Saturday, July 19, 2008

Atonement or not?

There is another side to the stories around Good Friday and Easter. Did Christ die for our sins? That is, was Jesus’ death required by God as a sacrifice for all of us so that God would not judge us by our sins? Does God need to have his “only begotten son” killed specifically so that the rest of us will not be judged, condemned by God? This is a hugely popular view, opinion, and statement by the Church. (And I oversimplify it here.) I don’t like it. I don’t like a mother who tells her young son that she needs to kill the boy’s dog, or brother, in order to pay for the awful bad thing that the boy did. This is not the action of the loving mother or loving God that I know. Christ’s sacrificial death that redeems us from our sins is the principle of the Atonement. It is very popular. I do not want to accept it.

I really like the loving God who not only overcame death to show us that death does not hold us captive as dead forever, but when he came back to the world that killed him he did not seek revenge.

As I see it, a normal American today would have reacted differently. There are two, to me, “normal” responses to being put to death today and then returning to life in this world.

The biggest, most popular reaction today in the U.S. as I see it would be revenge. Christ would have come back and “gotten even” with those who put him to death. He would have made their lives a living hell. And, I think that if anyone could make a person’s life a living hell, then God could have succeeded at that incredibly well.

The other choice, as I see it, is to go away, leaving Jerusalem, leaving Israel. Perhaps like the “witness protection plan” where one could begin a new life with a new identity, perhaps to show God’s love all over again to a new community, one that this time might listen to him.

Christ remained with those to whom he first worked and lived. He did not enter the witness protection plan, and likewise, we need to work with those with whom we live and worship.

That Christ did not “get even” with revenge for his death shouts loudly to me. It speaks much louder to me, showing me what God is like, than does atonement for my sins. Through the past year I have often come back to “but God did not come back after death with revenge in God’s heart, but with love and compassion.” We could, should, do the same. We do not need to avenge the wrong of the person who upsets us while driving a car, or insults us by calling us names, or saying things to our friends about us that are not true, or by hurting us physically. Getting even isn’t what God-in-Christ did. We don’t have to get even with Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda for the deaths that occurred on 9/11. As some have said, “an eye for an eye leaves us both blind.” The God that I worship and acknowledge does not get even. I try not to, too.

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