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I volunteer at a soup kitchen which is run by a pastor with a Born Again style. Each meal is preceded by a sermon and attendees are encouraged to come to Jesus.

I had a come-to-Jesus conversation with the pastor. He summarized his beliefs, including the idea that God gave Jesus to suffer for all of us. On this I noted that the punishment suffered by Jesus was not unique: 2000 years later, people are still crucifed and suffer even worse forms of individualized cruelty, in what was and remains a very dangerous place.

Since then, in several visits to the soup kitchen, the pastor has avoided making eye contact with me. I feel certain that I am among the damned.

Question: Is there a name for my heresy? I'm sure I'm not the first person to come up with the observation that the suffering of Jesus does not make him unique (in that regard). I imagine that there is a line of Jesuit thinking or something somewhere that already has a name for this particular observation and the consequences that come from it.

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    I'm not aware of a name, or that it is even a heresy. But I would note that the crime against Jesus was so great because of Who He was: God who was absolutely, utterly guiltless—and not only that, but worthy of our greatest honor and worship, not to be insulted, much less viciously murdered! No other death by crucifixion will thus involve as much outrage and injustice as this and it never can. Pain is not a measure of injustice. We also don't know how much pain Jesus allowed Himself to suffer: He sweated blood hours before He even began to be insulted and tortured. How much more when it began? – Sola Gratia Oct 7 at 13:21
  • So any person who is crucified today is more guilty than Jesus, and so their punishment is less outrageous, is that correct? – Lars Ericson Oct 7 at 14:49
  • Not that they are more guilty per se, such as children (although not even the stars are pure in his eyes...), just that they do not have the honor or dignity of God, which Jesus does, together with the positive merit factor, in that Christ actively and freely chose to undergo suffering which he didn't have to, unlike pretty much any example you could cite, who were coerced in some way or other. He both was conscious and fully aware of Who He was and what He is owed as such, yet endured the greatest outrage that was ever committed anyway: diecide. The physical suffering was only one part. – Sola Gratia Oct 7 at 15:18
  • I guess what I'm looking for is a name for this belief in the uniqueness of suffering, and whether anybody has challenges this idea in an academically or theologically well known way. – Lars Ericson Oct 7 at 16:39
  • Patripassianism is the heresy that God the Father suffered on the Cross alongside the Son. While this is not what you want, it shows that there is at least one heresy named that finds affront that anyone else can lay claim to suffering as greatly as Christ, even the Father. – Paul Chernoch Oct 7 at 18:16
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Reading your comments to the various fine answers already posted here tells me that your unstated question is "what has Jesus's suffering to do with being born again", rather than looking for the name of "heresy" you're committing. Don't be too hard on yourself (by feeling you're among the damned just because of the way the pastor reacted to you). As long as you're STILL responding to God's offer of salvation through Jesus, you're not yet committing heresy. Your comments tells me you are simply trying to understand that unstated question but not yet having enough theological vocabulary to frame your questions and understand the answers. So I hope the following can answer your unstated question and I try to explain the theological vocabulary as well as I can.

C.S. Lewis in his book "Mere Christianity" answers it this way:

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.

Now theologians have indeed constructed many theories in the past 2000 years (summaries of the main 7 theories here, also see how one of them, Christus Victor, has fared over history here). All theories will say that the suffering itself is NOT the point, but WHO THE SUFFERER IS what matters (see also SLM's answer). It has to be Jesus, and even if someone today dies like him TODAY, it wouldn't have worked.

In your comments you brought up how your viewing Jesus's sacrifice feels similar to viewing others. You said:

...

What I'm saying is that my experience of an other's suffering and my naive experience of Jesus' suffering feel the same to me.

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That's the heart of the matter. I see people suffering in one way or another. I don't distinguish the suffering I see from the suffering of Jesus. I can say that they suffered as he did, or that he suffers as they do. I see the suffering of a dying person and the suffering of Jesus as two sides of the same coin. They are having the same experience. Which is another way of saying it is not unique, it is communal.

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Although contemplating Jesus's suffering on our behalf helps with our salvation (for example, contemplating helps us realize the true cost of our sins, which then moves us closer to accepting God's help) but it is NOT the contemplation that is critical. What is critical is acknowledging that we need to be RESCUED from being a slave to sin and that only Jesus can do that for us. Because Jesus was victorious on the cross God DEFEATED the power of Satan and that is precisely how Jesus can rescue anyone who is willing to call Jesus his/her personal savior and King. Why was Jesus victorious? It's because He was obedient to God the Father to complete His mission as Messiah by giving His life for us (John 3:14-17, Phil 2:6-11).

