Making Sense of Jesus’ Death on the Cross

by Al Serrato

Making sense of Jesus’ death on the cross can be difficult. For many modern secularists, the notion is, on its face, absurd, posing a stumbling block beyond which they will not venture. In his recent book on agnosticism, author Vincent Bugliosi devotes a chapter to proving that belief in the resurrection is, as he says, “demonstrably false.” But is it?

Bugliosi’s first challenge is a linguistic one. He doesn’t think we should say that Jesus “died” because that is inconsistent with Jesus being “alive” three days later in the same body. But this is, at best, purposely shallow thinking. It is precisely the belief that Jesus died that makes the subsequent resurrection miraculous, authenticating Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. In what sense was he “dead?” In the sense that every person who ever lived died; the only difference is that, unlike every other person, his body was restored to life in a body that was no longer subject to corruption and death.

Next, Bugliosi takes issue with the Christian concept of original sin, which he claims is an “incontestable implausibility.” Oddly, he accepts the notion that people are not basically good, especially when their own self-interest is at stake, but he asks “what type of monstrous maleficence would cause [God] to give every human an evil nature?” Implied in his question is the mistake that leads to Bugliosi’s confusion: he assumes that “evil” is a thing that God “gave us.” He seems to think that God punished us for Adam’s sin by giving us an evil nature. But this is not what Christians believe. Once again, Bugliosi creates a strawman that he ridicules and then dismisses.

Christians believe that God endowed man with free will. This free will may not be total and complete: there are things that we cannot will, and things that are so contrary to our natural inclinations that we would never choose to will. But the set of things that we are free to choose – whether in thought or in action – includes choices that run contrary to God’s will. This aspect of our nature, like our basic body structure or the faculties of the mind, is passed on through our genes from one generation to the next. Original sin – man’s inclination to act contrary to God’s wishes – is simply part of the nature that we inherit. Expecting it to end with one generation makes no more sense than expecting our children to see with their ears.

Evil is not a created thing that God gave us, like a finger or a wrist. What we call evil is the measure…

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