I call it car seat theology. It’s what happens when I’m driving and our five-year-old begins to question, or as is more often the case, pontificate about the world and God’s role in it. Perhaps it’s because I am a pastor, and he’s a pastor’s kid, that he maintains a high exposure to religious language. He hears a lot about “God” in our house, both as a word of blessing and occasional cursing (admittedly from me and not his mother).
He asked me recently as I was driving him to his swim lesson, “Why did God have to die on the cross?” It’s a great question, full of the unique mystery of God’s full presence and abiding love for us in Jesus Christ. But for the life of me, I didn’t know how to begin to tell a kindergartener that.
The world is a place of deep contradictions. Beautiful and terrible things happen here. And while we are reminded by the biblical witness not to be afraid, it’s too messy to be believable some days. While historians and social anthropologists tell us that we are living in increasingly less violent days in recorded human history, it doesn’t feel that way. A Christian view of history, and in particular a Reformed view, tells us that we continue to experience profound disruption, disorder, alienation, brutality, and oppression that often characterizes the universal human condition. This condition disconnects us from God and one another. We are by our biological nature pretty self-centered, and our faith calls us to be other-centered.
In the middle of all of this, divinity came crashing into our world, not to rescue a select few from it, but to redeem, restore, and reconcile all of it.
So why did it take violence for all of this to happen? Theologian Dan Migliore writes, “When Jesus proclaims and enacts the reign of God in a world built on violence, it is no arbitrary religious doctrine but profoundest truth that Jesus must suffer. That is, the boundless love of God must collide with a world where the desire to dominate incites the desire to retaliate and the use of violence is met with counter-violence.” Because God’s gracious and non-coercive love was made known in complete vulnerability, it makes sense that Jesus would become the victim of our violence. The One who mediates God’s justice, freedom, forgiveness, and peace threatens our whole world of violence.
The good news of the Gospel, of course, is that not even the crucifixion could stop God’s love.
Maybe that’s what I’ll tell our son the next time he inevitably asks the question I avoided.
“The world is really broken, and sometimes when we are broken we do things that deeply hurt each other. But God loves us so much, God used what was meant for hurting to be healing.”
I’m hoping we reach the swim school before he asks about the virgin birth.