But don't parents today (especially in wars) also willing to give their lives for their children; aren't those as valuable? Those parents IMITATE Jesus and that is why it's immensely inspiring. But while the parents's sacrifice can give meaning to their children's lives, but matters of sins is between God and us. Because it's between God and us, to resolve the enmity between God and us we need Jesus as the mediator. Another reason why Jesus's work on the cross is unique is the teaching that Jesus is the Second / Last Adam, so that work on the cross saves the whole humanity (sample explanation here and a full historical treatment here). Obviously the parents who sacrifice their lives for their children don't save the whole humanity.

Any of the 7 theories of atonement can explain in more detail how Jesus's death is connected to our salvation. But as C.S. Lewis said in the book (after describing his personal favorite theory):

Such is my own way of looking at what Christians call the Atonement. But remember this is only one more picture. Do not mistake it for the thing itself: and if it does not help you, drop it.

This article has more detail about C.S. Lewis's thinking on atonement theory. I personally like theory #3 (Christus Victor). Andrew Shanks' answer as well as many evangelicals is along the line of theory #5 (Substitutionary), aka vicarious atonement.

But regardless of the theory of atonement that appeals to us, what God asks is for us to RESPOND by first repenting of our sins (repent is turning around 180 degree from the path of sin to the path of holiness) and then declaring that Jesus is now our Lord and Savior (which means we now have to obey the Law of Christ leading us to the path of holiness). By doing that, we will then be born again and God will give us the Holy Spirit so we can obey that law of Christ (Gal 5:16-17) so our lives will be pleasing to God. When we die and face the Judgment Day God will admit us into the eternal Kingdom of God (that's when our salvation is complete).

  • Thanks, your answer is easiest for me to understand. I also found this link which values the question (I've been getting many up and down votes on the question itself, summing to 0): blogos.org/theologyapologetics/Jesus-suffering-unique.php – Lars Ericson Oct 9 at 19:49
  • @Lars Ericson Yes, the person who voted the question down should have commented how you could improve it, esp. since you're a new member. At any rate, I hope you received the answer you're looking for. If I were the pastor, as long as the questioner is serious I would attempt to find common ground, clear the obstacles, address the baggage, etc. THEN, pose the decision question: "Will you take God's offer of forgiveness". I hope you continue to be courageous in finding all the answers you need to make a firm decision (because there ARE answers to most questions). God bless ! – GratefulDisciple Oct 9 at 21:22
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The suffering caused by the physical cross and by the soldiers was only a tiny portion of Christ's suffering. His suffering and death was vicarious, meaning, he suffered in our place, Christ died for our sins. God poured out upon His Son the wrath that was due to us. The wrath of God against sin is very great. Sinners will spend an eternity in Hell for the sins of just one life. Even one sin is enough to condemn to hell forever. How much then must be the punishment of Christ who bore the torment for all the sins of his people?

The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all, (Isaiah 53:6).

He was made a curse for us, (Galatians 3:13).

The punishment, then, was incomparably the worst punishment anyone has ever endured, and if he had not been God as well as a man He would not have been able to endure it.

When He was suffering on the cross there was darkness for the space of three hours. The intimation is that even if we had been there as a bystander we would not have been able to see the depth of his suffering. It would have been pointless to stand and watch him suffer because you would not have been able to see it: so God gave a curtain of darkness to demonstrate the pointlessness of trying to see all his suffering.

His sufferings of mind are described in Psalm 69, which is clearly associated with the cross in verse 21, "in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink".

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The idea isn't that there was crucifixion or death or any number of people who have died and will die horrible deaths, but rather that it was Jesus the Messiah who had died. Who was Jesus the Messiah is the question.

Once the OP knows the answer to that question, then the OP question is answered. Here's a hint.

Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58

So, with that in mind:

Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth. Psalm 88:8

As Isaiah had said,

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isa 53:5

And as Peter grasped,

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 1 Pe 2:24

Who was Jesus the Messiah?

And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. Rev 21:6

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It is abundantly clear from the scriptures that the physical sufferings of Jesus Christ during crucifixion are not those that are vicarious :

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. [I Peter 2:24, KJV.]

What he bore within his body was for sins. What he suffered, physically, to the exterior of his human frame, was a circumstancial matter associated with that internal suffering but was not the essence of what passed between God and the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The doctrine of Christ - expounded principally by Peter, Paul and John - clearly teaches that what passed, spiritually, between the Father and the Son (in one Holy Spirit) is that which justifies those who receive that gospel and who believe it.

Not to believe that gospel is to be (simply) an 'unbeliever'.


As to the unique sufferings of Christ, Jeremiah speaks, prophetically, of the coming Messiah and of the severity of his sufferings :

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. [Lamentations 1:12, KJV.]

