• Why the Cross Pleased God

    So, I got a comment today on my engagingly titled post “Did God Really Demand the Death of His Son as a Sacrifice for Sin?” I was going to answer it in a comment, but I realized that most of y’all would never see it there. And sometimes the best conversations take place in the comments section. Especially when there’s a question from someone who thinks I’m wrong.

    My blog posts purposely distill a lot of background information into a hopefully interesting, informative and sometimes challenging post. So I can’t cover everything, but I promise that if you have a question, I have an answer. It may not always be the right answer. But I do have an answer. I have been called Hermoine Granger more than a few times over the years. (I am very grateful to the Harry Potter books for giving us a nicer way to call someone a bossy know-it-all, btw.)

    So here’s the comment:

    I loved reading your article and it does make a lot of sense. However, Isa 53:10 says, But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If he would render himself as a guilt offering..(NAS)

    So, I think that the theological stand point that is argued against in your article is actually derived from the Word of God. This has been a point of inner controversy to me as well?? Why would a loving God send His Son to be beaten to a pulp in order to satisfy justice for the sins of humanity, if the sinner will just believe in Jesus? That would be like punishing the good kid in the class in front of everyone to justify the rest of the bad kids who acted up in class and then telling them, if they only believe that the good kid got punished for their misbehavior; their deeds would be forgiven?
    Believe me when I tell you how I have struggled with this as a Christian..

    For those following along at home, Isaiah 10:53 says:

    But the LORD was pleased
                To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
                If He would render Himself as a guilt offering

    We can easily read this as saying that God was pleased to allow these things to happen because through the work of the cross, his children (us) would be returned to him. Continue reading

  • Did God Really Demand the Death of His Son as a Sacrifice for Sin?

    As you are perhaps aware, today is Good Friday, and as I said yesterday, I’m more interested in looking to Easter Sunday than in thinking too deeply about the crucifixion this year. But I thought this would be a good time to share my take on the why’s of the cross. Why did Jesus die? Why did that result in the forgiveness of sins? etc. . . 

    One of the more poignant arguments against Christianity is that the Christian God demanded that his son be offered up as a human blood sacrifice in order for justice to be satisfied and forgiveness offered. In this view the Christian God is an angry, blood thirsty tyrant who must be sated before he becomes a loving father. Christians will of course argue that people who view the crucifixion this way are missing the point, don’t understand God’s righteous anger, are minimizing the need for justice, etc. However, I think that the real truth is that many Christians misunderstand the reasons for the crucifixion and our critics are simply making some pretty obvious observations about our own teachings regarding the propitiation of sins and the death of Jesus. I know that I’m treading on some pretty hallowed theological ground here, but if you’ll stick with me, I think you may find that my upside down world understanding of this issue is a better fit with reality than what many of us have been taught.

    Let’s start our discussion with the issue of blood sacrifice itself. The first thing to be noted is that blood sacrifice is not something which originated with the Hebrew God. It had been practiced for millennia prior and has occurred all over the world. It is a human invention. In his excellent book Ideas That Changed the World, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto offers the anthropological explanation for the pervasiveness of the practice of blood or animal sacrifice:

    Gifts are a common way of establishing reciprocity and cementing relationships between individuals and human groups; by extension, a gift should also work to bind gods and spirits to the human givers, connecting deities to the profane world and alerting them to its needs and concerns. . . During the last 10 millennia . . . sacrifice has acquired a great many meanings: as penance for sin; as thanksgiving; as homage to divinity; as a contribution to the well-being of the Universe; or as a sacrilized gift, considered as an act of worship or of imitation of God.

    One of the things which we need to understand about God as revealed in scriptures is that over and over again, God does not wait for us to become acceptable or advanced enough to establish a relationship with him. Instead, he reaches out to meet us where we are and bit by bit draws us forward towards him and away from our previous ideas and ways of doing things. The rituals of animal sacrifices did not reflect a need or demand of God. Instead, by instituting rituals of animal sacrifice God is co-opting a human institution and way of doing things and directing it back to himself with the ultimate result that the human institution drops away while the devotion to God remains. Continue reading

  • Waiting on Easter

    I was raised Roman Catholic which means that I cannot go through Holy Week without feeling the urge to do something. Go to mass everyday. Attend the stations of the cross. And, of course, Holy Thursday communion (the mass most likely to make you cry every year). Even after I left Catholicism, Holy Week continued to be a time of increased spiritual activity. Get some palm leaves. Hold a fake seder. Do a special devotional. Consider doing footwashing with the kids. Cut back on Friday’s dinner and call that sort of like fasting in honor of the day. Things like that.

    I don’t know why other people do these things, but my urge was always driven by a need to make it real. To make those strange, confusing, important events of 2000 years ago seem real. Because maybe if those things become real to me, then God could be real enough for me to be satisfied.

    The thing with religion and scriptures is that they take on this flatness after a while. We no longer understand the elements of the story well enough to really understand it, but we keep repeating it anyways. Which makes it unreal. So we try various ways of putting flesh and bones on the stories. We meditate on the cross. We dress our preschool son up as a scourged Jesus on the cross. If you’re particularly desperate, you allow yourself to be faux-crucified so you can experience it all yourself. Or watch a gory movie about it. (I’ve never seen Passion of the Christ, btw. I was raised Catholic, so I just didn’t see the need.)

    At any rate, this year, I find that my urge to participate in holy week has disappeared. This morning I wondered if I should plan something for dinner tonight with the kids and I thought, “no. It’s too sad and ugly a story to go through right now. I’m not up for sad and ugly right now.” Continue reading

  • The Entrance Leads to the Whole

    So, know anyone with some really bad theology? Like you hear them talk and all you can hear are the lies, errors and misrepresentations they are spouting and it makes you want to scream? OK, maybe you don’t actually care about theology that much. It’s probably better if you don’t when you get right down to it.

