On this day that Christians call “Good Friday” I am reflecting on why Jesus had to die. In some devotional readings this past week, I have been struck by how our sinful human condition produces a world in which something or someone has to die in order for life to continue for others. W. Phillip Keller in A Layman Looks at the Lamb of God sees this dynamic even in the shame resulting from the first sin in the Garden of Eden. In order to deal with the consequences of the nakedness of Adam and Eve, the life of animals had to be taken to provide them with clothing.
Ancient peoples were thus led to expect that blood sacrifices were the way to respond to sin and evil around them. Yet, consider how God responded to this spiral of death that was unleashed:
- Cain’s murder of Abel was the first sin recorded of one human being against another. God moved quickly to stem what would have otherwise been a continual spiral of more violence for violence by protecting Cain from being killed.
- The cultures of the Ancient Middle East sacrificed their first-born child on the altar in atonement for their sins. God showed Abraham that what was important was Abraham’s own attitude of and trust and obedience. In that context, an animal sacrifice was acceptable. The result was the sacrificial system in the Mosaic Law.
- Early Christian believers, in turn, saw animal sacrifice pointing toward Jesus as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the whole world. God did for us what we couldn’t do ourselves.
All of our human attempts to take power for ourselves over other people, and ultimately over God, simply result in this cycle of violence and death. It is only God’s direct intervention that offers the grace of a way out of this downward spiral. By latching onto God’s own model for responding to evil, a model already hinted at in the Hebrew scriptures but filled in Jesus, we participate in God’s redemptive purposes to “overcome evil with good.”
Persons with disabilities tend to be the victims of the conventional wisdom of the downward spiral of evil. Our human tendency is to say that if some have to die so that others can live, the law of the “survival of the fittest” should reign. The weakest should be sacrificed to allow the strong, the rich, and the powerful to survive. Yet, God’s intervention for human salvation demonstrates just the opposite. Salvation for humanity happens only as the strong offer their resources, their abilities, indeed, their very lives as a sacrifice for the disabilities, the pain, the weakness, and the sin in all of us.