By Sigrid Fowler
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
Why do lives matter—black lives, blue lives, unborn lives? Why does a seriously disabled life matter or that of an old person at risk in an epidemic? Why are we outraged when the life of that senior ends at the nursing home where he or she resides when others with the virus are sent there? Christianity is notorious for insisting that human lives matter. We get that conviction from the Bible. And though in earlier times all I’m about to say would be like preaching to the choir, we as a nation have become so uninformed about even the basics of Christian teaching and principles that it’s harder now to make assumptions. If you’re a Christian, if you love the Bible, and if Christian doctrine has been a part of your life since you first learned to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know” as a two-year-old, find another article in the interesting newspaper you’re holding. This time, I will bore you to death. But maybe not. Another odd thing about Christians is our tendency to like hearing these things again and again—especially the details of Jesus’s life, the cross, and all the rest.
So why are Christians convinced that life matters? It goes back to the Garden. God made humans in his image (Gen 1: 27). The full implications of that can engage your attention for a lifetime. Made in the image of God? The Imago Dei, as people used to say in Latin. I suspect they were as astonished as I am at the whole proposition, and since they couldn’t get their heads around it, just had to put it in a language nobody was speaking. It’s simply stunning, any way you approach that statement. I’m not sure what it means beyond suspecting that it isn’t, as previous thinkers assumed, simply the superiority of human reason. No, our likeness to our Creator goes beyond being able to reason. Maybe you can figure it out. Wherever you come down on this point, you have to admit it’s a pretty glorious thing . . . unless you don’t believe in God. If you don’t, I will suggest that you too may be better entertained with some other part of this paper.
There’s also this: Christians accept several points as absolutes: First, that Galilean carpenter who died on a first century Roman cross was human—yes, entirely human, as human as you and me—but also God the Son. This means that God himself was involved in all of that. Theologians speak of God’s “clothing himself with mortality.”
Why would God do that? Well, since the Almighty isn’t mortal and since there had to be a death, becoming human was the clear choice. And why did there have to be a death? The answer to this question brings up another absolute: the validity, perfect adequacy, and reliability of the Bible as a document God has inspired humans to write when he wanted to tell us about himself. What the Bible tells me is that God loves human beings. But God is also holy and will not tolerate wrong. He doesn’t just look the other way. Sin has to be punished. And I’m not budging from the male pronoun. Jesus was circumcised and Jesus called God “the Father.” All that is good enough for me. I’m choosing not to argue with God on that point. Yes, it’s wrong to contrive some sort of silly male-only limitation on who we think God is, but no, we don’t have to say “she.” That’s not a Biblical position and I’m satisfied to do without it.
Back to the business about the necessity of God’s death. Does the thought seem shocking to you? I was a student in Atlanta when a man named Altizer speaking at Georgia Tech declared, “God is dead.” He created a fire storm with that statement, and though it was no doubt misunderstood (the man was a theologian), it put emphasis on something about the cross. Yes, there had to be a death. God the Son died a substitutionary death because human life mattered to God! The Bible declares that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11) and more to the point, “I [God speaking] have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls” (again, Lev. 17:11). The whole sacrifice system was founded on this fact: the death of an acceptable substitute makes atonement for human sin. Isaiah 53 emphatically restates the point.
Don’t like it? Are you horrified at all that blood? Maybe you think you’re not a sinner or that your sins don’t’ matter that much. The Bible takes exception. Sin matters to God, so much that God the Son did something about it. The bottom line for every Christian is an astonishing freedom and relief, a joyful realization that yes, somebody else took the burden of my sin. This is what happens in the life of every penitent who trusts in Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross, what Christians ever since Paul have called “the good news”: We matter so much to the One who created us in his own image that he was willing to die, to be that substitutionary death on our behalf, that when we confess our sins, they are simply gone. We don’t have to plead or afflict our bodies in some way. The cross is where we take sin, where we regain the Image we lost, where we find relief from guilt, shame, condemnation, and sleepless nights. Jesus went to the cross because, to the God who loves us, we matter. Ask any Christian, but be prepared for a story. We like to talk about these things because we matter. To God, we matter.