Not really knowing if I should add another comment to the previous blog or just post a new one, I chose the later since I have the password. I’ve thinking a lot about Sunday and wanted to not be silent from the conversation. First, I’ll say that I’m proud of David for taking a risk and tackling this subject. Second, I proud of our community for pressing into this and journeying together.
Here are a few of my thoughts/reflections from Sunday as a Pastor. Some of this may be review so bare with me…
From my perspective, the main purpose of yesterday’s message was to ask some hard questions of our traditional, reformation informed views of the cross, what we have been calling substitutionary atonement. It was to become unfamiliar with the cross so we might “hear the waves of the ocean again as ones who live near the water.”
The above view, assumes that the shedding of blood is necessary for God to extend forgiveness. While the book of Hebrews says this, it also raises a very good question that seems to be at odds with the life of Jesus and other passages of scripture which is “Does God NEED blood” in order to appease his wrath/anger and to extend forgiveness? Read Hebrews 10 for more on this. The answer appears to be no, God does not NEED blood.
Let’s say for the conversation, the answer is yes. Then, salvation is achieved by the violent and brutal death of an innocent victim on behalf of the community. If you re-read that last sentence, and this is the view of God/The Cross that informs us, and if Paul is correct in saying that we become what we behold (Eph 1:13) then we are being transformed by a view of God that is quite unsettling for many!
Stew showed from scripture and human history, that God doesn’t need blood (Isaiah 1:11, Micah 6:4-8, Hebrews 10, and others) but in fact we/humans do. Long before the Israelites were a people, humans have been “scapegoating” as a way for the community to feel the release of guilt/shame. (More on this by a guy named Rene Girard http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/03/07/a-better-atonement-the-lastscapegoat/ & http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-040-i) This is called Redemptive Violence. One dies on the behalf of many so the many can experience “forgiveness” or at least freedom from guilt.
The cross shows us at the very least 2 things:
1. God’s heart towards humanity is one of forgiveness and reconciliation. God has always moved towards us. God has been the initiator of grace from the beginning and in the life/death/resurrection of Jesus we see God’s heart put on display. Not through crucifixion, but rather through self-sacrificial love of Jesus for the other. This grace and way of living is then offered to us and experienced by faith.
2. If this is the means by which humans have been “free” from guilt/shame, what we see in the cross is actually quite profound and flows from the incarnational heart of God. Jesus becomes one of us, enters our broken world with broken systems and ways of being human, lives a perfect life, and dies an unjust death as a ransom for all. Jesus dies the death of the FINAL scapegoat (which is why the day of atonement and the goat led to the cliff becomes so amazingly beautiful) for the forgiveness of sin/guilt/shame. Jesus was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
In classic “scapegoat” scenarios the innocent victim is seen as the guilty and the guilty are viewed as innocent. The cross exposes the absurdity of this notion because clearly Jesus is innocent and we are guilty. As resurrection Sunday appears, God exposes this system, ends it, and through the victory over death and violence offers new life and resurrection for those who by faith trust Christ. A life that no longer needs redemptive violence as a means of experiencing forgiveness. Jesus ushers in a new way of being human that requires repentance and confession instead of a scapegoat for one to experience forgiveness.
Instead of worshipping the cross and God’s apparent “need” for blood, yesterday there was a clear differentiation between God and his character revealed in Jesus, and the cycle of redemptive violence GOD USED and ENDED w/ Jesus, to offer salvation.
One thing must be clear as we discuss and dialogue here; whether or not atonement was/is necessary is not being debated. Humanity is broken and fallen, and has chosen self over the other since Adam and Eve. Without God’s gracious act of incarnation and sacrifice, we are doomed to experience this life and the next, apart from the life giving relationship(s) we were intended for. This is as central to the story as one can get.
What we are discussing is how we view the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial system, and whether or not God himself needed Jesus to die the way He did, or if God used a system that humans had been using since the beginning, to expose it, end it, offer forgiveness, and offer a new way of living as humans.
As we read, listen, comment, and think about all of this I want to remind us that we are trying to build a community at Awaken where it’s ok to ask hard questions. Where it’s ok to doubt and wonder if this is the best way to see a particular issue. This is a very scary thing to do, and it opens up the potential for misunderstanding. I’m proud of David for who he is and the risk he took Sunday.
A word of pastoral encouragement if I may: Let’s hear one another out. Let’s be quick to listen and slow to speak. Let’s give the other person the benefit of the doubt and let’s commit to being learners. This conversation must be had with mutual respect and grace for one another otherwise WHAT we believe is undermined by HOW we believe it. For more on this, be there on Sunday for 1 John 2:3-6.
I love you guys and I’m proud to be a Pastor at Awaken.