Friday, May 13, 2011

Did Jesus Die Because of the Cookies?

For about a year now, I have been wrestling with how to teach my boys - ages 6, 5, 4 & 2 - about Jesus, salvation, eternity, sin, resurrection and what it means to actually follow Jesus.

Since I was a kid I have struggled with the idea that Jesus had to die because I did bad things. I started learning about Jesus and religion at a fairly young age and I remember walking down to the front of the church because I wanted Jesus to forgive me for my sins and come and live in my heart. The idea alone that some grown man was going to come to live in my heart was difficult enough to figure out, but on top of that I was always curious why Jesus had to die. I just figured that I must be pretty evil for a 7 year old so someone had to die.

Fast forward 27 years. I was recently having a conversation with a friend, who asked me, "So, why exactly did Jesus have to die?"

To which I replied, "So that he could come back from the dead."

And just like that I had my answer.

Jesus' mission to this planet was not to come to simply die for humanity's sin (although this was part of it), but his mission was to come and crush and ultimately destroy evil. And the way to obliterate evil was to beat evil at its own game....take evil's best shot - death - and conquer it. And once death was conquered, this released an overarching plan of redemption, restoration, renewal and reconciliation.

This understanding makes Jesus much more powerful and actually makes the good news good. As I'm working through how to teach my boys about Jesus, I desire to teach them about the place that Jesus takes in my life and his desire to be the center of their own lives. I want them to understand that life with God is not about sin management, but it is about walking with God in a reconciled relationship. The problem for me lies in this traditional teaching that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for the bad things we might do. This reasoning seems quite anemic. Really? Is that the best Jesus can do? Simply forgive us for bad things? Seriously, how do you explain to a 6 year old that God killed his son Jesus because my son stole a cookie from his brother? So, now Jesus forgives you, but you need to quit doing bad things - like stealing cookies or peeing on the side of the house. See what I mean? It's weak. And honestly, who wants to follow a God who would kill his son because some 6 year old kid is stealing cookies from his brother.

So, now I am working a new way to explain Jesus and salvation; life and beauty; forgiveness and restoration; renovation and renewal to my boys. 

It’s something like this....

Death sucks. Life is beautiful. When we do things that don't line up with God's goodness and love, it leads us away from beauty and life and God. Hurting ourselves and others is not cool. Doing good and loving others is really good. Not forgiving people is harmful. Forgiving people is freeing and loving. Jesus did die. But he died so that he could actually come back to life. And it's the coming back to life part that gives all of humanity the chance to live differently. When he came back to life he invited us to actually live really powerful and different lives, just like him (and superman and batman). He invites us to live lives in which we look to love Him, as well as love and forgive others; help others and work to make this earth more like heaven through blessing, making peace, living selflessly, extending mercy, creating beauty and on and on.

So, I know you stole that cookie from your brother. Now I'm not thinking that Jesus is really pissed, but perhaps there is a better way to approach this whole cookie situation. Do you think your brother feels loved when you take his stash? No? Then perhaps the Jesus way is to learn how to love your brother and practice the life giving solution. The solution that encourages love and unity; that is full of beauty and preferring your brother. The solution that gives life. And this solution is doable when we allow Jesus to shape our hearts, minds and lives.

And here's the deal…if this doesn't work....I can always revert back to the old school method:

"Jesus died to forgive you for your sins. So, if you don't ask for forgiveness and stop stealing your brother’s cookies, you're probably going to go to hell. "


Angie Palmer said...

I like the explanation Brian. I hope it works, cause you're right, the old school method is hard to get over as a kid. Honestly, I am scared to death of the explanations that might come out of Aaron when we decide to have children. :)

Anonymous said...

is it ever ok to pee on a house? If it is your house it should be. Therefore if it is ok to pee on your house, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, it should be ok to be on his house too. I'm really confused now.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Great post Brian. One of your best.

Dan Nitschke said...


Great job at looking at this from a different angle. I have been really challenged lately to live a different life from the inside out. This goes down line of the life of a poser rather than one with a real heart to love. Loving and accepting other people can be hard, but if we realize that God loves us so much - to the point of death - than we can approach others with the heart of Jesus, by loving them the way God loves us.

Ben Davis said...

Crispin sent me this post, knowing that I have three boys of my own who are 5, 2, and 1. I can definitely relate to the challenge of communicating the Gospel in simplicity. I think it was Einstein who said that if you can't explain something to a child you don't understand it very well.

Let me first say that I have tremendous respect for you. I am often moved by the way you live and by your perspective on things. But I have to say that I think your explanation/approach is incomplete.

My problem is the message that "Jesus died so that he can come back to life" is not the crux of the Gospel message. The New Testament focus on the cross as payment for sin (as opposed to just death or even death as a martyr, which is all that would be necessary for Jesus to simply come back to life) is all about vicarious death. It is very clear about dealing with sin so that we can be FREE of sin (and ultimately death), not manage it. We cannot begin to address death, however, until we address sin. Sin and death are intrinsically connected.

In fact, if Jesus didn't die for sin it doesn't even make sense that he died at all! God is not just or loving to send His innocent Son to die if that death did not pay for sin. Believe me, I'm all about grace and meeting people where they are, but what is the beauty of grace if it's not about our helpless, sin-tainted condition being redeemed? Grace that doesn't deal with sin isn't grace.

