A hand is trying to hold the transparent hand with hole on it

Why Couldn’t God Just Forgive Us Without Jesus Dying?

Written by Dan Paterson, Australia

Dan Paterson is the founder of Questioning Christianity and is based in Brisbane, Australia. An ordained pastor, Dan speaks regularly to audiences on how the gospel connects to life’s biggest questions and on the popular objections to the Christian faith, particularly on the question of suffering. Dan is married to Erin, and they have three young sons, Josiah, Zachariah, and Seth.


What are we to make of Jesus’s death on the cross? Christ dying for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures is not only of monumental significance, it is the heart of gospel truth, and the centre of the Easter story. Which is how the cross, originally a totem of torture created by the Romans, became co-opted as the defining symbol of Christianity.

But for a lot of people, the cross just sounds strange. You want me to worship a god who got crucified?  Many critics of Christianity find the atonement thread of the Easter story to be barbaric—more akin to pagan blood sacrifices that appease capricious gods. Some have even called the cross “cosmic child abuse”, impugning God’s character for pouring out wrath on His only begotten Son.

Why did Jesus even have to die? Couldn’t God just forgive us without the need for Jesus’s gruesome execution?

For starters, we need to clear up the question of agency. The accusation of cosmic child abuse falls flat because Jesus was no vulnerable child. He is God who became flesh. At the time of His crucifixion, Jesus was a rugged and seasoned carpenter-turned-rabbi, speaking openly to both friends and political enemies about how no one takes His life from Him; He lays it down of His own accord (John 10:17-18). Jesus chose the cross.

Second, far from mimicking pagan blood sacrifices to appease capricious deities, the Christian story frames the cross as Heaven’s answer to a divine dilemma: how can a holy and loving God deal with evil when those whom He loves are the very ones doing it?

On one hand, God’s justice demands that He take evil seriously, not merely wiping it away as though our dark thoughts, cutting words, and selfish deeds have no consequences. The whole sacrificial system in the Old Testament was designed to teach God’s people that sin is costly: it destroys the people God loves and defaces the creation in which He delights. Even our own protest at the evil in our world speaks to the reality that it does matter—sin is not benign.

Any God who is not angry at sin would not be worthy of His title, or of our worship. God is not some capricious pagan deity thirsty for blood; He is a holy being bent on bringing about justice.

But God doesn’t want us to bear the full brunt of justice. Even though we have all messed up in innumerable ways, God still loves us, and does not want to condemn us as we deserve—to death, which is the wage of our sin (Romans 6:23).

So how can God be both just and loving? How can He address evil without sending us to our deaths? The cross is Heaven’s answer; God’s paradox of justice. On the cross, God makes public the secret cost of sin, condemning evil in the sight of history, while securing forgiveness for all who would believe. And He does it by taking our evil upon Himself as our representative substitute.

Christians call this the great exchange: “God made Him who had no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through Jesus’s death justice has been served.

Jesus’s crucifixion empties evil of its power, triumphing over the worst hell and fallen humanity could throw at Him, robbing the grave of its claim over us: death has lost its sting.

His death wakes us up to the dead end of our sins, prompting us to turn away from our temptations and to live a life worthy of His sacrifice as our moral exemplar: you were bought with a price.

Jesus’s wounds speak volumes when it comes to whether we can trust a God who lets us suffer, for Jesus is a God with scars: God who has suffered for us. Jesus’s experience of feeling God-forsaken on the cross not only gives permission for our own raw questions and doubts, it shows how a silent heaven is not always evidence of God’s absence. God was in Christ reconciling a lost world to Himself.

This article was adapted from Questioning Christianity’s YouTube clip. This version was edited by YMI. 



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