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2 poisonous lies about God (that I used to believe)

I’ve become very disillusioned with the way some of my fellow Christians sometimes talk about God.

I want to prayerfully voice a few of my concerns here, under the following confession: I’m not a pastor, I’m not a professional theologian, I’m not even a seminarian – I’m just a college student who is ashamed of the ways I used to speak of God.

However popular they may be today, these ideas are painfully untrue…and they’re far from innocent.  I almost abandoned Christianity entirely because of these false conceptions of God, and I know many people who have left organized religion because they were told that these were the only acceptable ways to think about God.

Without further ado, here are 2 poisonous lies about God (that I once wholeheartedly believed):

1.  God is mad at you.

Like, really mad.  God’s holy wrath is burning so fiery hot against humanity that just by the crime of your mortal, infant birth, He is poised to cast you into the pits of hell for eternal torture unless you bow down and worship Him forever instead.

god-hates-fags

Okay.

It’s important to note that not only will belief in this angry, capricious God literally make you sick, but it’s also completely at odds with the God that Jesus testifies of in the Bible.

I will defer here to a particularly relevant parable, one which deeply counters the idea of a hate-filled, revenge-seeking God.  It’s one of the lengthier narratives on God’s character that we find in the Christian scriptures, and is well-worth a review if you haven’t heard it in a while:

In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we read that a now-famous Galilean preacher named Jesus is speaking to the powerful group of religious leaders that ran the temple’s sacrificial system in Jerusalem.

Jesus tells them the story of “a man who had two sons“– one son who works diligently for his father for many years and another, the younger of the two, who one day brashly demands his share of the family inheritance.  By this act, the younger son essentially commits social patricide, humiliating his father in front of the entire community, the Ancient-Near Eastern equivalent of saying: “hey dad, I wish you were dead.  Give me my rightful portion of your money right now so I can leave this meshugganah family already.”

Miraculously, the father, grants his son’s request, and after dividing up the family estate, allows the boy his leave.  The young man immediately leaves home “for a far country” where we are told he quickly squanders his fortune on sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll (or, as Jesus puts it, “wild living…with prostitutes”).

When the money runs out, we hear that the son “comes to his senses,” figuring that things actually might be better back home.  “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” he reasons.  The prodigal son decides to make the trek back home and ask to be allowed to live in his father’s mansion not as a family member any longer, but as a slave.

You can picture it.  The son is walking back home with what little dignity he has left, absolutely destitute, rehearsing his apology as he goes along – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against youI am no longer worthy to be called your son!  Make me like one of your hired servants!

You can almost hear the scoff kick up in the crowd around Jesus at this point – “he has the nerve to return home after what he did?”

A sacrifice is required, they must have been thinking.  Somebody has to be punished – the powerful father would never – not in a million years – simply forgive his enemies without first spilling blood.

The son, apparently anticipating such a reaction, approaches his home with great regret and shame.

But Jesus tells us that when his father sees his son still a far way off, he becomes “filled with compassion for him.”  And a most unexpected thing happens: this dignified, Middle-Eastern patriarch – instead of waiting inside with his belt and a grimace – comes sprinting straight out of the manor towards his boy.

In those days, men of his status did not run.

The twist in the story is that instead of tackling his son to the ground and pummeling him with his fists – instead of capitulating to the violent reaction the religious community expects of him – this father hugs and kisses his long-lost son.

The father, understanding how much his son has already been punished by his own sins, forsakes further condemnation and instead offers him unqualified forgiveness.

This is what the early Christians meant when they described God not as anger or hatred, but as Agape, the Greek word for unconditional love.

This is how God feels about you.

Love.

Unconditionally.

Without exception.

Open-Arms.

Forgiveness.

Second Chances.

God is not furious with you, not eager to rub your nose in your past failures and mistakes.  Rather, Jesus unveils a God more loving than we ever could have imagined – a God who leaves the mansion and actually comes sprinting down the road to welcome you home, a God who renews and restores prodigal sons, a God who, in a humility beyond understanding, throws parties for people who have spit in his face.

Mercy trumps sacrifice,” He smiles.  “Welcome to the party.  Let’s pour some drinks and slaughter the fattened calf.”

Mm, calf.  Anyhow, this brings me to my second point…

2. God desires sacrifice, not mercy.

God's wrath

God is bloodthirsty and can only be persuaded against casting humanity into eternal torture by the sacrificial murder an innocent Man.

In this view, God is absolutely furious at humanity for the great insult of sinning against Him, and so instead of simply “forgiving” his creation, God makes up His mind to Crush Everybody.

