One thing that deeply disturbs me about the average Christian I run into is why they believe and what they believe about Christ's sacrifice. There seems to be two dominating motivators in their faith concerning the cross. Of course I'm speaking very vaguely and generally. One is the the age old concept," Fifty million screaming fans can't be wrong!" They derive the correctness and truthfulness of what they are going to have faith in from the flock's flagrant certitude. They want to belong to the flock, they want the things promised by Christ, eternal life and all that, and they know that all of that is contingent on their belief in the cross. So they believe, or very frequently say they do, and convince themselves that they do. But if I were to ask them how and why the cross works, they would say," It just does. That's what God wanted, and Christ took your place. The end." To be perfectly frank, that is possibly one of the stupidest answers that can be given and still be correct.
They want to be part of the flock. There is a difference in being analogous to sheep in that we have shepherds, and then behaving without reason, doing things simply because the rest of the flock does them... being 'sheople' if you will. That we are sheep does not mean that we are idiots; it does not mean that we act without reason, or that we have no reasons for our faith. It's this fundamental disconnect that is the reason why the faith of millions is so utterly shallow, and why millions are falling away. They have no reasons for their faith. Pure faith is for things beyond human understanding, for instance," Where did God come from?" Well, we take it on faith that He is from all eternity, but even still the philosophers and the Holy Catholic Church have explained why God cannot be temporospatially conditioned, and why he must come from all eternity. It's the "how" that requires the faith, because we have reasons for the 'why.' We know why! Now, what if you just put the 'why' in the faith box? You aren't taking responsibility for your faith; indeed, you have no real cause for faith! I'm not suggesting that such a person has no faith, only that they are alloying it with ignorance and juvenility.
I had said that there seemed to be two different motivating factors; the second one is guilt. Somewhere, someone told them that Jesus died for their sins." Well, that's nice! I can go on sinning, then!" And then they say," No, no, no. He died BECAUSE of your sins." which doesn't make the person feel very good. At that point the person who is telling the guy about Jesus takes the moral high ground and guilts a person into living a moral life and buying into this story called the bible. Then, the 'convert,' if you can even call them that, is indefinitely miserable and struggles to conform to this ideology for which he has no real reasons to believe in, and a shoddy faith. But it's ok! It will all work itself out in the end! He gave his heart to Jesus! Or did he?
The problem here with both of these is that they are born from fear. Anyone's faith may be partially derived from certain fears, the knowledge of necessities if you will, and what will happen if they aren't met. But they are also derived, primarily derived from love. Love has to be there at the beginning when something real and good is created, because love is the creative element. Pope Benedict XVI recently said," " That is why a man and a woman come together in love and marriage, which is the unity of love, to create; that is why children should be conceived and born in wedlock. That's why sex is reserved for married couples. True love is supposed to be there, and love does not take, and love is patient; love is most of all prudent. When we take up a faith in the cross we become a new creature, recreated.
Pope Paul VI said in April 1974's Good Friday Address," The mystery of innocent suffering is one of the most obscure points on the entire horizon of human wisdom; and here (Christ with Pilate before the Jews) it is affirmed in the most flagrant way. But before we uncover something of this problem, there already grows up in us an unrestrained affection for the innocent one who suffers, for Jesus, and for all innocent people -whether they be young or old-who are also suffering, and whose pain we cannot explain. The way of the cross leads us to meet the first person in a sorrowful procession of innocent people who suffer. And this first blameless and suffering person uncovers for us in the end the secret of his passion. It is a sacrifice."
The holy father, Pope Paul VI, was addressing what is called theodicy, the problem of evil. Someone asked the philosopher Diogenes 2,300 years ago whether or not God existed, and Diogenes replied," Oh, I don't know if he exists... but he should." Think about that for a moment," I don't know if he exists... but he should." Why does he say that? Why would he say that? A pagan philosopher, a man who lived like a dog? Because, he saw the suffering of the innocent in the world, he the saw suffering that cannot be explained. He saw evil. He saw the wicked prosper, and escape justice. Diogenes saw what we all see, and said aloud what is whispered perpetually in every human heart, begging us to have faith," I don't know if God exists... but he should."
Christ establishes and exemplifies our notion of innocent suffering, that is, wrong suffering. When we become aware of innocent suffering we become aware of guilty suffering. We weigh ourselves against him and see what we deserve. We don't imagine hell, we don't imagine butchery is what we deserve. The first thing we imagine that we deserve is the abstract bitterness of this life. We see why things are the way they are, why we suffer; we see the cycle of our own actions. With this comes repentance for our sins. But we also see a glint of hope that our innocent suffering does not go unnoticed, and that it means something, specifically in Christ... that our individual suffering means something special to God and humanity. Then, we think of the soul and we imagine that if these things be the case with the body, they must be the case for the soul. It is then that we understand heaven and hell. It's then that we make the choice with the whole man, the whole self, body and soul, to live for Christ. It's right then that we realize the generosity, the benevolence, the munificence and beneficence of God, as St. John Chrysostom (the Golden Tongue) was fond of saying.
Those are all very fine notions and words, but how does Christ's sacrifice pay the debt? If a man could take another person's place in punishment, then it would be 'man for man.' For instance if one man was to be put to death for murder, and another took his place, would all murderers go free, thereafter? No, only the one whose place was taken. So, how then can Christ, one man, pay for the entire human race? Does that make any kind of sense at face value? No, it doesn't, and that is why the majority of Christians just pretend there is no inconsistency here, and ignore this paradox as if it didn't even exist. They ignore this glaring, most obvious problem, and because of their ignorance and laziness have no real reason for their faith. Again, I do not say that they do not have faith, only that it is alloyed with ignorance and laziness.
So, how does this paradox vindicate itself? Could they tell me? Some could, for certain; can you? Stop, and think about it, do you know 'why' it works? Do you have reasons for your faith that Christ, one man, has the ability to die for all men? Think good and long on it; you just may find what a superstitious creature you are. We must put superstitions away from ourselves. We aren't simpletons! The paradox vindicates itself in this way: Christ is the God-man. His divinity is united with our humanity and our humanity is united with his divinity. His humanity takes on the same traits of his divinity (because they are one), particularly that it is not confined to space or time; it is omnipresent and omnipotent. It is eternal. His humanity has the ability to suffer infinitely for (that is, on behalf of) a finite amount of human suffering, which is the whole sum of all human misery from the first man to the last. He has the ability to pay an infinite amount of debt. Every moment of his life, exists now and everywhere. So, Christ can and did die once and for all, for all mankind. That is how the argument vindicates itself.
We know 'why' and have reasons, but do we know 'how?' No, that is the mystery of faith which the apostles spoke of so often, that we know why but not how. It is the how that requires faith. It takes no faith to say," 1+1=2" The reasons for our faith are deductive. They are in perfect accord with each other. It takes no faith to say," This is why." That requires reason, the very thing which makes us human. That there is a 'how,' and that it is accomplished and done... this takes faith, and is divine. Sola Fide, faith alone, is a heresy. WE need faith and reason together.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~