Friday, December 27, 2002

Kitsch lives on

I was surprised by the number of hits on this site while I was out. Turns out 90% of them were on search engines looking for that darned Huggy Jesus Doll. One of them was looking for "squeeze me jesus doll." I don't think I want to know...
Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine

Since I've been hanging around churches and talking to Christians lately, my mother has taken to asking me questions about the faith, which never made much sense to her. This is a futile endeavor, as she learned a few weeks ago when she asked me, "What does it mean to say that Jesus died for our sins?"

"I don't know," I said. "I'm still trying to figure that one out."

Recently on Sursum Corda, I learned I'm not the only one having trouble explaining this concept to a relative:
The other night, my 4-year old son pushes a chair against the wall, stands on it, holds out his arms and says “Look Daddy, I’m Jesus dying on the cross!”

I was a little unprepared for this conversation, which went something like this:

“Joseph, do you know why Jesus died on the cross?”


“Uh…to take away our sins.”

“What are sins?”

“Well…uh…well there is a lot of meanness in the world and God wanted to take the meanness away, so he—"

“But I don’t want God to take the meanness away because I want to be a pirate.”

Peter asked readers for advice in explaining this to a four-year-old. His favorite answer, not surprisingly, came from Master Work, who took the pirate concept and ran with it:
"On Good Friday, the whole world played pirate, only for real. We made Jesus walk our plank. And though it hurt him terribly, he let us all be mean to him. Only Jesus hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, Jesus turned out to be the captain of God's ship! And after God saved him, Jesus had every right to fight back and make us walk his plank.

"That was a very scary time. It was then that playing pirate stopped being fun.

"Only Jesus wasn't mean back to us. He forgave us. Then he made us officers on his ship – imagine that! – and taught us a whole new game to play. It's called the Way. We're still on a ship, we still sail around and adventure, but now we help people instead of hurting them. God even helps us play! Some of the people who see us playing start wanting to play too, and we let them.

"To people who still think playing pirate is fun, the Way sounds boring and silly. But to us, it's the best game in the world. It's hard to go back to a ship of your own when you've served on God's ship. It's hard to enjoy being mean, or even just pretending to be mean, when you remember how people hurt Jesus and he wouldn't hurt them back. It's no fun once you know that hurting other people hurts Jesus most of all.

"And that's one of the many ways that Jesus saved us from our sins on the cross."

I don't know how I would have reacted to this at age four. I probably wouldn't have related, since I didn't aspire to be a pirate. (I think most girls don't like pirates until they're old enough to read romance novels.) But now I'm 31, I have a Stanford education, and I still don't get it.

For one thing, I don't get how the whole world was responsible for his death -- 99.99% of the world had no way to know he was alive, so they could hardly have anything to do with killing him. But more importantly, I still don't see how this story explains why he had to die that way, and how this saved us from our sins. So he taught us the Way. What does that have to do with getting killed? Why was that necessary? I mean, obviously preaching the Way got him into hot water, but clearly getting crucified wasn't supposed to just be a nasty side effect of his preaching -- it supposedly accomplished something in itself.

Acts 2, which Telford says his story loosely paraphrases, isn't much help. In fact, it never mentions dying for sins. It quotes St. Peter saying Jesus was killed wrongly but was raised because "death cannot hold him." Rising from the dead would suggest Jesus is divine, but that doesn't explain his manner of death -- he could just as well be raised from dying of pneumonia. Peter also goes on about how this fulfills Jewish prophecy, but that seems more about establishing his lordship over Israel than explaining his death.

So, what's the deal?