who has no sin of his own but rather “takes away the sins of the world”, as they say:
Life + sin – sin
but then he dies anyway:
Life + sin – sin + death = death
From there it’s simple algebra. Sin cancels out:
sin – sin + death = death
Death cancels out:
sin – sin + death = death
And life is all that’s left.
So Christ’s death, paradoxically, defeats death because it cancels it out algebraically, and thus if you want to understand what Christianity and especially Good Friday mean, you have to know a little about the ancient Greeks and a little about algebra.
This is the idea. Not proselytizing here, just explaining. In case anyone is interested, even as a matter of intellectual curiosity.