If I were talking to a seeker, here’s how I might answer:
That’s a great question, even the disciples who walked with Jesus for 3 years did not understand why this was necessary until after the resurrection. In their post-resurrection encounters with Jesus, he opened their eyes to all the prophesies that foretold what would happen, and why.
It’s a big question, and on the face of it one would wonder how can a loving God script this kind of an ending for “his only begotten son”–as Jesus is referred to in the Bible? I know it seems inconsistent, but in actuality it is all about consistency. Think about yourself, are you part daughter, part wife and part mother? It may be a way to express it, but in actuality you are all daughter, all wife and all mother. In the same way God is 100% love, 100% justice, 100% mercy, 100% truth…in all His attributes He is fully so. Does that make sense?
When you come to believe that God is the creator, and all He says that He is, you come to understand that more and more. It’s easy to ask how can there be 100% justice and 100% mercy at the same time? But the answer to that question can be found only in Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection. I’ll explain more on that, but another thing Christians believe is that Jesus was fully god and fully man, once again 100% and 100%. It’s hard to wrap your head around that one too, but if it were not so then justice would not have been satisfied.
From Genesis all the way through to Revelations, there is a story of God’s plan and interactions with humanity. 66 books of different kinds, numerous authors, but a thread of one story throughout. There’s certainly a lot to say about that story, but pertaining to your question it’s clear that God made this “Easter” plan from the very beginning. It was not a Plan B after we humans messed up. But we did mess up. Because of that sin became part of our nature. No, were not all Hitlers and horrible 100% of the time, but we chose selfish desires over loving God and it’s those selfish desires that wreck havoc throughout the world. When the serpent tempted Eve and Adam, he basically offered them the opportunity to become their own Gods “to know what God knows.” Thus the knowledge of good and evil entered the world. Literally all of creation was corrupted.
You cannot have love without freedom. Unless someone has the choice to love you, it’s compliance, not love. So that we might love God he gave us free will to choose to love him, or not. Both of those choices had AND have consequences. God is all-knowing and knew we would choose self-love over fully loving him. But because of his great love for his creation, especially we who are created in his image, he initiated a plan for our redemption and the full restoration of creation.
Why not just forgive us and move on? Because God is holy and for us to be back in a fully restored relationship with him, justice had to be served. You see there is an absolute truth. All morality rests on it. So God himself, Jesus the Son (the 2nd person of The Trinity) lowered himself into humanity to walk a blameless life so that he might be the sacrifice that will satisfy the debt of the sins of men. He had to be perfect (fully God), he had to be human (fully man) for this debt to be paid. So the cross is the fulfillment of justice. But God is love. The whole story is about God’s love and desire to reclaim us…to restore us. So the resurrection is the fulfillment of mercy. The resurrection is not just coming back to life. It is coming back to an eternal, fully restored life. Because of the resurrection, we can be forgiven and claim that eternal relationship with God.
It’s still freedom. It’s still a choice. And there are still consequences for that choice. But because of this plan in which God himself chooses to die for us, we have that eternal option.
The cross was gruesome and cruel. Jesus suffering was beyond imagining. It was the worst that the institutions of men could commit for the purpose of keeping power. But because Jesus sacrificed himself for love, that power over us was destroyed. The power of death itself was destroyed.
When we look at the cross and see some sort of cosmic child abuse, we are not looking at the truth of the picture. The abuse came from humanity. It came from a mob of people yelling crucify who were complicit in a conspiracy for the Jewish High Priest to maintain power. Pontius Pilate gave in for expediency and to keep the Jews from revolting against Roman power. When we see the cross we see humanity’s guilt. But also when we look at the cross we see God’s love. Jesus said, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
He calls you friend. It’s up to you whether you accept that and become his.