    But, we all know people who are intensely passionate about their opinions. And hey – if just putting your theology into the category of “opinion” offends you, well, passion’s not a bad thing. But that’s not really here nor there. My point was that some people have terrible theology. Like Westboro Baptist. And . . . well, we won’t get into the rest. Let’s just say there’s no end of churches believing really wacky things.

    Of course, it doesn’t all lead to crazy land. Some people have theology that you just think is wrong. Like Jehovah’s witnesses. I had a pair who stopped coming after I told them that living forever on Earth would never, ever be desirable to me. Because until I can reside with the God of the universe, I will not be content. There’s more to the world than our little planet and our people. They were appalled that I would reject the gift of eternal life. I was going to go into the role of the mosquito in the ecosystem to illustrate that their perfect Earth couldn’t exist, but they left before I had the chance. But again, not my point.

    What I really want to talk about is why we need to stop worrying so much about how wrong everyone else is. We’ve been doing that for a while now and I’m not sure what we think we’re going to gain by keeping it up. We disagree. About almost everything. Maybe we need to get over it and start building on a different foundation. Continue reading

  • The Injured Easter Bird

    Once upon a time, there was a farmer who decided not to go to church on Easter Morning. He’d been going his whole life, but a few years earlier he had decided that he was old enough to stop pretending that what went on in church was important enough to get up early for on his only day off.

    This year his wife had harrumphed when he announced that he wasn’t even going to keep up the bare minimum of appearances required to be a Chreaster (a person who attends church only on Christmas and Easter). The whole thing was ridiculous, he said in his calm, practical way. If there was a God, which there could be, despite the utter lack of evidence, why would he or she care so much what we did? Why didn’t God just show up in the sky every few years to confirm his existence and provide some clear, practical instructions for us to follow? Why all the drama? Why ask us to believe that some guy who probably didn’t bathe regularly was actually God and that his gruesome death provides for our salvation? Ridiculous.

    He suspected that his wife thought much the same, but held on to religion almost out of superstition. Sort of like knocking on wood when you say something that could come back to haunt you. You know it can’t really do anything to protect you, but it’s such a small gesture to make. Might as well not take the risk in case there is some truth to it after all.

    So his wife rolled her eyes at his little outburst and got up for Easter service all by herself. She didn’t put any particular effort into being quiet about it, though. She knew he was a light sleeper and had been awake from the moment threw back her covers with a little extra force while getting out of bed and went to the shower humming loudly. He said not a word through her entire performance, but she knew he was only pretending to be asleep when she left. And came back in to grab something she forgot before leaving again. Just to be sure he wasn’t actually still asleep when she left.

    After the third time his wife had left, the farmer waited a long moment before peeking out the window to watch her car pull out the driveway. He’d said his piece and the conversation was over. But he knew that sometimes his wife needed a little time to adjust to not getting her way. Better to feign sleep than get drawn into a pointless argument over it.

    Just as his wife’s car drove past the mailbox, a bird flew right into the window he was looking out of. The farmer was so startled, it took him a moment to realize what had happened. He looked down and saw a small downy woodpecker laying on its back on the ground below the window. He tried looking to see if the bird was breathing. He was too far away to tell, of course. But just as he realized that he’d have to go down and look if he wanted to know, he remembered the barn cats. He quickly put on a shirt and rummaged around the top shelf of the closet until he found an old shoe box. Continue reading

  • Late Fragment

    I just love this poem.

    BTW, I wrote about this poem here, if you’re interested. And sorry about the silence around here. Our internet company has this ridiculous, oppressive policy of expecting their bill to be paid on time every month. Which normally we manage. But it’s been a long, crazy couple of weeks. If you’ve been following along for a while, you are already aware of the fact that this sort of thing happens from time to time. Like the one time I got 5 flat tires in a month. On the same car.

    Anyhow. I am beloved on the earth. Even if life is ridiculous and dumb.

  • Becoming People of the Story

    Christian theology, while it’s often thought of as an argument over who’s right and who is wrong, can actually be understood as the stories we use to explain the reality of God, the reality of human existence and how to live in right relationship with God, neighbor and self. Using the bible and varying doses of church tradition and reality, we’ve written thousands of different stories, each purporting to be THE Christian story. Except the idea that any of us has found THE Christian story is preposterous.

    Jesus said there was one narrow path to him and we’d know we’d found it by its fruit. And I can say with confidence that not a damn one of the stories Christians have told produced fruit worthy of my God. None of them is good enough. Some are clearly better than others, but all of them are wrong.

    At best, the different theologies are like placeholders, explaining the best we’ve been able to figure out thus far. At worst, they are ideological prisons keeping people enslaved to a story utterly inferior to the real one. But none of the stories deserve our allegiance. Only Christ does.

    In Islam, Christians are called “People of the Book”. Jews also call themselves “People of the Book”. I think we need to become “People of the Story”. Continue reading

  • What Jesus and Paul Left Out

    Let’s do some bible study, shall we? I look to do that sort of thing around here, donchano. Today I want to show you something kind of amazing about how both Jesus and Paul used scripture. And if we’re honest, it doesn’t fit with either liberal or conservative preferences for how to use scripture.

    First, let’s look at these quotes from the Old Testament:

    The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
        because the Lord has anointed me
        to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
        to proclaim freedom for the captives
        and release from darkness for the prisoners,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
        and the day of vengeance of our God.

    ~ Isaiah 61:1-2

    Rejoice, you nations, with his people,
        for he will avenge the blood of his servants;
    he will take vengeance on his enemies
        and make atonement for his land and people.

    ~Deuteronomy 32:43

    Continue reading