Okay.

A profoundly self-centered king, filled with bitter pride?  A god who can only be pleased by the assassination of a pure, blameless Virgin?  A deity who needs to be bribed in order to forgive us of our sins?

Honestly, how much more does this sound like Lucifer or Molech or King Kong or the god of the Aztecs than it does the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ?

Candidly, such a description of God – callous, violent, eager to torture – sounds a lot more like the false pagan gods our Creator constantly defines himself against in the Bible than it does the God of Israel (see, for example Psalm 97:7Psalm 135:15-18, and Romans 1 – especially, verses 21-25 – for discourse on the futility of worshipping such gods).

The question is thus: does God really need to punish an innocent man (His own Son, no less) to forgive humans and uphold His own celestial dignity?

Yes, some Christians insist.  A sacrifice is required.  That’s how it works.  The Powerful Father would never – not in a million years – simply forgive his enemies without first spilling blood. 

hello

Standing against this line of thinking, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis famously called this idea “cosmic child abuse.”  He writes against it in Mere Christianity (pages 96-97):

[So] God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off…our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us.  Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory.  If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person?

There are many clues throughout the Bible that Yhwh is not a God who is pleased by blood sacrifice:

What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” asks the LORD in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:11).

The writer of Hebrews further says that Jesus once spoke of of God saying: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)

In the Gospel of Matthew, quoting from the book of Hosea, Jesus instructs a group of religious leaders: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

This is one of my favorite parts of the Bible because, with these 5 words, Jesus is reversing thousands of years of conventional religious “wisdom” as to how the system works, as to what you have to do to  in order to get on good standing with God.

Jesus is essentially turning on its head everything humans have always believed about God by declaring that bloodshed is simply not necessary to earn divine favor.

Jesus reveals a God who is at complete odds with Baal, Caesar, Poseidon, and all the other angry gods who desired human sacrifice, who would only help mortals if blood payment was first received.

The whole sacrificial system, Jesus insists, has always been fatally bankrupt.

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

With these five words, Jesus literally says the exact opposite of how I have heard some Christians talk about God.

I’m floored by how much we’ve missed the boat on this one.

The idea that God is pleased with the murder of an innocent person blasphemes Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross by making a mockery of Christ’s instructions for us to forgive our enemies without expecting any sort of payment in return.

(Spoiler alert: if you are receiving payment for something done against you in exchange for your forgiveness, that is not actual forgiveness.  Real forgiveness is Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10-13), simply canceling the debt (Matthew 18:27), wiping it away completely.  This is what God promises when He goes so far as to declare He will “remember [our] sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34)).

I agree with C.S. Lewis on this one – the god who spares our souls only by orchestrating the brutal murder of his young son sounds more like an out-of-control, alcoholic father than it does the Gracious Lord of Hosts, Who the Psalmist describes as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8) and Who the writer of 1 John simply reminds us is love itself (1 John 4:8).

The testament of the Bible, then, is that love (God) does not accept (or force) any sort of payment in return for wrongdoing.  It simply forgives the debt, and goes through great lengths to restore the fractured relationship (this idea is what Christians call the Incarnation).  We do not repay evil with evil (1 Peter 3:9), because violence only breeds more violence.

Jesus presents to us a God who does not desire blood sacrifice, but One who is actually repulsed by it.

This stands with an authentically “Christo-centric” flavor of Christianity.

After all, it’s been said that the scandal of Christianity is not that Jesus is like God…but that God is like Jesus.  Think about that.  Jesus, as the exact image of God (Hebrews 1:3), reveals to us exactly what our Heavenly Father is like.

This means that Christianity is so revolutionary, so set against traditional religious “wisdom,” precisely because we can trust that God is exactly as loving, exactly as committed to nonviolence and forgiveness, exactly as patient, and exactly as open-armed as the person of Jesus.

* * * * * * *

Depending on your faith background, I understand that these 2 ideas about God may sound to you either entirely legitimate or completely ludicrous.  If you find yourself one of the latter, I painfully assure you that these ideas are still being taught and believed in many Christian circles.

If you are one of the former, I would urge you to not call me a heretic until you explore the alternatives (including the teachings of the more ancient Roman Catholic and Orthodox veins of the faith) in order to understand that the majority of Christians throughout the history of Christianity have not believed these two lies about God.

There are more faithful and biblically fulfilling ways to understand God, the scriptures, and Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross than what some of the loudest Christians are teaching today.  I’ll write about this soon.

