Q & R
A dear friend of mine sent me some questions and I followed up with some responses. I thought I would post the conversation here for the benefit of others with similar questions (you know who you are).
Do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, rose from the grave and is now at the right hand of God?
Yes and no. I believe that “Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said” (1 Corinthians 15.3-4; NLT1). But what I am exploring is what we mean by “for our sins”. What was the meaning behind Jesus’ death? Was it a “ransom”? If so, to whom was the ransom paid? If we say “God”, then my next question is, “Does the love and forgiveness and mercy of God have to be bought?” That is, we would never have our children buy our love and forgiveness and yet, we think that God “demands” such a thing. To take Jesus out of context, “If we sinful people know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask” (Matthew 7.11; NLT; adapted). The point is, we would never demand such a thing from our children, why do we think God would demand such a thing from us, God’s children?
The follow up question would be, then, is there another way of seeing the death of Jesus, that is true to the biblical story but is relevant for today? In other words, are the images and symbols of the “lamb of God” for that culture who lived in a sacrificial world? Look at what Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17). He never once mentions that Jesus died as a payment to God for our sins. He states that he died, yes, but his emphasis was on Christ’s resurrection. That is to say, when faced with people from a different cultural understanding, Paul didn’t use the Jewish understanding of the sacrificial system.
Am I saying that the death of Jesus didn’t mean something? God forbid. I’m saying that we should not limit our understanding of his death to a first century Jewish understanding. I believe that the death of Jesus goes deeper than that. What I think we need to do is see how the story of the death of Jesus could be retold for our culture. I think this is what every generation of the Christian family should do. Martin Luther said (and I’m paraphrasing), “If the gospel is not relevant to our culture, then we have not done justice with the gospel.”
Now, does any of this mean that I don’t believe in the sinfulness of people? Or, more to the point, do I not believe in my own sinfulness? Again, God forbid! I know that falseness runs deep within me. But, I believe that deeper than my sinfulness is the Light of God, the Goodness of God. To mimic Paul, the sin I commit is not who I am at the deepest level. At the deepest level, I am a child of God, a mirror of God reflecting God’s image in creation. But, like an addict, I am addicted to sin. I am enslaved to it. Or, I was. Again, Paul wrote that if a person has been baptized then she’s no longer enslaved to sin, therefore she shouldn’t act like it.
In the Celtic tradition, Jesus is referred to as “our remembrance.” That is, when we look at Jesus, we see what true humanity really looks like, what we really are at our deepest level. But, because of sin—because of our addiction and enslavement to sin—we’ve forgotten who we are. The further and further we move away from the garden, the more we forget. Jesus comes and calls us back to who we really are. But, we can’t get there on our own. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that brought forth all creation, breaks the chains of our bondage and addiction and releases us to be the people we were intended to be.
Part 2 is here.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.