[I’ve wanted to post this for a few months now but keep holding off since it belies how truly thick-headed I am with these concepts. But my purpose here is to be completely honest in my journey from atheism to faith, and this is a pretty key point of confusion for me, so here it is, my fourth grade level question about Jesus and salvation…]
A couple weeks ago my husband and I went to the cathedral downtown for a Red Mass. It was a beautiful, sensuous experience. I’d never been to a church service in a cathedral and had never heard a choir of that caliber. In fact, when the sound of Ode to Joy burst through the room I thought it must be a CD.
As the mass proceeded I stared at the crucifix hanging behind the bishop. Powerful feelings stirred within me but couldn’t quite bubble to the surface: I realized that there is a key thing I don’t understand that hamstrings my faith. As I sat there pondering the image of Christ on the cross I was overwhelmed with gratitude for his death, yet didn’t understand exactly what I’m supposed to do with that. Perhaps it was because I was in business attire, but I was reminded of a really annoying but apropos phrase that we used to use a lot at one of my companies when we got a lot of info at a meeting but didn’t know what to do with it: “What’s my action item?” I.e., What specifically do you want me to do with the data you just gave me?
To backtrack for a moment, I think I finally understand why Christ had to die for our sins (thanks in large part to this comment from January). Lemme see if I have this right: God’s kingdom is perfect goodness. If he were to just freely let flawed and sinful people be a part it it wouldn’t be good anymore. So there is this natural separation between us sinful humans and perfect God. In order to get close to him we would have to show true, sincere remorse for our sins and make some sort of sacrifice to make up for it. But because he is so purely good there’s nothing we could do that would make up for how bad we are compared to him. I could pour out my finest bottle of wine, sacrifice an unblemished animal, etc. and it wouldn’t even scratch the surface. The only sacrifice weighty enough is the Son of God himself.
Do I have this right so far?
Assuming that I do, or that I’m at least close, I’ll get to my big question…
Here’s what I don’t get (and here is where I astound you all with my ignorance): I don’t understand how Jesus’ death on the cross affects me. I understand how sacrificing some material possession could theoretically make up for sin — by giving this object to God I am making a choice that causes me some pain since I’ll no longer have it for myself. The pain I feel there is kind of “payment” for sins. But Jesus’ death wasn’t my choice, I wasn’t there, I didn’t know him. Sinful ‘ol Jennifer F. didn’t sacrifice anything that day Jesus died.
These were my thoughts as I stared at the cross in the cathedral. With great frustration at my inability to get this through my head, I thought, “Lord, what is my action item here? I understand that you were the perfect sacrifice, but it wasn’t mine to give. What is it that I’m supposed to be doing to make your sacrifice mine?”
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