God as Martyr: I Don’t Understand

Posted on April 27, 2015


Last week, I pondered the Pope’s words calling the childless “selfish.” That got me to thinking, and there are some things about Catholicism and Christianity I just can’t get my head around… despite having gone to a Catholic school in my youth.

I am thinking of the Holy Trinity and of the concept that God sacrificed his son to save mankind. This makes no sense to me at all. Somebody help me out here.

First off, God is omnipotent and omniscient. He is the creator not just of Earth and man and all the animals; he is the creator of EVERYTHING, the entire cosmos, a universe that we cannot even imagine in its vastness.

What need does such a being have to incarnate himself? What need has he of a son? And most especially, if he wanted to “save” his rebellious little flawed creations (that’s us), why should he be the one to sacrifice his only son? If we’re the ones getting the benefit of salvation, shouldn’t we be the ones doing some kind of sacrificing? Or, if he wanted to save us from ourselves, couldn’t he just tweak his creations somehow to his satisfaction? Why is self-sacrifice necessary for this omnipotent, omniscient being to achieve his ends?

Looking back to the Old Testament, God demands that his servant Abraham slay his only son Isaac, but God does not actually allow Abraham to carry out the sacrifice. It is just a test, one which Abraham passes: he has proven that he fears God.  One might see the story of Abraham and Isaac as some kind of basis for the concept that God would sacrifice his only son for mankind, but why should God have to prove anything to anyone?

There’s more: in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and elsewhere, we read warning after warning that God detests human sacrifices. If he punishes those who give their children to be sacrificed, then what sense does it make that he would give his own son to be sacrificed?

I am aware of the passages where Jesus compares himself to the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, but that makes little sense to me, either. An actual shepherd might die in fending off the wolves from his flock, but where is this external threat that Jesus’ sacrifice saves us from? Isn’t he believed to be saving us from ourselves, from our sins, and isn’t that an internal issue of corruption rather than an external threat?

At the end of my ponderings on this topic, I always come back around to where I started: God is omnipotent and omniscient. How does his sacrifice “save” us, and why is it his sacrifice, and not ours, that seems to be necessary?