And so also does Zechariah speak of the nature of his sufferings :

Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. [Zechariah 13:7, KJV.]

  • Is "vicarious" a theological term that also means "unique" ? – Lars Ericson Oct 7 at 18:34
  • @LarsEricson Only the vicarious sufferings of Jesus Christ can justify from sin. So, yes, it conveys the concept of being unique that his sufferings effect righteousness to others. No other sufferings do that. – Nigel J Oct 7 at 18:38
  • The phrases "vicarious suffering", "justify from sin" and "effect righteousness" are technical terms in Christian theology that I don't understand. If my friend suffers from an illness, and dies from that illness, and I witness that, then my friend's suffering and death, and the witness of it, have meaning for me. I believe that a friend of the historical Jesus, witnessing his suffering and death, would find similar meaning. – Lars Ericson Oct 7 at 22:44
  • @LarsEricson The sufferings of Christ (for sin) are only realised if one is first convicted of one's own sins and if one first discovers, within oneself, the distance between God and one's own soul which is the result of sin. Without that realisation, there can be no understanding of what occurred at Golgotha - what passed between God and his own Son. – Nigel J Oct 8 at 2:58
  • I appreciate your sincerity, but you are not speaking in language which is clear to a layman. Watching a person die of an illness is clear. The experience has a moral and spiritual impact which can't always be put into words. – Lars Ericson Oct 8 at 3:16
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I had a similar conversation with a woman I used to carpool with, fortunately for me, it was immediately after hearing the answer to the question on Relevant Radio, unfortunately for you, it was so long ago that I can barely remember the argument.


St. Paul, for one, seems to agree with you, that something is lacking in "Christ's afflictions".

"In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church"

Col. 1, 24. NAB

Which would seem to say that St. Paul, for one, thought he could further the work of redemption by his own sufferings

  • being in prisons;
  • having thorns in his side;
  • being captured by pirates;
  • having his head chopped off

you know, St. Paul stuff. And all that is good, but it doesn't create a new Redemption

Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension—the dimension of love—the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished

SALVIFICI DOLORIS - St. John Paul II

And all of our sufferings add to this dimension, in a way, outside of time, as a sort of prayer in action and deed.

So that's the meaning of suffering.

The unique part about Christ's suffering on the cross was that He is God, and God doesn't do that sort of thing. So (this is what I do remember of the Relevant Radio conversation and the ensuing conversation with my old carpool buddy). Murdering God was the greatest possible evil thing humanity could do and forgiving it, using it as a sacrifice and turning it around is the greatest possible good thing God could do for us and it had to be that way.

So, if you want a heresy to paint yourself with, try Arianism. If you have the notion that Jesus was a good teacher who got Himself killed because He ticked too many people off. Then He wasn't God, or the part of Him that got killed wasn't God, either way, you're rehashing something that's been played out in the very beginning of Christendom and the only rational way around it is to consider the relationship between the One being killed and the ones doing the killing before and after the event.

Prior to Christ's death and resurrection, no hope for humanity - except in a future messiah and redeemer. After Christ's death and resurrection, humanity's place in Heaven is thrown open, the devil falls from the sky like lightning.

  • Arianism is about the divinity of Jesus (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arianism). My question is not about divinity specifically. I hear you saying that Jesus is divine because he is the object of a unique kind of sacrifice. I'm also not saying that God didn't sacrifice him uniquely in this way. What I'm saying is that my experience of an other's suffering and my naive experience of Jesus' suffering feel the same to me. I can't be the first person to have this precise belief. So I'm looking for a precedent and I'm guessing it will have a name, but probably not Arianism. – Lars Ericson Oct 8 at 11:56
  • @lars "God didn't sacrifice him" <--- this is what I mean by Arianism. God sacrificed Himself. I'll edit the answer to make myself clearer. – Peter Turner Oct 8 at 12:44
  • Thanks, but is there a precedent away from Arianism for the fine point of the experience of an other's suffering, that it seems the same to me whether it is Jesus or someone I know? It's really a fine point which is quite outside the context of theological constructions of the Holy Trinity and so on. – Lars Ericson Oct 8 at 12:51
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God created humans because he gets pleasure from observing righteousness. Because of the fall, humanity cannot observe righteousness. In order to solve the problem, God creates a new humanity, a new man.

The way to be righteous is to leave the old man and be in the new.

The topic is wide in it's scope, with different aspects that can be unpacked into entire books. It is best to only address the aspects that arise in the question, and even then to only briefly outline the situation.