Grace and Peace,

Ryan

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Puzzled #

    Dear Ryan,
    Once again another great read from you. I just have a few thoughts that I’d like your comments on. How do you feel about Christian Universalism? To me it seems like your two lies about God fit in with that school of thought. If God is not angry at everyone, then he should redeem everyone… is what this makes me think. Then do you believe in a Final Judgement? Also, your thoughts/ arguments in this article seem like they would qualify for what my LCMS church would say is “watering down the Almighty God”. Can we differentiate the God of the Old Testament who desired burnt offerings from Jesus-God in the NT? Can we consider what Jesus said “I desire mercy not sacrifice” to be an official change of game rules?

    July 12, 2013
    • Puzzled,
      thank you for your kind words. Here are my thoughts:

      C.S. Lewis was definitely familiar with the concept that everyone will one day be saved. One of his literary heroes, George MacDonald, was a clear and humbly committed universal reconciliationist. I should also make the distinction between there being a final judgment and there being an eternal torturous judgment that lasts forever for each individual human being. One of my closest friends believes in a form of “annihilationism” – that hell is indeed eternal, but ones’ stay there may not be. Many other Christians I know also believe in a final judgment, but consider hell to serve as a purifying or refining purpose, rather than a simply vindictive one.

      Christian Universalism can perhaps be summarized thusly: “God wants everyone to be saved. So does God get what he wants or not? Does he simply give up on some people?” Now, I don’t believe God ever gives up on us. However, like Lewis, I ultimately have to reject this paradigm because I believe it directly interferes with the idea of our free will. God ALWAYS gives us the choice to choose something other than Him. As Lewis said, God is not eager to keep us separate, but our free will allows us to damn ourselves – all the doors of hell are “locked from the inside.” Calvinism desperately misses the point when it denies that God indeed desires for ALL men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) but Universalism similarly fails when it strips humans of the free will to choose and continue in something other than God.

      In regards to the God of the OT who “desired burnt offerings,” I have a few thoughts. They start with the idea that God is not, and has never been, somehow pleased with sacrifice. I hope your LCMS brethren would understand that I do not aim to water down the Almighty (El Shaddai) in the slightest. Indeed, we are all only sustained by what the Old Testament writers called רוח הקודש, or ruach ha-kodesh (“Holy Spirit”), a manifestation of God that only grows in glory when you believe blood sacrifice has always repulsed Him.

      Remember that the culture into which God first condescends Himself is a largely pagan, Ancient-Near Eastern setting where perhaps predictably, human, animal, and even child sacrifice was utterly commonplace. Early humans felt at the mercy of the cosmic and meteorological powers around them, and soon they gave them names as “gods” and began to sacrifice things to them to please them. The problem with this system, though, (aside from the gods themselves being man-made), was that you never knew how much to give, how much would satisfy these gods to earn their favor or in payment for your sins.

      So God introduces Himself into a culture that expects certain things to be true about Him, initially operates within this framework, and then He slowly turns each of those false assumptions on their heads, revealing to His people His ultimate true purpose and nature (revealed in places like Amos 5:24 and Micah 6:8). Think of the story of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) – Abraham does not hesitate in the slightest to offer up his son as sacrifice because HE IS USED TO BELIEVING IN THIS TYPE OF GOD, the type of god that asks you to slaughter and burn things for him. And then Yhwh defies everyone’s expectations by instead, declaring that this human sacrifice will not please Him. And he provides a ram which foreshadows – but does not achieve the same purpose as – Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Brilliant.

      July 12, 2013
      • In this understanding, God gives the OT people the sacrificial system as a way to manage their colossal, idolatrous commitment to blood sacrifice, and He works within the system itself to subvert it and reveal the ultimate folly of the entire institution. It’s eliminated by the Jesus’ death.

        And blood sacrifice served another redemptive purpose in the Old Testament: brutally slaughtering an animal you had raised, and maybe even named and grown to care about served God’s people as a physical, visual reminder (and warning) of the unspeakably bloody, visceral horror of sin. Sin is not something to be overlooked, or taken lightly. It cosmically costs someone something, and this is a picture of that.

        But was God ever really appeased by all of this? Or was He moving them towards a more ultimately redemptive goal? I think very few Christians and Jews still affirm the former or else we’d have a lot more sacrificial goats running around.

        July 13, 2013
  2. Peggy Whitmer #

    I could not agree more Ryan, keep doing what you are doing. It’s important.

