I have always hated this story, and I never believed it really happened. After we had our two sons, I put God on notice: "I will serve you in ministry, but if you take my children, the deal's off."
This is holy week. Yesterday, the children came into the sanctuary waving the palm branches, and later in the week we'll celebrate Good Friday and I'll have people come forward to place their hands on the cross as they remember the story of Jesus' crucifixion. And many of them will cry--a few of them will sob.
Over the years, the story of Christ's sacrifice for humanity has made less and less sense to me. I remember when I was still praying that I told God, "It's hard for me to respect a father who just lets his child die in front of him. If I were you, I would have let the world go to hell so I could keep my son safe--if I had your strength, no one would ever hurt my child. Any father who doesn't try to protect his child is a failure as far as I'm concerned."
I switched over to John's image of Jesus as a deity completely in control of his destiny and so he chose to sacrifice himself. Self sacrifice I can understand and perhaps even respect in certain contexts.
But then again, what's the deal about the need for sacrifices? If there is a benevolent, gracious god, does he really need something to die as punishment for wrongdoing? Why must that happen? Forgiveness does not exact penalty.
I understand that cultures have often invented a story that explains how guilt can be resolved and prosperity can be gained. Babies and virgins have been killed for just such reasons in lots of cultures, and Christians abhor that. Yet we're not just okay, but we're grateful, in fact we praise our God who sacrificed his Son.
I don't believe it anymore. But say that I did. Say I still thought it was all true.
I choose not to worship a god who does these kinds of things and expects us to be grateful for it.
*Actually, Abraham had another son born by one of his servants, but that's a story for another time.