But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
Joy in misfortune
Some years ago, a young woman in our community was lost to cancer. Her parents sent a note of gratitude to everyone in the area. It was the first time I had seen this sentiment expressed, and it struck me deeply.
They thanked everyone for their care, their help, their prayers, and their love. They said that they would never have thought that such a trying time could be so full of joy; a time which would, in other circumstances, have been the most painful of their lives, became a time that they will always recall as blessed.
Since then, I have heard many repeat that thought. During our own recent trying times, it has become more clear how God works. He uses these times to take away shallow comforts and increase true comforts.
Misfortune can lead to self-pity, but also to joy. When we find ourselves in misfortune, that is often the time when we come to know the true love of our friends, how much they would sacrifice, and the blessings God has given us through their presence in our lives. He continues His redeeming work of sacrificial love through His children.
I have often tried to make headway in understanding the necessity of Christ’s death on the Cross for us. From our viewpoint, His sacrifice was necessary so that we could come to know God’s overpowering love, through which we come to trust Him and eventually to approach Him as a friend.
For me, it is much more difficult to understand passages like the one above. How can we become reconciled to God through sacrificing His Son? How can all the terrible acts of humanity be cleansed by a terrible act of violence against God Himself? Where is the justice in this justification?
The first step is to read this passage: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
This shows us that the sacrifice did not heal us due to the fact that we put Him to death. It is not primarily an act of justice. It healed us because He chose to perform this act of love, for His Father and for us.
I was given a small glimpse of understanding this. A few years ago, one friend wronged another, causing great hurt. My heart was wounded for them both during this time, because as much as I loved each of them, I loved their friendship for each other even more.
My instinct was to sacrifice something. I was confused at first; I did not want to give something up uselessly. Yet it didn’t seem that sacrifice would fix anything. It wouldn’t make the one who wronged apologize. It wouldn’t fix things between them through justice. But when I analyzed it, I found that the desire to sacrifice is, at its heart, a way to bring good out of evil, something that goes beyond justice.
This, I believe, was one part of Christ’s sacrifice. Out of love for the Father and His commands, He chose obedience, even to death on a cross. Out of love for us, He chose to endure death as proof that God had not abandoned us, that He would go to any length to save us. But He also chose to sacrifice Himself out of love for our relationship with God.
A sacrifice of love is pure good. When Adam sinned, it was an evil that caused pain, especially to God. The Son chose His own pain to show love to His Father. In connecting that loving pain to the sin, as an effect to the cause, Jesus redeemed the evil through His own goodness. It blotted out the time of evil, before our redemption, by connecting it with something good, the complete love of Christ for the Father, for us, and for our friendship with God.