Possibly the most important story in Christianity is Jesus’ death. The idea, in short, is that God sacrificed his only son to pay the debt of the sins of the world, and anyone who has faith in Jesus will be granted eternity in heaven. One of the most important verses in the New Testament is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV). The story found in the gospels tells how Jesus was betrayed and crucified, then raised from the dead three days later. Following the resurrection, Jesus proves to his disciples that he is really alive, then (mentioned in the final verses of Mark and Luke), Jesus ascends from the earth to be placed at the right hand of God – his father who originally offered him as the sacrifice.
There are several problems with this account that can be argued (like the fact that an all-powerful God thought this was the only way to forgive the imperfections of his creation – a barbaric human sacrifice when he could, theoretically, command anything with the wave of a hand), so I will focus on one specific issue that I can’t see a way around – Jesus did not experience true death.
Jesus “died” but was alive three days later. In my opinion, this would be more like a coma for three days followed by an awakening. If one of my sons dies, he will not wake up three days later – his death will be final. So, Jesus did not actually, completely, truly, ultimately die.
As far as the sacrifice is concerned, God got his son back forty days later. This is not a true sacrifice. Again, if one of my sons dies, I will never see him again. His death is final – I don’t get him back. God got Jesus by his side shortly after his “death.” God did not sacrifice anything – he got his “payment for the debt” paid right back to him in full. So, in the end, both he and Jesus came out in the best possible situation – together forever. God didn’t lose anything in this transaction. Seems a bit like a sleight of hand to me.
Some religious people may say that Jesus had to prove his supernatural powers to the world by conquering death. If this is the case, then John 3:16 is intentionally misleading. You can’t have a sacrifice and conquer death at the same time. If the sacrifice were true, Jesus would be in hell, purgatory, oblivion, or some other place separate from God the father. This way, God’s sacrifice is true and eternal, John 3:16 becomes a legitimate claim, and we can all respect the profundity of God’s loss for us. One the other hand, if Jesus gets to return to his father and void the sacrifice, and God’s intention was to demonstrate his power over death, John 3:16 should read something like “For God so loved the world he allowed merciless and barbaric mistreatment and torture of his own son, and Jesus conquered death for the sins of the world…”
I have not yet received a satisfactory answer as to how the logistics of this story are supposed to make sense. If Jesus is not the true sacrificial lamb, I think we can call into question the validity of the gospels and epistles (beyond just using common sense). The interesting thing is that I don’t think many Christians have even put this together themselves or heard this argument from somone else. My opinion is that, beyond the taboo of anyone criticizing religious beliefs and claims, faith turns off the reason centers of the brain so much that otherwise reasonable people can read this story over and over throughout their lives and never question its logic.