God Sacrificed Himself to Save Us from Himself?
by Jason Wisdom
The meme pictured at left is representative of a common sentiment expressed by the internet atheist community. Christianity is laughable because, “The idea of God sacrificing himself to himself to save us from himself is too much for any rational person to believe.” Now, to be fair, when you say it like that, it does sound ridiculous. But is it? No, and I think I can illustrate why by offering another example. Before that though, I want to deconstruct the phrase to show where the rhetorical power comes from.
First of all, the repetition of the word “himself” makes this phrase rhetorically powerful. If you have ever seen the movie “Liar Liar,” you will remember the scene where Jim Carrey is in the bathroom beating himself up–punching himself, throwing himself against the wall, and smashing his own head with the toilet seat. That is the sort of picture of God that this phrase paints. To zero in on what might be the lynchpin of this phrase, I think the real power lies in the words “to himself.” If it simply said “God sacrificed himself to save us from himself,” it would still throw some people for a loop, but it wouldn’t sound quite as ridiculous. Adding “to himself” suggests a
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person being sacrificed to the same person. According to the meme, that is what Christians believe. I agree that this would be wrong. In fact, this notion, coming from Sabellianism, Patripassianism, and/or Modalism, has been refuted by orthodox Christians dating back to the 2nd century and was officially condemned as heresy at the council of Nicaea. Thus, what the meme suggests is actually a misrepresentation of the Christian view.
Christians are trinitarian monotheists. That is, they believe that there is one God that exists in three distinct persons. Thus, if the Son is sacrificed to the Father, it is incorrect to say that one person is sacrificing himself to himself. But pressing this point is likely to get us into a more theologically precise discussion than is necessary to demonstrate the error of this objection. It is actually a lot simpler than that…