    July 12, 2013
  3. cal #

    Hey Ryan,

    Fantastic and true points, especially the first misconception. Until we can correctly think of our God as loving us more than we can ever love him, rather than an authoritarian keeping account of our every wrong deed, building malice…how can we ever experience the freedom of His total and unabashed love? I think it’s important to note on your 2nd point however, that while God is not bloodthirsty and reveling in sacrifice…Christ’s sacrifice WAS totally necessary. I think you’ve even spoken to this in the past, but for clarifications sake…Christ did HAVE to die. God is clear in his just nature and is even more clear that the consequence of sin is death. The part that continually blows my mind is the choice that Christ made to lay himself down to protect us from God’s righteous justice and stand blamelessly in OUR place to receive OUR deserved punishment. I appreciate your perspectives and thoughtful pursuit of God’s truth, keep at it…the race is long 🙂

    July 12, 2013
    • Amen! Thank you for your clarification, and I affirm it wholeheartedly in many ways, yes, I have indeed spoken of this in the past. My only contention is that I still do not consider the idea of God “imputing God’s own righteousness upon us” (something Calvinist theologians like John Piper are huge on) instead of our own selves as the core, “gospel” concept. God’s beauty is in restoring us, in sanctifying us and making us more who He originally designed us to become, not in merely giving us Jesus’ nature instead of our own God-breathed humanity. Punishment, wrath, consequence, it’s something that occurs as the result of our own sins, not as something extra tacked on by God.

      If we have to wear a Jesus mask over our bruised and broken faces in order for God to not destroy us, not only is He needlessly murdering something He Himself breathed life into, but we’ve essentially *tricked* a God who, being All-Powerful, instead could have just forgiven us (to put it as C.S. Lewis did). Taken too far down this road, it makes a cold, mathematic formula out of salvation and a mockery of the incarnation.

      thank you for your comment, brother. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers as well. I hope I haven’t misrepresented you or spoken uncharitably.

      July 12, 2013
  4. So then did Christ die? What was finished if there was no atonement? Why did God Himself suffer the indignity of death if nothing was accomplished?

    July 12, 2013
    • Nate,

      yes, Christ died.

      you make a mistake to think that if God did not torture an innocent man instead of a guilty one, there is no atonement! The atonement (from the Olde English “at-one-ment”) is the process by which groaning Creation (Romans 8:22) is made one again with, or “reconciled” to God (Colossians 1:20 addresses this).

      Do not be deceived! There was and is an atonement, and EVERYTHING is accomplished! Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross, this once-and-for-all removal of sin, humanity can once again be AT ONE with God!

      Why does God suffer the indignity of death when He far from has to? To rescue his corrupted creation and to publicly demonstrate the lengths to which one will go to restore what has been broken, to find what has been lost.

      July 12, 2013
  5. Gosh man you can’t leave out the Justice of God from your thinking, and His holiness I feel you are also missing. God IS holy and set apart and perfect and sin is against this holiness – it is a breaking of His commandment and His holy nature is averse to it as a magnet is averse to its like pole. Sin must be punished because of God’s very nature: just. Not because God wants to punish what isn’t perfect, but rather, He HAS to by His nature and He is right in doing so because he is the only perfect thing.

    But in His love He took the punishment for us by His son, which is to say, by himself. He made a way, He drank the cup of wrath. The Law was given to throw us onto His mercy and true, God didn’t want His people’s sacrifice, He wanted their hearts. To show them His holiness He created sacrifice to show His chosen that sin does cost life – it is not without consequence. But in regard to human blood sacrifice, you are right – God has never desired such things. Especially in regard to child sacrifice, which was so popular in other cultures, God says it never entered His mind to think about such profanity.

    Gosh, what good news is it that God took upon His Son His wrath to save sinners past, present and future!

    If we remove justice and holiness from God he is not worthy of our worship and He is not ultimate. But Grace! Now there is a thing worth rejoicing over! The unmerited, abundant love of our Just Father!

    July 12, 2013
    • “Sin must be punished because of God’s very nature: just. Not because God wants to punish what isn’t perfect, but rather, He HAS to by His nature.”

      I have to disagree with you there, Ryan – God does not do what God does not want to do. That is like…core to what we mean when we talk about “God.”

      What do you think of the idea that God does not HAVE TO do anything – that God, as the all-powerful, good, amazing Creator and ultimate moral arbiter of the universe, is not BOUND or restricted by some sort of higher morality or mathematical requirement system that forces Him to capitulate to a certain set of demands or act in a certain way? God, by definition, is the Highest, there is nothing above Him. Certainly a this set of rules that He must somehow adhere to “because of His nature,” right? As you yourself said, God “is the only perfect thing”!

