Question: Why did Jesus have to die in order to redeem us? Why would a loving Father demand the death of His own Son?
Answer: While it is not completely possible for us to know the mind of God, from what we do know, we must conclude that our redemption took place precisely because God is a loving Father. Creation is often described as an "overflowing of God's love," and the redemption is best viewed as more of the same. God wanted us to be able to know, love, and serve Him in this world precisely because He wanted us to share His happiness in heaven.
It would have been possible, of course, for God to have redeemed the world with less effort -- even an act of the divine will would have been enough -- He could have simply willed our redemption to be. But that would have left us with a distorted notion of justice, and very little sense of just what we had gained through that invisible act. Mankind had sinned against its Creator -- an insult against an Infinite Being by creatures with nothing of their own to offer in atonement. Adam and Eve did not simply eat a piece of fruit -- they opened an infinite rift between Creator and creature. That God would even consider our redemption speaks powerfully of His love -- the way in which He accomplished it was calculated to demonstrate the relationship between sin, suffering, and death.
The sin of Adam and, indeed, the sin of the fallen angels was rooted in pride -- the vice of estimating one's self to be greater than one really is, and, perhaps, of acting on that overestimation. "I will not serve!" -- the fallen angels thought themselves as "gods" in their own right, too perfect to serve the one true God. Adam and Eve fell because they thought that by eating the forbidden fruit they would "become like God" -- "gods" in their own right, just like the devils.1 No wonder that the Psalmist tells us that "the gods of the gentiles are devils" -- for the proud devils pass themselves off as gods to the gullible and the ignorant who do not know the true God.2
The only antidote for pride is humility -- something demonstrated in an infinite degree "in Christ Jesus, who though He was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave, and being made like unto men."3 God was telling us that if He could lower Himself to our level, surely we could muster enough humility to avoid the myriad of sins spawned by pride.
It seems, too, that God wanted us to learn how to love one another, and to do so without counting the cost of that love. "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do the things I command you."4 And this was no idle talk, for within hours He would be given over to the Sanhedrin to lay down His life.
The offering of sacrifice seems instinctive with man. We find it even in pagan religions. Man recognizes that he is in God's debt for everything he has -- sacrifice of one form or another comes naturally as a way of attempting to pay that debt. In the Old Testament, from the time of Adam's son Abel, we see that God approved of (and later commanded) the offerings of man's best possessions in sacrifice. But, once again, since man's offence against God was infinite, he had nothing of adequate value to offer. By virtue of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, becoming man, it was possible for a perfect man to offer Himself in sacrifice on the cross.
It is nearly impossible to imagine what the world would be like if it had not been for God's becoming man -- if God had simply willed our redemption, and no God-man named Jesus Christ had ever walked the earth! No Sermon on the Mount. No parables. No Holy Communion, no Mass, no Sacraments. No Blessed Virgin Mary. No Church to keep is from following the errors of Brahma, Krishna, or Mohammed. Would we even have come to know that God exists in Trinity? Or that He loved us as a Father loves His children?
Or if He had become incarnate in the home of a wealthy king, rather than that of a humble carpenter? Born of a noble lady with servants, wet-nurses, and baby sitters? Even if He had been crucified -- on a velvet cross while wearing gold spun silk -- isn't it likely that we would have been considerably less influenced by what our Lord did for us.
We must recognize that the Incarnation and our Lord's redemptive death on the Cross were not "forced" upon the Son by the Father. Such a thing is impossible. There is only one divine will. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost do not "tug" in different and contradictory directions. The Son and the Holy Ghost desired the redemption exactly as much and by precisely the same means as the Father.
Since He took human nature, the human soul of our Lord possessed the same faculties of intellect and free will as our souls. But simultaneously, by virtue of the hypostatic union, Jesus Christ always possessed the divine perspective on things. Even though His human will had to be free in order for His sacrifice to be a free gift to the Father, Christ's human will was always in accord with the divine will. It was natural for Him to experience fear in the garden of Gethsemene -- any of us would be afraid of suffering and death, even with ironclad assurance of an imminent resurrection -- for suffering and death by crucifixion are terribly painful. In saying "not My will, but Thy will be done," our Lord gave us the perfect example of how our own free wills should conform themselves to God's will; how our intellects should command our wills with a "divine perspective," resolving to do what is right and best even when it is painful and costly.
Is it unfair that sometimes doing God's will is painful or costly? Can we complain that God shouldn't have made things that way? Well, to begin with, He didn't plan it that way -- only the sin of Adam made it that way. Before complaining that someone else spoiled things for us and took away our chance, we must remember that we haven't done any better than Adam. Apart from the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are not certain that any merely human being has ever done better than Adam -- maybe Saint Joseph or Saint John, maybe a handful of others -- certainly not this writer, and not likely any of his readers! But we can say, with absolute certainty, is that Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother did better than Adam, and that even though they did, they were still willing to put up with the pain and the cost. What better example can their be to keep mankind -- redeemed, yet frail -- on the road to the eternal love of God in heaven?