Question 282:

Why did God decide to become in Jesus Christ a mortal human being and allow this innocent human being to be killed, even cruelly killed, by the punishment of crucifixion?



First, read among the texts of the website:  Topic 2, part III and IV, Question and Answer Nos. 249; 97; 12.


This question goes to the heart of the Christian faith. Christians answer this question by pointing to their belief that in Jesus of Nazareth, God himself became a human being. This faith is rooted in the experience Christians have been granted regarding the life and teachings of Jesus, from the times of the disciples to today. The main testimony for this are the texts of the New Testament as interpreted by the Church. 


God’s revealing action in history

The Christian faith confesses that Jesus of Nazareth, after a period of approximately three years of ministry, was accused by the religious authorities of his own peoples and eventually punished by the Roman occupying power and crucified, and that this Jesus rose from the dead and continues to live.  


The question of “why” God became human and of the purpose of Jesus’s suffering and dying on the cross can only be answered in the light of the Christian faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ (= the anointed one, the Messiah). A faith that is deeply rooted in the centuries old faith of the Jewish people. It is the belief that God, in absolute freedom and pure love gives himself as gift to mankind. God enables believers direct access to himself (cf. Ephesians 3:12; Romans 5:2).


A highly official text by the Second Vatican Council expresses this belief: “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Ephesians. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Ephesians. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Colossians. 1:15, 1 Timothy. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Exodus. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Baruch. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.” (Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, 2)   


God himself wants to meet human beings and live among them. He seals a Covenant with every individual and with a whole peoples, to call all human beings into his community. He walks alongside his people in history and in time. He allows himself to be deeply affected by disloyalty and the sin of his people, but he remains true to his promises and is always willing to forgive sins. God invites people to repent, change and forgiveness, so that their lives can become whole again. God’s will to draw everyone into communion with him becomes effective and visible in those people who are called by God and who trust him and obey this call. When Moses trusts God and leads his people to freedom, God himself is recognised as liberator and saviour (cf. e.g. psalm 77: 14-21).  God remains hidden. He is not subject to human disposal and calculation: He retains his freedom (cf. e.g. Exodus 33:18-23). And yet, he is present in the historical action of humanity, as undergirding ground and perfect goal and thus makes himself accessible to the people. He repeatedly reveals himself in the course of history and thus continuously opens up the riches of his unfathomable love. 


God’s revelation of himself in Jesus of Nazareth

In this story of Covenant and relationship Jesus of Nazareth, “fully human in every way” except for sin (c.f. Hebrews 2:17). He knows himself to be entirely dependent upon God. He prays to God, he suffers agony and cries to God (cf. Hebrews 5:7). Through listening to the faith narrative of his peoples he is able to trust God as his loving father, to hope for the coming of his kingdom and, arising from this hope and trust, to turn towards the people, in particular towards the poor, the unimportant, the sick and the sinners.  God himself is uniquely active in Jesus’s actions; because Jesus knows that he is from God and receives his gifts. He points away from himself and to God as the origin of his actions and his life (cf. e.g. Matthew 12:28, Mark 10:18, Luke 17:18, John 17:2 f). People who engage with the life and the actions of Jesus discover God himself. Through Jesus they learn to trust God as loving father who walks towards those who are lost and who offers them his healing love. Through Jesus, they receive community with God himself and are encouraged to make peace with one another.


Revelation of God’s unconditional love 

in Jesus’s passion and death on the cross

Jesus’s actions, his hopeful trust and his love reached are most radically seen in his passion and his death. Although Jesus feels himself to be left alone by God he still trusts God, his father. Although his own powers have come to an end, he still hopes that God will bring about the long awaited Kingdom through his Holy Spirit. Although he has been left alone and cast aside by the people, he is not tempted by sin but prays in love for those who crucify him. After Jesus’s death, through God’s Holy Spirit, the disciples participate in the Easter experience, realising that in Jesus the crucified God himself is active and revealed in the most radical way. In his passion Jesus knew himself to be entirely dependent on God’s grace. In Jesus’s trusting and hopeful love God himself is therefore revealed as loving. In Jesus’s self-giving love for people God is revealed as offering himself to reconcile them with each other in an unreconciled and broken world, and to bring them salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18 ff). Such self-giving is unsurpassed, because it is not possible to give more than one’s whole self, not even for God.  In Jesus God has shown us the radical nature of his love. The New Testament can therefore define God by stating: “God is love” (1 John 4:8-16). And Jesus, in whom the character of God becomes apparent, is also called the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). With his “love of completion” (John 13:1) Jesus represents precisely the nature of the mysterious God himself: self-giving love”.

Which means: God became man because of his absolute, unconditional love for us, his creatures. He maintained his love to us people in Jesus even in the face of rejection of his son by us sinners, a rejection that led to his suffering and death on the cross, which God finally overcame by liberating us through the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. 


(Closely following the Arbeitshilfe 172 of the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz: Christen und Muslime in Deutschland‘, Bonn, Sekretariat der DBK, p. 105-107)

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