In the October 14, 2011, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, a reader asks Billy Graham about the reason for the death of Jesus. The reader writes, “How did Jesus’ death make it possible for us to go to heaven? I’ve never really understood how one man’s death could give us eternal life.” You can read all of Billy’s answer here.
Billy starts out by discussing the effect of sin, as viewed by Christians. Billy does not define sin; instead, he speaks as if we already know what is and is not a sin. Billy says sin is an act of rebellion against God. Rebellion implies that the person rebelling has a choice: the person knows what God wants and actively chooses to do something else.
That idea conflicts with the Christian notion of the sin of Adam. For example, protestant reformer, John Calvin believed that humans inherited the guilt of Adam. This “original sin” means humans are in a state of sin from the moment of conception. How can this be an act of rebellion if humans have no choice?
If we limit the concept of sin to those acts humans commit of their own choice, it is still important to define sin. The seven “deadly or capital” sins are pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. We should also include violations of the commandments.
This raises some serious questions. Which set of commandments should we use? The Ten Commandments appear twice in the book of Exodus; they are listed once in chapter 20 and again in chapter 34. The first list of ten is the traditional list with no killing, no adultery, no stealing, no false witnessing, no coveting and so on. The second set contains some possible sins most Christians never think about.
Here is the complete list of the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 34. Supposedly, Moses re-carved the commandments on stone after he had smashed the first set carved by God.
1. Thou shalt worship no other god (For the Lord is a jealous god).
2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn.
4. All the first-born are mine.
5. Six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh, thou shalt rest.
6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread.
8. The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning.
9. The first of the first fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.
Although the first commandment seems familiar, the others are just strange. Why should it be a sin if someone boils a young goat in the milk of its mother? Is it okay if you boil it some other goat’s milk? If all the first-born belong to God, should parents sacrifice their first-born child as God told Abraham to do, or just turn the baby over to the temple? It is understandable for people to be neat, but why should it be a sin if you offer a sacrificial animal and then fail to clean up the fat until the next day?
Billy, after glossing over the concept of sin, discusses the reason for the death of Jesus. Apparently, God is not all-powerful. He sees that people have sins, both original sin and personally committed sins, such as making and wearing a metal crucifix (molten god). According to Christianity, God is not powerful enough to just make those sins go away, no matter how much He loves humans. Instead, God requires a blood sacrifice. This sacrifice cannot be the usual sin offering such as a goat or grain from the field. This has to be a special sacrifice. Jesus, according to Christianity, is God and God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, impregnated Mary so that she gave birth to Jesus/God. Jesus/God, after living in the middle-east for 30 years and preaching for three years becomes the perfect blood sacrifice to appease Jesus/God and, in dying, causes Jesus/God to forgive everyone’s sins.
Judicially, this makes little sense. Forcing one person to pay the penalty for the crimes of another would be considered very unjust. Is the kind of justice we should expect from a God who is said to be perfectly just?
Anyway, we are all cleansed of our sins and so we will all go to heaven, right? Uh, well, no, not quite. In order to go to heaven, even though every human has had their sins forgiven, each human must learn about and accept the gift of Jesus/God. If you lived in Australia in 1370 CE and you don’t learn about Jesus/God and His gift, you go to hell. If you learn about Jesus/God and don’t accept Him as your personal savior and give your life to Him, you go to hell.
So boiling a goat in its mother’s milk is a sin, but Jesus/God died for our sins, so boiling a goat in its mother’s milk is okay as long as you believe Jesus/God died for your sins and accept Him as your personal savior.
Why did Jesus (the man) have to die? God could have just said, “Believe in me and believe that I will save you.” If God existed and were all-powerful, He could have done that. He could have just said, “Be good to each other, don’t squabble and you will be saved, even if you lived in 14th century Australia.” An all-powerful God could have done that and not forced Himself acting as His son to die a humiliating and excruciating death. If God existed and if God was not a monster, He could show his love of humans by just forgiving every sin and bringing every human to heaven.
Is it any wonder why I am an atheist?
What I am currently reading: “The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel”, by Mark S. Smith, an American professor and Biblical scholar who currently holds the Skirball Chair of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Smith argues that the Israelite religion developed from the religion of Canaan and that Yahweh evolved from a war god amongst other gods to the sole god of the Israelites by taking on the characteristics of the Canaanite gods such as El and Baal. Get more info on Smith’s book here.
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