Jesus' Crucifixion: It Could Have Been Worse

Like so many around the world, I've been deeply saddened by the unfathomable, horrific gang rape that recently occurred in India. After the initial shock wore off, I got to thinking once again about how much worse Jesus' suffering and death, as described in the Gospels, could have been. I have a brief discussion about this at the end of A Crisis of Faith -- it's a point that I've heard few atheists make, but it seems to me quite compelling.[1]

By any standard, Jesus' experience was bad. But relative to what untold millions have had to endure at the end of their sojourn here on Earth, it wasn't half as bad as it could have been. Surely the suffering of the victim in India was greater than that of Jesus -- who, of course, had the notable advantage of being fully divine in addition to fully human (the woman in India was only fully human); I'd argue that her experienced was probably significantly worse than Jesus'. Not only that, but her suffering was completely pointless. In contrast, Jesus had perhaps the most compelling motivation possible for getting through several hours (one morning) of physical pain: he was dying to save all of humanity.

Christians should think about this. How many stories are there of people who sacrifice their lives for others? Soldiers do it for their country. Parents do it for their children. Sometimes people give up everything they have to save a complete stranger in acts of great altruism. I bet if you were to ask a thousand people whether or not they'd be willing to undergo hours of being beaten, spat on, and then hung on a cross so that literally billions of humans past, present and future can access salvation, the majority would do it. (I certainly would, as long as I had assurance that humanity really would be saved.)

Add to this survey question the stipulation that not only would billions be saved, but three days after dying you would literally rise from the grave, ascend into the clouds and spend an eternity next to God. Surely just about every single person surveyed would say: "A day of suffering only to be resurrected and then lifted up to heaven for ever and ever? And to save people the world over? Sure, I'll do it." Of course, since Jesus was God -- fully divine, as Christians agreed long ago -- he must have known with absolute certitude what was going to happen to him after death. Whew!

Thus, not only was his physical suffering not as horrible as it could have been -- he wasn't raped, drawn and quartered, etc., and his discomfort didn't last weeks, months, years as it has for countless others -- but Jesus had a kind of epistemic certainty about metaphysics (the nature of reality) and the future (what was going to happen to him) that no human could possibly have. It stands to reason that, as far as deaths go, Jesus' wasn't very impressive at all. I'm much more impressed by the stranger who drowns trying to save a child of no relation; and I'm much more moved and saddened by the pointless murder of the woman in the India.

[1] Any readers want to point me towards an author who makes this argument?

Written by Phil Torres.