As we approach Easter, that most important of all Christian holidays, I am reminded of the thing that makes Christianity different from any other religion. Other religions are about humankind trying to reach God. This may be through good behaviour, acts of sacrifice, ritual prayers, strict dietary observances, or other laws and rules. It all comes down to the same thing—somehow trying to make yourself worthy, to somehow be good enough to be accepted by God. But we will never achieve this. We can never be “good enough.”
Christianity is different. It is all about God trying to reach us.
The problem here, of course, is that we have fallen so low, turned out so bad, that God has to reach down very far to touch us. We have rejected God and tried to behave as if we belong to ourselves. C. S. Lewis points out that this means that we are not just imperfect creatures needing improvement, we are rebels. We need to lay down our arms, turn completely around and surrender completely. It is more than just eating humble pie. It means “unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”
Lewis goes on to point out that only a good person can repent, and only a perfect person can repent perfectly. But they don’t need to. The worse you are, the more you need to repent, and the less that you are able to do so. And, he states, “repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back . . . it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.” Without it we cannot take the hand God hold out to us, but we cannot do it on our own.
What then? Is there no point to it all? No hope? Without God, that would be the case. But we cannot ask God to do it for us. God will not and cannot do something contrary to His nature. He can and does put love and reason into our beings because He loves and reasons. However, to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die—these things are not part of His nature. Lewis concludes with this. “But supposing God became a man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person—then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if god does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at the dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.”
Jesus on the cross, crucified for me . . . . and for you.