The Problem: The Math of It All
I don't know why this is, but the older I get, the less I find myself able to accept the way that the Church generally talks about the death of Jesus. More specifically, this sense that "Jesus died for our sins".
It's not that I'm squeamish. It's the math of it all. Jesus dies = We are saved.
By the calculus of the ancient world, that makes sense. Gods are appeased through violence. The stability of society is reinforced. Jesus takes the place in Jewish tradition of the lamb.
But in our world, that makes no sense at all. Murder does not save. Indeed, as the great philosopher Rene Girard has written about, the cross reveals the lie of that idea, because it shows the brutality at the heart of such a philosophy. It displays the victim.
As far as I can tell, the way that Christianity has avoided dealing with this is by saying we're talking God here -- God sacrificing his son, God being willing to be sacrificed for us. Human logic does not apply.
But what kind of a God is okay with human sacrifice? I suspect, not one would we would hope to meet when we die.
And the other thing is, this equation is EXACTLY human logic. As we just said, it's humans that for millennia have killed animals, adults, even children out of a sense that it would save them.
This should make us very suspicious.
And frankly I think many of us live aware that this is a problem, aware that this idea that Jesus died to save us from our sins or that God was cool with Christ being whacked doesn't really make sense. Not really. And yet it's not a deal breaker -- we never really believed in that Old Testament figure of wrath and violence anyway -- and we're not theologians, so we just let it sit there.
But it should be a deal breaker for us. We should not accept a concept of God like this, or let our children be taught to think that God is like this. Because we deserve better. Indeed, the story of our salvation in both Old and New Testaments is a story of God rescuing humanity from precisely such notions and societies. And even when necessary rescuing them from himself!
The Solution: A Faithful (not Wrathful) God
So on a day like today, who do I see up there on the cross? Not the solution to a math equation. But a man, God become flesh, who came among us because he saw how much we were in need, how hungry and confused and sad we were, and wanted to be the light that would shine in our darkness, illuminate the Lord who loves us, and help us on our way.
And of course, OF COURSE, that was threatening to people. People in power, but also just the rank and file. It was as true then as it is now: If you really want to scare somebody, tell them that you love them.
And so of course, eventually, some of them wanted him dead. And he could have run from that. Or just stopped being so damn challenging.
But that meant stepping away from the people, both the ones who knew they were hungry for hope and kindness and looked to him for help, and the ones who were just as hungry or even more and didn't know it, whose pain was pushed back behind their rage and condemnation.
And that's not who Jesus was. That's not who God is. So he kept on going, even though it looked like it would not end well.
And it did not end well. In fact, it ended in pretty much the most horrific way possible, not just killed, but publicly humiliated and left to die as mocking bystanders watched. It ended so badly Jesus even doubted whether he had been right about what he believed about God and himself all along.
What saves us is not that Jesus died for us. It's that God is faithful to us. So faithful that he came down to earth to be with us; that he refused to run away from us when threatened (by some of us); and that when he died as a man, God raised him up.
It's a package deal, the crucifixion and resurrection. Together they express the same truth -- that God does not give up on us. That he is faithful to us.
And we shouldn't let anyone tell us different.