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Feb 8, 2022

Did Christ Really Have to Suffer?

Dr. Edward Sri

Sometimes we read the story of the Passion and wonder, Did Christ really have to suffer that way?

God could have just flipped a switch and forgiven our sins. After all, he is God.

Would God really inflict that kind of pain on his Son just because

Christ’s death on the Cross was a necessary part of our salvation. As we come to accept it, it gives new meaning to the phrases “carry our cross” and “sit at the foot of the Cross.” Why? 

Because the Cross changes everything.  

So why did Jesus suffer and die on the Cross to redeem us? 


Will You Follow Jesus to Calvary?

Filmed on location in the Holy Land, No Greater Love: A Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion is a pilgrimage that reveals Christ’s amazing love for us. Sign up for a free preview!


A common explanation for Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross is that the innocent Jesus stepped in and took on the wrath of God that should have been poured out on us, the guilty ones.

Think about that though. Picture a child who has done something wrong and is about to receive a spanking from his father. At the last second, a sibling steps in and says, “No, Father, let him go. Spank me instead.” The father looks at the innocent child … then the guilty one … then back at the innocent child and says, “I don’t care who I punish. I just need to pour out my wrath on someone!” He then gives the innocent child the spanking the guilty one deserved. 

How would that possibly solve the problem? How could an arbitrary punishment bring about a loving reconciliation between father and child? 

Similarly, a God who punishes the innocent instead of the guilty would not be a God of mercy or justice. St. John Paul II once explained that what gives the Cross its “redemptive value is not the material fact that an innocent person has suffered the chastisement deserved by the guilty and that justice has thus been in some way satisfied.” Rather, the saving power of the Cross “comes from the fact that the innocent Jesus, out of pure love, entered into solidarity with the guilty and thus transformed their situation from within.”

It’s All About Love

In other words, what makes the Cross redemptive is not the fact that punishment was inflicted on an innocent victim or that God’s anger was appeased. Rather, at the heart of the saving power of the Cross is Christ’s unique and total gift of himself in love. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “It is love ‘to the end’ (John 13:1) that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction” (CCC 616). 

Indeed, Christ’s gift of love on Calvary is utterly unique in human history, far surpassing what any ordinary human could do. Because he is fully human, Jesus can represent the human family and offer an act of love to the Father on our behalf. Because Jesus is also fully divine, his act of love takes on infinite value and can bridge the gap between us and God that was caused by our sin. 

As St. Thomas Aquinas says:

“A single drop of Christ’s blood could save all mankind from sin.”

That is why only Christ’s sacrificial gift of love can reconcile us to the Father.


Will You Follow Jesus to Calvary?

Filmed on location in the Holy Land, No Greater Love: A Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion is a pilgrimage that reveals Christ’s amazing love for us. Sign up for a free preview!


Dr. Edward Sri is a theologian, author, FOCUS Vice President of Formation and host of the All Things Catholic Podcast. Learn more about his work at edwardsri.com.


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