Jesus dying on the cross and rising again is the foundation of Christianity making it unfathomably important to believers. That being said, there is a point where it can become more of an obsession that leads to shame and self deprecation.
I was recently at the annual conference for the group with which I’m ordained. A conference for a bunch of pastors? Yeah, it’s as wild and crazy as it sounds. At one point a pastor who is in his fifties (if you minus a decade or two) said to the group how much he loved Jesus and how amazing it is that Jesus died for us, and he said it with great conviction. My reaction was not what you’d expect of a person at the conference: (in my head) “Ooooh there’s something I haven’t heard before.” Granted I was in a grumpy pants mood, but something bugged me about it. As I was trying to justify my inner snarkiness (it’s amazing how we try to justify bad behavior), it occurred to me that I’ve been a Christian for 20 years (minus a decade or two), and let’s say I hear that Jesus died for me once a week, which is low balling it when you consider how many sermons and songs I’ve heard, devotions I’ve read, and paintings of Jesus dying I’ve seen as someone with a minor in art history (I know how to pick a useless minor). With 52 weeks in a year for 20 years, I’ve heard that Jesus died for me over 1000 times. No wonder it’s lost its power. I’ve had movies and speeches move me to tears, but if I hear them ten times I’m likely getting tired of them. If this happens with other things, how do I hear that Jesus died for me 1000 times and not lose interest? It’s like your parent telling you they love you; it’s not a surprise. What’s crazier is if I’ve heard this message 1000 times, the odds are this other pastor has heard it twice as many times based on age; plus, he has likely said that Jesus has died at least 1000 times. At this point, how can he still be amazed that Jesus died for him? If I’ve lost some interest in this fact, am I a bad Christian or do I have a matured faith? Am I heartless or am I healthy?
I should point out that even though I’ve lost my enthusiasm in hearing that Jesus died and rose again, if I was to watch The Passion again I’d be moved to tears because visually it’s so powerful. It’s like someone telling me that troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and got slaughtered; I’d be like “Yeah, that’s terrible, but I knew that already,” versus watching the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. The visual is so powerful. That being said, if I watched either movie 1000 times I’d become desensitized to them in some way… or have intense nightmares.
Christians who have been Christians all their lives who still have this deep emotion to Jesus dying for them isn’t uncommon, but how has it not lost its power in some way? I know when this message meant a lot more to me it was because I was carrying so much shame about it: “It’s all my fault!” Now I can’t help but wonder is that what’s going on for others now? Are people still so passionate about the death because they’re harbouring some form of self loathing and not seeing the fact that Jesus died and rose again because we are worth it? It was an act of love to set us free, not to enslave us. Jesus said “My burden is light,” but Christians tend to want to make the burden heavy with shame as they try to punish themselves. There’s a tendency to want to beat ourselves up, but what loving parent says “I did this for you, so now you can feel terrible. Remember for the rest of your life you owe me your self-loathing.” This isn’t how love works, but for some reason it can feel like this is what Christians have made it. We may be “sinners”, but we’re still God’s creation whom He loves. It becomes an insult for us to hate ourselves when God loves us; it’s like we’re telling God He’s dumb to love us and see good in us.
Hopefully when long term Christians are enthusiastic about the death it’s more about having a childlike spirit of awe and wonder, but I know for myself it wasn’t; it was a sign of shame and self loathing whereas now I accept it as a wonderful truth that gives me confidence and not shame.
Bonus Thought: When He was a live He focused on the message of love and predicting His death was secondary. Would this be different if He came back and was preaching? I think if all Jesus did was talk about His death He’d sound like the former high school football star talking about the good old days, but this becomes, “Yeah, it was amazing what you did, and it’s a great story, but what are you doing now?” As I said, the death and resurrection of Jesus is incredibly important, but at some point we have to be like “And what are you doing now?” Isn’t that how non Christians will start to care? The message of Jesus dying hasn’t changed them, so maybe we need something to add to the message; something relevant to people now? When Jesus was alive His message was primarily about love: Love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. Why do we focus on death when we can focus on love? WWJD? Not wear a necklace of him dying on a cross (that’d be strange). Jesus was more like “You’re a prostitute, here’s some dignity. You’re a thief, here’s some compassion. You’re a leper no one will touch, here’s acceptance. You’re a child who is disregarded; let me show you how important you are to God.” Maybe if people saw others living love, living it in a way that was more than what non Christians do, it’d be more impactful when it’s said that this was inspired because Jesus died and rose again. Jesus kept this part of the message secondary; maybe we should too; after all, his act was an act of love, which should be our primary focus.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people