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God So Loved the World?

There is one idea in Christianity that I have not been able to comprehend or appreciate. 

It is the idea that to show His love for us, God did not spare His only Son, but offered him up for our sins.

I don’t understand how offering a child demonstrates love.

If I were to say, “I love you so much that I’m going to offer my son to suffer in your place.”, I don’t believe anyone would find that to be a token of love.

I understand how Christ, in offering himself up for us, manifests his love in doing so

What I don’t understand is how God, generally speaking, especially as “the Father” does so, by offering up the Son.

I’m not interested in Trinitarian word salad offered as an explanation, because the passages in Scripture that speak of God’s love do not include any of that language.

There is a fundamental concept missing, in my mind, that makes this concept appear  unreasonable.

Christians quote these lines all the time, but they can’t explain they’re meaning.

4 Comments

  1. Mackey Mackey March 30, 2024

    I believe the offering of the child here demonstrates love because redemption was only possible through that child. In other words, the Father was willing to go as far as any being could possibly go in His sacrifice in order to bring about our salvation; which is what Abraham likewise demonstrates. Or it could be understood that it is a greater sacrifice to give up what we love than to give up ourselves.

    An analog here might be a father who sends his son off to war for the sake of the nation. Sons are the ones fit for war, likewise the Son was the one fit for redemption, as St. Athanasius says, “The Word of God came in his own Person, because it was he alone, the image of the Father who could recreate man made after the image.”

    Happy Easter!

    • William C. Michael, O.P. William C. Michael, O.P. Post author | March 30, 2024

      Abraham’s offering of Isaac was commanded and, when he went ahead with the offering, the angel stopped him and said, “Now I know that you fear God.” He proved his willingness to obey by going ahead with the sacrifice. God is not being commanded by anyone to offer His Son, so the analogy of Abraham’s obedience doesn’t work.

      There’s more to the Gospel than this.

      • Mackey Mackey March 30, 2024

        I would say Abraham’s obedience was love, as St. John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1Jn 5:3). So, Abraham was moved by love. Likewise, God the Father was “moved” by love, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). Both fathers were willing to sacrifice what was greatest to them for the sake of a third being.
        As fathers, I think we find it easier to sacrifice ourselves for our children than the other way around. This is exactly what makes the sacrifices of Abraham and God the Father the greatest: they are doing the hardest thing for any good father to do. And it’s worth noting the willingness of both sons in going through with the task. In a sense, the Father is sacrificed along with the Son, because of the love and relationship between the two.

        • William C. Michael, O.P. William C. Michael, O.P. Post author | March 30, 2024

          I think there’s more. I think it has to do with the nature of acceptable sacrifice.

          It is clearly not God’s will that any man should offer himself as an atonement for his sins. He could have commanded this: “If you wish to be forgiven, you must sacrifice yourself for your sins.”, but He did not do so.

          He asked men for animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant(s).

          Yet, it appears that justice requires the sacrifice of sinless man for the redemption of sinful man and only God could offer such a sacrifice…by “making” a sinless man.

          The sinless man, however, had to retain free will and actually obey the law. So, Christ willed to do the will of God the Father and be the sacrifice.

          The suffering of Christ is incomprehensible to us, being wrapped up in the mystery of the Incarnation.

          But, the Father did not have to save us, and the Son did not have to suffer for us. They, together, with the Holy Spirit, willed our good, which is love.

          We deserved nothing but punishment, yet receive mercy.

          “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son “

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