I realize that correct theology is not much valued in the church any longer. With deep-seated biblical illiteracy having found a home in congregations and increasingly among church leaders, it is no longer surprising to find things in worship songs or sermons that are askew of what has been considered the traditional teachings of the church. We now receive our theology as “sound bites,” short statements that seem clever and edgy, but often are confusing or misleading to new Christians.
One that I have heard three times in recent months is “God died on the cross for you.” Really? If we follow this logically, it means one of two things. First, it might mean that God is dead, permanently and eternally. Death is death after all, and the only one who could raise someone from the dead (God) is dead, so there is no possibility of overcoming death, even for God. Second, it might mean that God didn’t really die on the cross. The body crucified on the cross may have ceased to function in a living manner (no pulse, breathing, or brain function), but the person (God) retained the power to bring this body back to life.
Either option denies cardinal, foundational principles of the Christian faith. If God is dead because of the crucifixion, there is no one to raise us from the dead and our faith in the resurrection of the dead is futile. If the person on the cross did not fully die, then he was not fully human. In this case, no one has actually died for our sins and we remain in them. The doctrine of the atonement doesn’t work.
The Bible never teaches that God died on the cross. It tells the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross for our sins. Because he was fully human, he died completely. This is why early creedal statements always include the detail of Jesus being buried. You only bury dead people. Jesus was stone cold dead in the tomb for parts of three days. The human Jesus was dependent upon God the Father to raise him from the dead, to restore him to life. The doctrine of the Trinity is admittedly difficult, but we don’t make these difficulties disappear by abandoning a distinction between the Father and the Son. The early church did not see Jesus’ death on the cross as a negation of his divine nature.
So to say, “God loved you so much he died on the cross for you” is a distortion of biblical teaching. To say, “God loved you so much he sent his Son to die on the cross for you” reflects what the church has believed and taught for nearly 2,000 years.
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University