Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eli Eli Lama sabachthani?

Having now been out of Christendom for five or six years, I periodically realize that my entire way of thinking about God, Jesus, the Bible, and any number of related issues has either worn away or entirely changed without my conscious attention. I feel like it's that my old (largely taught and pretty thoroughly ingrained) ways of thinking about things have finally eroded and I'm seeing the whole Christianity thing with fresher eyes, more as someone encountering the whole story and mindset for the first time as an adult than as someone who grew up seeped in it all. I just suddenly think of something and realize that a mere six or ten (or really even two or three, after the big deconversion but before all the erosion) years ago I would have been looking at that from an entirely different perspective and wouldn't have thought to ask any of the questions I am at that point.

So the big thing (for today) that I don't get: why does everyone make such a big deal about what a great sacrifice (in the sense of personal sacrifice, not atoning sacrifice) it was for Jesus to come to Earth as a human and to die an agonizing death for our sins? It seems to me that as an eternal and all-powerful being, if he had chosen not to spend thirty-three of his infinite years saving humanity from itself when he knew it was within his power, it would be pretty selfish and immoral of him.

Seriously. Presumably he knew at the very least that this would be a temporary gig, limited to the span of one normal human life or less, and that when it was over, he would resume his limitless, incorporeal existence of sitting at the right hand of God and ruling over the angels or whatever it is he did before. Of course there was a lot of pain involved, what with being beaten and crucified and such, but I don't really buy the idea that the Son of God is such a wuss that he couldn't handle it. Lots of people were crucified. I'm sure most of them didn't sign up for it voluntarily, true, but most of them were also pretty sure their existence ended when the crucifixion ended (and actually, martyrs have always kind of signed up for that sort of thing). I mean, if I had the opportunity to put my normal, expected life on hold for some number of years; live some chunk of time in crappy, uncomfortable conditions being mocked and reviled and fighting uphill battles trying to enlighten everyone to my (the right) way of thought; die a tortuous death; and then resume my normal, everyday existence none the worse for the wear, even I would do that if I thought it would significantly benefit the world.

So options for the Christian Jesus:
One, it's only a sacrifice from our perspective and was unpleasant but no biggie from his.
Two, since his god-existence is obviously so far beyond our comprehension, it was a huge ordeal for reasons we can't imagine to limit himself to human capabilities. We are so horribly slow and limited that it drove him crazy to live among us and talk to us and perhaps even limit his own mind to the constraints of ours. (I mean, I'd still turn into a barnacle for thirty-three years if I thought I could still get across my agenda...but I guess first I'd have to learn how to communicate in greatly limited barnacle-speech that doesn't actually hold my ideas very well or something, right?)
Three, he still had all his god-thoughts and god-capabilities and had to actively keep himself in check every second for thirty-three years. I can see how that could be a pain, if you were an intelligent being in a tree's body and had to actively restrain yourself from just picking up and walking around or crying out in desperation, "Guys, this is what I was trying to say with all that leaf-rubbing and branch-tapping! Just do this!"
Four, dying is the most awful thing every in the entire universe, even if you get to un-die later and then live forever; something about the experience itself is just unspeakably horrible. (Those resuscitated patients who talk about lights in tunnels and floating and peace obviously would disagree...of course, maybe they didn't really die in the same way.)
Five, it wasn't really informed consent: God the Father didn't tell him the whole story about what he would do and that it would all be back to normal (but better, because he just gave billions of as-yet-unborn people the ability to skip out on the lake of eternal fire thing) when he was done, so he thought he was signing up for something worse than he actually was, and he should be celebrated for the sacrifice he was prepared to make.
Six, his experience of turning into a human and living for so long in the human world (or the death part, or the shouldering the sins of the world part) contaminated him and he did not in fact go back to his regularly scheduled life afterward.
Seven, nobody ever said it was a big sacrifice and people who do say that are misinterpreting the message due to their own human conceptions.

Anything else? Any biblical support for any of these or any other interpretations?


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  2. That has never even bothered me at all. I always get stuck on the thought that the whole "my precious blood for your sins" thing was God's invention in the first place (since, you know, everything was God's invention in the first place), so God the Son hardly has any room to complain about how hard it was when it could have very easily been done with not so much as a snap of the fingers. And if it couldn't have been done that easily, God's can't be omnipotent. And if there are certain cosmic laws setting down the principles of Redemption, Good, Evil, Etc. that even God himself had to bend to, why on earth is he God?

  3. Pretty sure it boils down to "Oh man dying sucks thanks God!". Not all that interesting from a theophilosophical perspective, but also fairly typical of the way religious beliefs are actually constructed.