A gracEmail subscriber in Korea asks, “How could God, who abhors human sacrifice, sacrifice his own Son? How could the murder of an innocent man (Jesus) be necessary to bring about our forgiveness by God?”
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When speaking concerning divine mysteries such as the Atonement, we must speak hesitantly and with great reverence. However, we may be sure that God always behaves consistently with his own character. He would not condemn the slaughter of innocents with one breath, only to turn and do the very thing he had condemned.
Remembering two truths here will help us avoid needless confusion. First, that God himself came to us in the man we call Jesus of Nazareth, so truly that we may know Jesus as Emmanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt; 1:23). God did not grab some innocent passerby to sacrifice. That man on the center cross was, in some real sense, God himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Second, Jesus gave himself for us. He laid down his own life (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). God did not force Jesus to do anything he did not choose to do. Indeed, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). But it is also the case that “Christ loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
As to the “necessity” of Jesus’ death, we do well to remember that the language of sacrifice, of payment, of atonement, is all accommodative language. These terms utilize metaphors to help us grasp something of the great consequences God accomplished through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We should never construe any of these figures into abstract realities separate from God himself. God is not bound by or subject to any impersonal principles or laws outside his own character and will.