Milk is a starting place.
Milk explains why Jesus had to die.
I don’t have to tell you that when it comes to milk, people have strong preferences. In no other area of life will 1% of butterfat raise such ardent passions. Yet in so many ways, this familiar white beverage is like Our Savior. Milk is a starting place. Milk polarizes. Milk even explains why Jesus had to die…
Milk is a starting place
We are born, I believe, with a desire to seek God. Even many atheists will agree with this, though they offer it to explain why “people had to invent God”, whereas I believe it falls into the same category as all our other in-born desires like food and water and sleep— in no other area is our desire for something held out as evidence that it doesn’t actually exist.
Yet, despite our desire for God, to us in our natural state, he is not particularly accessible. People are as often offended by God’s purity and God’s power as they are attracted by it. Especially in the 21st century America, these qualities of God seem opposed to values like openness and democracy. It runs contrary to our DNA nowadays to simply trust the powers that be to have our best interests at heart (as God has).
Into a world like this, Jesus comes to render God the father into an accessible human shape. In my “faith” conversations with non-believers, they often want to start by talking about objections: “How could God…” and “Why should God…” and “Why doesn’t God just…” and so on. These are all valid questions and I think that all believers wrestle with them, but they don’t make a very good starting place.
Christ has so much to teach, but in several places, the bible encourages us to start with our times tables before we move on to wrestle with algebra and trig. “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it,” says 1 Corinthians 3:2, and 1 Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Far from insult or condescension, these passages simply reflect the fundamental truth that learning about the deep things of God is like any other area of learning: you have to start at the beginning if you are to make any sense of it.
We have it right in my own family: to my brother-in-law, whole milk is a rich, creamy treat, while nonfat is flavorless blue water. To me, nonfat is clean and refreshing, while whole is gloppy and clogging.
Jesus has a similar polarizing quality. The apostle Paul says, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) He’s talking about the incense burned in the parade when Roman armies returned in triumph, marching captives before them toward execution. To the Romans, the incense meant victory and life, but to the captives, it was the stench of their utter destruction. All this even though the smell itself never changes.
Milk explains why Jesus had to die
As I mentioned, I like nonfat milk on my cereal. Once, my family went camping, and the only milk anyone brought was whole. “Well,” they explained, “you can just add water to the whole milk.” I countered, “Then I’ll just have watery whole milk!” You see, the problem is, I don’t like the butterfat, and whole milk still has it no matter how much water you add.
I am sometimes asked, why did Jesus have to die for our sins? Some have even claimed that Christ’s death on the cross is evidence that God is cruel and vindictive. By this line of reasoning, the sins we commit should be balanced against the good things we do, and if the good outweighs the bad, then God should be satisfied.
The problem is, this is just like trying to turn whole milk into nonfat by adding water. If you do, it will just give you an unappetizing frankenbeverage. You can never turn one into the other by adding something (like water); what is needed— the only real solution— is to take something away.
You may have heard the joke that you’ll never find a perfect church, and even if you do, you’ll mess it up when you get there. God’s problem with having the likes of us with him in heaven is, we’d do the same thing. Heaven is characterized by what it has, but also by what it has not: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
When Jesus gave his life for us on the cross, he accomplished that. He turned something unappetizing to God, clogged by gloppy sin, into something delightful and refreshing.