I thought I should respond to myself after the Jesus didn't have to die post because I think something significant did happen. And perhaps this post will totally negate the other one. About 10 years ago (ish) I started asking "why did Jesus die?". I could "answer" the question with all the correct answers - Jesus died for my sins; Jesus died so that we might have life; Jesus died as a sacrifice; etc. But it didn't really make sense. Why exactly did Jesus have to die because of MY sins? What happened on the cross that took away my sins? It seemed like a cosmic fairy tale or something. I was not satisfied with any answer I was given, and I asked the question a lot. I read a lot. I thought I'd just walk away from the church because it just wasn't making sense, but somehow I couldn't.
So this is how I understand it now:
God is Life. Jesus is God made flesh or human. Jesus is Life. Sin is separation from God. Therefore, Sin is separation from Life. When Jesus died he descended into Hell. Hell is the complete absence of Life. Jesus completely emptied himself, kenosis, of Life becoming completely separate from God. No matter what I do, or what anyone else does, Jesus has "been there", has been that separate, that apart from God. But, the story doesn't stop there, no Easter without Good Friday, no Good Friday without Easter. Jesus came back from that farthest point. In a way saying there is no place you can go that you are too far away from God that God can't bring you back. Now every person has been given hope. It doesn't matter how awful you've been because God went a step further.
So should we continue to Sin so that Grace may abound. (Paul) By no means! Because sinning sucks. Sinning is going away from Life and away from community. It really isn't a good place to live. So, live free knowing that you can't get too far away from God, but getting far away isn't very pleasant, it's, well, hell.
So there you have it. How my little brain makes sense of what happened on the Cross.