Today was a pretty interesting day when it came to my theology class. Theology for an undergrad in seminary is pretty basic, usually limited to the CCC (catechism of the Catholic Church). Today was a little bit different though. We were discussing the reason for Christ's incarnation. What the answer boiled down to was sin, but a question brought up in class was how Christ could have died. This turned into quite a long discussion.
Here is the question: "If death is the result of original sin and Christ obviously, even in His humanity, didn't have original sin, how was it that He was able to die?" This is an important question. It reminded me of a question posed by a Muslim on a TV show once. The Muslim stated that Christ could not have been God because God can not die. He had a point.
So, how do we as Catholics reconcile that fact? Here on one hand we have an all powerful God, infinite in all things, and on the other hand we have somebody who died on the cross. How can God die? Well, I decided to do some thinking on this. First, I should say that this is a reflection on my own and not necessarily the position of the Catholic Church. So how does God die? Is God compatible with death?
One such answer given by a student in class was, perhaps he didn't really die as we know death. I don't think this answer works. If Christ did not truly die, than he was not truly sacrificed and the cross and crucifixion are null. Another such answer was that he allowed himself to die. Obviously this is true and I won't argue it, but I don't think it really answers the question. Of course God allowed himself to die, but how is that possible. That's the same kind of scenario of "can God microwave a burrito so hot that He himself can't eat it?"
So God allowed himself to die, gave up to ghost so to speak, but what allowed him to do this? What allowed God to suffer undue punishment of sin and succumb to death? Well, first we must look at the question of if the punishment was undue at all. Did Christ deserve the punishment of death? On the surface the answer is obviously no, a resounding no! But wait a minute. Who is Christ? Once I heard Christ described as our whipping boy.
For those of you who don't know the story or history behind the term whipping boy, let me clarify. Supposedly, a royal prince (again, I remember this from a story so accuracy is a bit lost) could not be harmed. This included discipline as well, so a prince could not be whipped if he did something wrong. Therefore, a royal family would employ a whipping boy to take the punishment for whatever the prince did wrong. I know, I know, the story seems goofy, but it illustrates my point.
So back to my question, did Christ deserve to die? If Christ is our whipping boy, he may not have deserved to die, but because of the position he put himself in, he justified himself in doing so. One could almost wonder if Christ took on our sinful nature to be able to die. He took our sin upon himself, or as St. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:24 "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." Also, Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages for sin is death. I think that clears a lot up on the subject.
So after all of that, here is my definitive answer. Christ could die because he took our sin, our wrongdoing upon himself. Doing this, he laid the blame and the just punishment of sin upon him self. What is the just punishment for sin? Death! Christ, as perfect Human in infinite God was able to die because he placed the blame of sin upon himself and accepted the punishment of sin, which was death.
So take this into account next time you are tempted, or even when contemplating the cross. Christ took the blame for us. All of the evil of the world was placed on his shoulders. This realization brings a real meaning to when people say that our sins are in all of his wounds. If it weren't for our sins, God would not have been able to die. (philosophically speaking of course, who is to say what God can and can not do?)