I want to talk to the moms and dads out there for a moment, especially those parents who have an unmarried daughter in her late teens. Suppose she comes home one day and says, “Mom, Dad, I need to talk about my boyfriend problems.” There are two guys competing for her affections. One is just an ordinary Joe, not exceptionally bright or strong or handsome, but easy to get along with and genuinely caring—whenever she needs a hand with something, or someone to talk to, or just to hang out with, she knows she can count on him to show up and spend time with her.
The other guy is more, shall we say, attention-getting. He claims to love her with a love that no one else can match, but he has an odd way of showing it. He never shows up to hang out with her, or to help her when she needs it. Instead, he has given her his email address, and he expects her to send him all her requests, which he promises to “take care of” (even though she has no direct evidence that he’s doing so). He claims to be rich, though he frequently asks her for money, and he claims to have huge political influence, though he leaves it up to her to write to various government officials and tell them what he wants, in a way that will win their vote.
He’s also extremely jealous, and does not want her associating in any way with any of his rivals—not even acknowledging that any of them exist. He wants frequent reports from her confessing all the various ways she has been unfaithful to him, so that he can forgive her, which he sees as demonstrating his great love for her.
Even more disturbing, he has apparently staged his own “death,” in a spectacularly brutal and gory manner, with the intention that his extreme suffering will prove that he really loves her. Somehow he seems to have survived the experience, and has promised to come back to her. He expects her to love him in return, and has promised that if she does not, he will kidnap her and hurt her very badly for a very, very, very long time.
Of these two boyfriends, which one seems like they’d be a good, loving husband for your daughter, and which one seems like a terrifying psychopath? Yet this is the whole “romance” of the Gospel: God loved us so much that He became mortal, suffered horrific torture and death, and will return one day to judge us and to take everyone who fails to love Him and throw them into the pit of eternal torment.
If you think about it, that’s not only egotistical and cruel, it’s a really, really disturbed and disturbing “love.” It’s unhealthy, not to mention dangerous, manipulative, and violent. As a love story, it just fails.
What makes more sense is that this whole thing is just a rationalization. It’s not that God was looking for some way to show people what real love looks like (since the first boyfriend does that a lot better than the second one does). Rather, people had high hopes for Jesus, and came up with “loving sacrifice” as the only way to rationalize his premature and violent death. It’s backwards thinking: you don’t start with a loving God and work your way forwards to how a good God would show His love, you start with the painful fact of Jesus’ execution and try and come up with some excuse that will make it sound like it’s all part of some wise and good design.
The bad news is that rationalization is not reality, which is why we end up with such jarring inconsistencies as a “loving Savior” who has more in common with a murderous psychopath than with an ordinary Joe. The good news is that such discrepancies at least make it easier for us to recognize rationalizations when we see them.