Basic Questions Series: Why Jesus?

In my previous post, I began to outline an answer to the question, “Why sin?” In brief, sin is a transcendental, i.e., formatting, condition of the human experience, because we all violently grasp something that is not ours: divinity, or being like God. Sin is this violent upheaval or attempted mutiny; as creatures, living and existing in finitude, we attempt to reign as infinite minds. We attempt to control the world around us and others like we are gods. We are not, and it is in trying to be so that we perpetuate the violence against each other, our world and our selves that we call sin today. So, why Jesus?

I also began to outline an answer to this question in my previous post, for an answer to “why sin” is a really depressing conversation if an answer to “why Jesus” isn’t also offered. Why Jesus? There have been many, many answers offered over the centuries, and I do not attempt to recount all of them here, nor do I discredit any of them. Like our experience of sin, a description of the event goes beyond any single metaphor or analogy; the answer to the question “why Jesus” goes beyond language. If I were more an apophatic theologian, I would stop there: being silent is the only response to the question, that is, a responsive openness to the experience of the person. A beatific vision, as it were. But I am a philosopher, and we go where angels fear to tread.

The cycle of reciprocal sin, that is, violence, could not be broken by us. Left to our own devices, we scapegoat individuals, communities, others in order to create a realm of acceptable, sacred violence. But violence never contains itself to this realm. We cannot lock up all the things back in the box; violence is out. We can mitigate, but we cannot absolve. How would that be possible? In order to absorb the transcendental human violence, one would have to be Divine. In order to initiate a program of non-reciprocation (that is, grace), one would have to be human standing in relation to others. This is an extremely simplified and boiled down version of an argument developed by the star of my last post, René Girard. Why Jesus? Because we absolutely and fundamentally needed a God-Man to free us from our death: the cycle of reciprocal violence we are all caught up in. Jesus frees us by absorbing it and by non-reciprocating it. In exchange with violence, Jesus gives us grace. “Forgive them, Father, they know what they do.” This statement from the cross expresses in a single moment the non-violent nature of God, or better, God’s violence-absorbing nature. Jesus does not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he takes on the form of a slave, that is, a finitude. And he submits to death, the ultimate expression of our finitude, forgiving all the violence along the way, in order to bring about life and peace and grace.

As Jürgen Moltmann has argued, we cannot talk about the Crucified God without in the same breath naming the Resurrected Christ. Christ crucified and Christ raised: these two events are linked in our and for our salvation. In one, we die with Christ to our own grasping at infinity and divinity. In the other, we are raised out of the death of violence and into a new kind of life: an eternal and resurrected life. Why Jesus? Because he offers life. Why Jesus? Because he offers grace? Why Jesus? Because he offers us a new world, a world built on something other than violence; a world in which mercy is the economy. Why Jesus? Because we cannot build this world on our own, because we needed and we need God to heal us and to shape us into the people that can bring the Kingdom of God.

— Jeremy



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