Questions, Questions

Mar 11, 2016 by

First Bethel Cross

This week I came face to face with another person in the midst of a crisis and heard the question calling forth from the depths of their soul – “Why?”

I know this question and I suspect you know it well, too. It’s the distraught cry we utter when we are confused by our circumstances, outraged by a sense of injustice, or simply feel utterly out of control:

Why did the cancer return?” “Why was I chosen to be “downsized?” “Why is my child struggling?” “Why do I feel so alone?”

As I give thought to the final events of Holy Week I find myself asking the very same question, “Why?

There’s nothing more sorrowful than the last hours of Jesus’ life. There’s nothing so painful to read and to reflect upon. I wince in pain at the horrible abuse Jesus endured, and ask “Why?”

Why the insults? Why the lashings? Why the rejection, pain and agony? Why the thorns, nails and cross?


It’s the question that helps us articulate our deep desire to find meaning in meaningless events, to understand events beyond our control.

Faithful Christians throughout the Church’s long history have struggled to address just this question, and their various answers have been described as “theories of atonement.”

Each theory, emphasizing one part of the Biblical witness or another, attempt to address the “why” question by describing Christ’s death as

  • a substitution for our own,
  • Christ satisfying God’s requirement for holiness,
  • Christ paying a ransom to Satan for our sin,
  • Christ setting an example of God’s love thus moving our hardened hearts to repent,
  • or even Christ winning a cosmic battle over the devil and death..

And yet while each of these theories highlights some aspect of the truth of Jesus’ death, none of them ultimately satisfies. Our questions persist.

We may take, I imagine, some small comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in our confusion, that we’re not the only ones who question. Throughout all 4 gospels, Jesus regularly predicts his passion, and just as regularly his disciples don’t get it, or misinterpret him, or, finally, reject his predictions as simply too awful to believe.

And so when the unimaginable, though not entirely unexpected, happens, and Jesus is handed over to the authorities, judged, and crucified, the disciples, too, are left reeling and asking, “Why?”

And maybe this confusion isn’t really the disciples’ fault in the end, or ours. For while Jesus may have predicted his passion, he never went into great detail to explain its meaning. He never, got around to explaining why.

And yet … Jesus DOES address another, and perhaps more important, question.

For, as Jesus says to his disciples at the very beginning of Luke’s description of the passion, “when the hour came,” he took his place at table with his disciples to share one last meal with them. And at that meal he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given … for you.”

Did you hear those last two words – “for you?

For those disciples, including Judas who betrays him, Peter who denies him, and the rest who desert him. And if for these, then also for us!

And knowing this makes all the difference.

So while Jesus doesn’t answer the question “Why?” he does answer – and answer definitively – the deeper question of “for whom?” Though Jesus may not explain the full meaning of his death, he leaves NO DOUBT as to its significance for you and for me.

Above and beyond all our confusion and questions, we hear in these two words the shocking, unimaginable, and utterly unexpected promise that everything Christ suffers – all the humiliation and shame, all the defeat and agony – he suffers for us, that we might have life and light and hope in his name!

And this we know because Luke makes it abundantly, even painfully clear, that Jesus gives himself over to death willingly. As Luke writes near the end of the Passion account, “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”

Do you see what I mean?

Jesus’ life is not ripped away as in some horrible accident, nor is it torn from him as in some senseless tragedy. Rather, he commends his Spirit to God, giving his life voluntarily.

As the resurrected Christ will say when he meets two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” And then he will open the Scriptures so their hearts may burn with the knowledge that Jesus gave himself, fully and freely, for us and for all the world, because that is why he came – to declare the Lord’s favor to all.

The hard part of this Passion Sunday and story is that we may never be able to answer that persistent and perplexing question, “why.” But we can answer another, perhaps a more important question, “for whom.”

Why more important? Because if pressed, I have to say that I also can’t explain “why” my parents cared so much for me, why my wife loves me, or why my friends put up with me. And yet I do know that their care, love, and forbearance is “for me,” and knowing this makes all the difference.

So also with the mystery of Christ’s passion and death. For though we can never fully comprehend the “why” of God’s profound commitment to us, when we see the form of Christ on the cross we can never doubt God’s profound love for us. And knowing this makes all the difference!