Why Do We Need A Savior?
Loving parents protect their children. We don’t let toddlers play in the street. We make sure kids wear helmets when they ride their bikes. We put limits on what they do and see on the internet. But we do all that with the knowledge that one day there will come a time when we can’t protect them. They’ll need to be on their own, making their own decisions. In fact, one of the primary goals of all loving parents is to raise children who can discern right from wrong, make their own good choices and take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We Catholics believe that loving parents are that way because God is that way. God, the ultimate loving parent, created humanity in his own image, and then, because he loved us so much, also gave us the gift of free will – the ability to choose right and wrong.
The problem with all that freedom, of course, is that often we do choose wrong. Like children who make poor choices despite their parents’ best efforts and intentions, we very often struggle to do what’s right, and sometimes choose to do that which we know to be wrong. As Catholics, we believe that this struggle we have with right and wrong goes all the way back to the very first people God created. As Scripture describes in the story of Adam and Eve, God created people to be in intimate union with him, and gave them all they would need to have that union. (Gen. 1:26-31) But despite that union with God and each other, they chose to violate God’s law. (Gen. 3) Not only did their sin damage their relationship with God, it also damaged their relationship with each other and with the relationships of all people who would follow them. Their sin brought evil, pain, suffering, and death into the world. (CCC 1018) Like a gene passed down from generation to generation, sin has become a part of who we are. We call this sin that has taken root in humanity original sin and it is that part of us that leads us toward temptation and away us from God and each other. (CCC 415-418)
It’s often easy to spot sin in others. We know when we have been wronged. We recognize the evil of tyrants and murderers. And so sometimes we compare ourselves to those extreme examples of evil and begin to think that since we’re not serial killers we’re doing okay. Compared to ultimate evil, most of us look pretty good. But ultimate evil isn’t the standard by which we are to measure ourselves. God created us in his image – and so it is God that we’re supposed to compare ourselves to. And compared to the perfect goodness of God, none of us measures up.
And there’s the big problem. Since God is perfect, so is heaven. That means imperfections like sin and death can’t exist there. But here we are, imperfect in body and soul. As a result, none of us is worthy of heaven. So sin and death stand in the way of our reunion with God, no matter good we think we are.
But God’s love is stronger than sin or death, and so he has made a way to end suffering and death and for us to be reunited with him forever. That way is Jesus Christ (John 14:5-7). Because Jesus is fully human, (CCC 470-478) he could experience temptation (CCC 538-539), suffering and death; and because he is fully divine (John 1:1-5) he could defeat them all. Because of his perfect divinity, Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end. He could not be held by his tomb. Jesus is resurrected (CCC 991), and with that resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death, not just for himself, but for all humanity.
And now once again, God’s gift of free will becomes important. We can believe in the power of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection or choose to reject that gift. If we reject Jesus, we also reject the eternal life that he offers. But if we accept Jesus’ incredible gift, and choose to unite our lives with his, then the sins and imperfections that once kept us from heaven no longer have any power. We make this choice continually through our lives. Every time we’re confronted with temptation, every time we are faced with a choice between what we know to be right and what we know to be wrong, we are really choosing whether to accept or reject Jesus. In those moments we either step closer to God or move further away. And the closer we step, the easier it is to see God, and to choose well the next time. On the flip side, the further away we walk, the harder it becomes to see God’s love, and to choose it for ourselves. And so as Catholics, we understand that the path to holiness and to perfect union with God is a life-long journey made up of daily steps. (CCC 2012-2016)
For the people who were eyewitnesses to all that Jesus said and did – people who watched him die and then experienced him alive again – believing in the power of Jesus to defeat death was a matter of trusting their own eyes and ears. But Jesus, in his wisdom, knew that the time would come when all those eyewitnesses would be gone, and it would become harder and harder for people to believe. He knew that for us to continue to choose him, we’d have to be able to experience him through our senses; that blind faith would not be enough. And so Jesus made it possible for us to experience his resurrected presence throughout time. Through the Church, the Scriptures and the Sacraments, Jesus continues to be present among us today. (CCC 1088) He continues to save us, and he continues to bring us closer and closer to him so that one day we will join him in the presence of God the Father and celebrate for all eternity a reunion with God that will be filled with joy beyond all imagining.