‘God on a cross—preposterous!’ Nietzsche attests to the intellectual difficulty in the figure of Jesus, innocent of any crime, condemned to a brutal death. Christ asserted that the sacrifice, whilst brutal as Nietzsche observes, was His choice: ‘I lay down my life that I may take it up again [the resurrection]. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’ (John 10:18) to be as John explains ‘an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10).
The apostle Paul was no stranger to academic study and acknowledged that ‘the message of the cross is foolishness’ (1 Corinthians: 1:18) to those who do not believe. If Jesus was just a good man it was a gross injustice, if He is God it is unfathomable that an all powerful being would submit to such a thing.
Whilst T S Eliot intellectualises Easter as the intersection of the divine with the human, the eternal with the temporal, ‘ the point of intersection of the timeless with time’, the Bible asserts that the root is simply that God and therefore Christ loved human beings so much that He was prepared to suffer in the place of His people.
The death and resurrection of Christ are key to Christian thinking and are where it differs so fundamentally from other world religions: while it is greatly concerned with moral teaching and social justice it also insists that human beings can never attain holiness by their own effort and therefore cannot earn their way to Heaven – hence Christ died to make it possible for those who believe in Him.
Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:17, ‘If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile’ and ‘If only for this life [ie if there is no Heaven] we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’(v.19).
Easter weekend is upon us, or as Nietzsche saw it, ‘that ghastly paradox of a “God on the cross,” that mystery of an unimaginable ultimate cruelty and self-crucifixion of God for the salvation of man?’
For a very readable scholarly (academic historian’s) look at the resurrection see Josh McDowell’s essay on the Resurrection.
For T S Eliot:
‘the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled’.