The problem involved is the fallen-ness of humanity. God's solution is to offer a sin offering to offset the fallen-ness. Sin and righteousness can be seen as entries in an account book. The interesting feature, in God's plan, is that different actors influence the entries in different ways. Adam's act has an effect on the entire human race. However, the offering of bulls and goats have no effect on countering the effect of the acts of Adam and his descendants. Only the offering of Christ can offset the debit incurred by them until the Cross. And only the offering of those in Christ can offset the debit incurred after the Cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21He made Him who knew no sin to be sin (offering) on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Read N T Wright's explanations about "sin offering" being the right translation choice here:

http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/05/07/on-becoming-the-righteousness-of-god/

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Three final reflections. First, this way of reading the second half of the crucial verse may perhaps provide an additional reason for taking the second occurrence of in the verse as a reference not just to “sin” in general but to the “sin-offering.”13 I have argued elsewhere for this meaning for in Rom 8:3, and I think it is likely, granted the more context-specific reading of the verse which I am proposing, that Paul would intend it here too. 14 This, if correct, would not water down the striking impression of the first half of the verse, as is sometimes suggested, but would rather give it more specific direction. The verse is not an abstract, detached statement of atonement theology (Paul nowhere offers us such a thing); rather, it focuses very specifically on his own strange apostolic ministry. Insofar as this ministry is a thing of shame and dishonor, it is so despite Paul’s intention, and the sin-offering is the right means of dealing with such a problem. Insofar as it is the means of the divine covenant faithfulness being held out to the world, it is because, in Christ, Paul has “become” the (“righteousness of God”). This is only a suggestion, which could perhaps be taken up in subsequent discussion.

Read Vern Poythress’s explanations about the different effects of the offering of our High Priest here:

https://frame-poythress.org/ebooks/the-shadow-of-christ-in-the-law-of-moses/

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We may return to the same conclusion that we reached before: the sacrifice of animals is inadequate to achieve final cleansing, nor can it cleanse anything more than the copies of heavenly things. Then who will bring the definitive sacrifice? A man must do it. A similar point is made indirectly in Num. 35:33-34: “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.” When a man had shed blood, the man must die. But there is one exception, when the blood of the death of the high priest releases a manslaughterer to return home (Num. 35:25-28). The blood of the high priest has special value. In agreement with this principle, Zech. 3 uses all the symbolism of a defiled human high priest Joshua and then speaks mysteriously of the Branch in connection with which “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day” (Zech. 3:9).

The final atonement must be simultaneously like a sheep who dies and like the high priest who presents the sacrifice. This final high priest is described in Isa. 53 as the servant of the Lord. He presents his own body as a guilt offering (Isa. 53:10) and dies (Isa. 53:9). Like a sin offering where the body of the animal is carried outside the camp, he dies outside the camp (Heb. 13:11-14). Then he will “see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53:10). He will live again. As the high priest now living he goes through the rest of the steps in the sacrificial system. That is, he presents the blood of the sacrifice, his own blood (Heb. 9:12). The blood has already been poured out on the earth as he died, cleansing the ground itself. If we follow the images of Lev. 16 exactly, we would say that the blood is put first on the atonement cover, not this time in the earthly tabernacle but in the real one in heaven, the throne of God. Heaven itself is propitiated. Then blood is used to cleanse the whole “Tent of Meeting” (Lev. 16:16), standing for the whole of the visible heavens. Then the bronze altar is cleansed, standing for the earth (Lev. 16:18). Each cleansing is complete, signified by sevenfold sprinkling (16:14, 19). The whole universe is cleansed by the blood of his sacrifice (Rom. 8:20-21; Col. 1:20), but in stages: first heaven, then earth. Satan has been thrown out of heaven (Rev. 12:9-12). The full cleansing of earth yet awaits the time of Christ’s coming out of the most holy place in heaven and appearing bodily on earth.

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I think your pastor should focus more on his soup than preaching. He might win more souls.

Seriously, to die via "crucifixion is awful. Even as I understand it most Romans citizens were not subjected to it.

Today the majority don't die that way.

Jesus certainly bore ours sins at at his death.

You need to accept him.John chapter 3 especially verse 16.

Suggest starting with the Gospel of John (KJV).

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I think your pastor should focus more on his soup than preaching.He might win more souls.

Seriously ,to die via "crucifixion is awful.Even as I understand it most Romans citizens were not subjected to it.

Today the majority don't die that way.

Jesus certainly bore ours sins at at his death.

You need to accept him.John chapter 3 especially verse16.

Suggest to start with the Gospel of John.KJV

It was stated that :" Since then in several visits to the soup kitchen, the pastor has avoided making eye contact with me". Is that 'love and Grace. Would Jesus avoid eye contact? - Is this man a true pastor .A shepherd of the sheep.All 100.,not just 99. Here to help - not to hinder. Also I do respect what happens in the Middle East and I do understand what you are saying with deaths there.

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