Most Christians that I know pledge their faith within the doctrine of penal substitution. It basically teaches that Jesus willingly received Gods punishment for sin so that sinners could be saved by the virtue of Christ taking their place on the cross. This doctrine implies that God is so wrathful that he demands satisfaction before offering forgiveness, even if he has to accept the sacrifice of his only begotten son. It negates scriptures that speak to God’s willing forgiveness toward mankind, and stands in opposition to scriptures which contradict its premise.
When I was a follower of Christianity I accepted this part of the doctrine as a God-given truth. Looking back on it now I see how absurd a doctrine it is. How did I ever buy into it? The answer is because I did not read the bible critically and accepted the pastoral interpretation offered from the pulpit. I was taught to accept that the pastor is God-ordained, and I lacked the conviction to discern for myself any other interpretation. That was my shortcoming back in the day. The unwillingness to read the bible for myself and the willingness to just accept it based on the authority claimed by another. It wasn’t until the bible was translated into versions with modern language that I began to read the bible critically and when I started grappling with the teachings of Christianity that no longer made any sense to me.
Jesus being sacrificed to death as atonement for the sins of mankind was part of the doctrine that did not make sense. It squarely contradicts the claim that God is a god of love. The claim that God as Jesus sacrificed himself is even more absurd to me. The idea that an omnipotent and omniscient being is an equivalent sacrifice for a fragile and mortal being is ludicrous to me. It is like saying you can make an apple pie from oranges. If mortal man incurred the sin, then mortal man must atone the sin. It does nothing to redeem mankind from sin if he is incapable of redeeming himself through his own will to change his nature.
Jesus died because he was considered an anarchist stirring opposition to Rome. That is the simple “why” behind Jesus’ crucifixion. The spiritual “why” is a deeper matter. Jesus died because of the sins of man, but not as a sacrifice to appease an unyielding God demanding a blood satisfaction. Jesus died at the hand of man because man chooses sin by yielding to his own ego. He wants his preferences met, and when his preferences have no disposition toward mercy and tolerance toward others in lieu of his own desires, then those who stand in opposition can be harmed even unto death. If the message that Jesus was teaching to love one another and treat others as themselves would have been the moral conviction of those around him then he would not have been executed. But there was no disposition to see the good in another and forgive his perceived transgression. From Pilate to the Jewish priests, and even the crowd in attendance calling for his execution, there was no disposition toward grace, mercy or compassion, and Jesus died.
There is a fateful contradiction in the message that Jesus taught and his subsequent death for teaching it and perhaps it served as a catalyst for causing people to think deeper about their own inequities and enact change. His death did not have a small impact upon the world. His life, and equally his death, has inspired people to become better stewards of humanity. I personally think that is the truer message of salvation, to overcome the destructive nature that we possess and become the lover of love in the image of God.