I feel there's a real danger these days in shying away from the core of the Gospel. I think about the OT stories/rituals that God commanded the Israelites to pass on to their children in vivid detail...Abraham's near execution of Isaac, circumcision, Egypt and the plagues, Passover, etc, etc. Would any of us consider this stuff "kid-friendly?"

Just food for thought. Hope you can hear my heart. I am by no-means an expert. Just enjoy the conversation and the opportunity to learn from each other. God help us both to be wise parents!!!
Love you man.

Crispin Schroeder said...

This is something I've been wrestling with for quite some time as well. I don't think Brian's saying that being forgiven of sins is not important and not part of the work of Christ but that if we simply leave the atonement camped out there then we miss a huge part of what Jesus death (and resurrection) was about.

I think you can particularly see this theme throughout the Old Testament. The passover was a brilliant and messianic picture of God not simply sparing those who had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts but as the final act that began the Exodus from slavery. The point of the passover was to move God's rescue plan for Israel (and the world) forward. I think Paul makes this very clear as well that the cross was God's victory over evil, the principalities and powers. The cross was not simply to forgive our sins but to defeat sin and evil and to lead us into a new Exodus from a world of slavery, corruption, and death into resurrection life. That we would begin living out the future (the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven) in the here and now. The rescued become the rescuers. From this angle grace is not cheapened but given more urgency in the life of the believer. God's grace is not simply to forgive me of the wrongs I've done but to make me a player in his plans of redemption. We definitely see this in the life of the Apostle Paul. He writes more about the grace of God than anyone else in the Bible but obviously what "grace" meant to Paul was not simply getting a clean slate but living a whole new kingdom life compelled and empowered by grace.

We recently took our small groups through a book by Todd Hunter called "Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others". Todd uses an analogy of a father who had planned to take his son to the mall only to find when he came home that his son is was mess from playing in the mud. He cleans his son up and then gets on with bringing his son into the plans he already had.

The real danger I see is with the way the atonement has been presented: mainly as forgiveness of sins at the expense of ignoring the new life that God wants to invite us into. The traditional teaching has been "what if you died tonight? Where would you spend eternity?" but I think that kind of thinking has missed the point about what the cross and the resurrection are about as if going to heaven when we die were the point of it all. Jesus never lead one person in the sinners prayer. His invitation was to follow him now into the life of the kingdom. Yes we need to be forgiven for our sins and for our participation in sinful systems that work greed, hate, and exploitation in our world but that forgiveness, like the passover of old, is to bring us into a new life in the kingdom of God right now... as well as in the afterlife.

That said I think one can take this type of thinking too far and I have read authors who have so emphasized a Christus Victor atonement theory at the expense of conventional atonement theory that there is no need at all for the forgiveness of sins. But I do think that the church needs to really look into scripture and realize that what Jesus did was much bigger than just forgiving us of our sins so that the Father would accept us. He did all that and much much more.

Just some thoughts. Not trying to sound too forceful here. I love dialogue about these questions and appreciate that you take your faith seriously. May we have more conversations like these.

brian jeansonne said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful and respectful reply. I'm stoked that you jumped into the conversation.

In no way am I saying that we don't need to be forgiven for our sins. However, for many (if not most) this is where the good news stops. I am forgiven.

My understanding of the NT however is that there is much more going on when God decides to send Jesus to earth to pay the price for sin. He was not simply coming to 'pay the price' but also to usher in a full on plan for restoration and reconciliation of all things. If forgiveness was indeed the end game then Jesus could have just stayed dead because the price had been paid.

However, resurrection is what pulls all of humanity back into the original story that God began writing in genesis 1 & 2. The only thing that truly sets us FREE from sin is by the very dead jesus rising back to a very real life thus destroying sin and all of its power to kill and enslave.

Therefore, my understanding is that the message that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for our sins is actually the message that is incomplete. And please hear me when I say that I DO believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive me for my sins. But I don't think that's all he died for.

Oddly, enough, I wrote this post in terms of my kids, but in no way am I trying to make it more palatable for my kids. I'm trying to figure out how to convey to them the magnitude of his death and ultimately his resurrection. So, for me, this is not just for my kids. This is for me and for every adult I run into who has only gotten (in my opinion) half of the story.

Thanks again. I certainly love the dialogue. Be blessed as you journey with those kids! Love you.


Jon Cabiro said...

Going to hell.... really? And somebody knows this for sure?

Ha! Couldn't resist.

I know what you mean. As I've grown up as a Christian, I've been taught all the right answers, but as I relay that knowledge to my kids, sometimes it just doesn't sound right. The other day, after punishing my 8 year old for the third time since I'd been home from work, I went into her room and asked her what was going on. She told me that she didn't feel like a good person. Didn't feel like a good person? This is the same girl who gave up presents on her birthday to raise money to give clean water to kids in Africa. I had to spend the next half hour trying to deconstruct some of what I was inadvertantly communicating to her by punishing her. I had to tell her that she is not a bad person - that is not who she is. She's being punished because she made a bad choice, not because she's a bad person.

I think many times I feel distant from God because I feel like a bad person and that God doesn't like me. But I'm not so sure that's how God looks at it...

Penny Murray said...

Crispin Schroeder forwarded this to me and I've read over and over this week. Thank you for writing this. You've really articulated what I struggle to say so clearly.