Many years ago, when I was just a teenager I remember being puzzled by the oft quoted John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . .” Now everyone used this verse to demonstrate how much God loved us. But I got stuck thinking, “What kind of a Father is this that he sends his Son to suffer horribly and die!?” My own Father wouldn’t send me in harm’s way, he’d go and face the threat and protect me. But God the Father sent his Son to do the hard and dirty work, to get slaughtered and die. Why? Why didn’t the Father come to save us himself?
As I asked this question no one had a real answer. Even the priests looked at me like they didn’t understand my question. As the years went by I eventually connected the dots and found the answer. But recently I was reminded of my question as some one asked me, “Why didn’t the Father come to save us himself?”
The answer really comes down to one word, a word we’re not so good at understanding in these modern times. The word is “obedience.” The simple answer is that the Father cannot obey the Father, only the Son can do that. For it is not just the suffering of Christ per se that saves us, it is his obedience that saves us. . . .
And why such terrible suffering? Here too some get stuck on thinking that God is blood thristy. We need not conclude this any more that we would conclude such a thing of a surgeon. The surgeon clearly makes use of radical proceedures, slicing open the body, sawing through bones, cutting out flesh and the like. But strong medicine is needed when the situation is grave. Rather than looking at the crucifixion and saying, God has a problem (i.e. he is blood-thirsty) we ought to see how desperate our problem is. Sin is a very serious condition and we should not make light of it. In order to resolve our problem, God had to resort to this. . . .
It seems to me that the premise of the question (or maybe a related question) is:
Why is there a Son?
(And how are they, or why do we call them, “Father” and “Son”?)
Of course, God is Love, and love is relationship, love requires an other, hence the Trinity, where the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the love that proceeds from the Father and the Son is a Person as well, a loving communion of three persons in one divine nature. And, of course, this understanding, the knowledge that God is a Trinity, would never have come about if Jesus had not Himself revealed the existence of this Son-Father relationship.
Whether we called them Father and Son, or Person 1 and Person 2, someone needed to do it, if anyone was going to come to save us. If the Father had come, we might as well ask, why didn’t the Son come? And the answer for many might end up being that He is a lazy good-for-nothing just lying around heaven not doing much of anything.
Given that God is Love, God is relationship, and the whole purpose of this Creation Project of God’s is relationship, reason suggests that it had to be the Son because it had to be an act of love. Love is an act of self-giving, it is service, it is obedience, doing what those you love want or need doing.
"And why such terrible suffering?"
Because God is not only Love, God is Truth. And the truth is that sin exists. Sin exists and it has evil effects, sin causes horrific suffering. The effect of sin is made manifest in Christ’s flesh. God takes that horror, caused by man, upon Himself. Had God instead simply waved His divine hand, that would have been a lie. To simply pretend that the sin did not happen, that sin does not have horrific consequences, would have been wholly contrary to truth. And it would have been contrary to that aspect of truth which is justice.
The sin happened, the window was broken. You can forgive throwing the ball through the window, but you cannot simply act as if there is not a gaping hole in the glass. To pretend like the window is not still broken, even after forgiveness, is to allow the rain and snow to come in. The truth is that the window is broken, the scales of justice must be balanced, justice requires a return to the status quo — an unbroken window. Thus, truth is, and justice demands, that someone needs to suffer all the trouble to fix it.
Jesus volunteered for the job. Jesus takes the reality of sin, the truth of evil and the horrific consequences of sin, upon Himself so that we do not have to take it upon ourselves. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said immediately before he was elected Pope, in Jesus on the Cross, love and truth coincide.
Christ's mercy is not a grace that comes cheap, nor does it imply the trivialization of evil. Christ carries the full weight of evil and all its destructive force in His Body and in His Soul. He burns and transforms evil in suffering, in the fire of His suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: He Himself suffers for us, in the person of His Son.The truth is that suffering caused by sin exists. If Jesus doesn’t take this terrible suffering upon Himself, we have to, as a matter of truth and justice, take it upon ourselves.