      Holding God’s “love” and God’s “justice” in tension with one another like they are enemies seems to me to be a false dichotomy. God IS love. Love encompasses Justice, a Holy and Righteous reaction to Sin. The way you are describing God makes Him seem very…very unpowerful, very un-God-like, very petty because you seem to be saying that God gets upset at sin because humans are breaking the arbitrary rules He set up, and how dare they.

      I’m saying that God doesn’t get upset at sin because it insults His honor – I’m saying that God gets so pissed off at sin because He cares about us and loves us and sin hurts us deeply and profoundly separates us from the Divine.

      July 12, 2013
  6. Not trying to be redundant here, and I am encouraged by your passionate pursuit of Truth – keep on my friend!

    July 12, 2013
  7. David Farmer #

    Nicely done!

    July 13, 2013
    • thank you my friend! Your openness is a stunning example of what all Baptists, and indeed all Christians, should aim for

      July 17, 2013
  8. Brett #

    Here’s my working thesis, Ryan. It is a quote from John Stott’s the Cross of Christ taken from PT Forsythe’s The Crucuality of the Cross: “If we spoke less about God’s love and more about His holiness, more about his judgement, we would say much more when we did speak of his love.” You see, John’s statement of “God is love” in 1 John 4:8 means so much because it is defined in the context of propitiation (the one who bears wrath) in verse 10. God’s word defines his love in the context of the wrath being removed by Christ’s atonement!
    Not only does John do this, but Paul and Peter too! Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Then verse 9 tells us we are justified by Christ’s blood (does that sound like what you are teaching?). Then verse 10: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son…” We were enemies (like Ephesians 2:3 tells us.).
    Then Peter teaches this too; 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself (Jesus) bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds we are healed” (see the substitution?).
    Then the author of Hebrews also teaches that Christ’s sacrifice is the basis for our forgiveness. You quoted Hebrews out of context in this regard. His argument in this chapter leads up to the crescendo of chapter 10 verse 14: “For by a single offering He (jesus) has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” His argument is that animal sacrificed weren’t enough to cleanse sin and take away God’s wrath; those sacrifices were a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. And see how Hebrews shows that this sacrifice is the basis for forgiveness three verses later in verse 17 which quotes Jeremiah 31:34 which was also taken out of context in your blog? Then Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” How much clearer could he get?
    And please don’t say that the early Christians didn’t believe this. Following the apostle’s tradition, St. Clement of Rome, 92 AD: “Because of the love he felt for us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God, his body for our bodies, and his soul for our souls.”
    St. Ignatius of Antioch, 107 AD: “Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved.”
    Justin Martyr (c. 160 AD): “For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family, yet you did not commit the deed as in obedience to the will of God.”
    Basil the Great (c. 360 AD): “By the blood of Christ, through faith, we have been cleansed from all sin.”
    St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 410 AD): “For had not God hated sin and our death, He would not have sent His Son to bear and to abolish it.”
    Gregory the Great (c. 580 AD): “Who, being made incarnate, had no sins of His own, and yet being without offence took upon Himself the punishment of the carnal.”
    Occuminius (c. 990) “So great was his passion that however often human beings may sin, that one act of suffering is sufficient to take away all our transgressions.”
    Let me know if you want the quotes from Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 320 AD), Athanasius (c. 360 AD), or about 20 other people. The doctrine of the apostles and those that follow in their footsteps have always painted a picture of a God that wants “the whole world to stand accountable to him” (Romans 3:19) then sends his Son “to become sin” and “a curse” so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (Gal. 3:13, 1 Cor. 5:21). This is so that we may be to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:1-15 ish)
    Maybe this will help. Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is God himself (Romans 9:5). So God isn’t putting the punishment on some random guy. God takes initiative and punishment on himself to save those who repent.
    John Flavel (1600s) portrays this agreement beautifully in “The Bargain”:

    Father: My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls And thus Christ returns.

    Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

    Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

    Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8: 9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it.

    Let me know if any of this is unclear for anyone. The God who saves enemies (me) by his death on a cross in much bigger and more loving than a God that pardon’s those who didn’t really do anything that bad.

    July 16, 2013
    • Brett,

      Amen on that last paragraph (not unclear for us at all 🙂 !). God indeed hates sin and took decisive action against it in sending Jesus for us, as God’s enduring sacrifice for humanity. He “carried our sins in his body” and indeed took them far away from God’s people. I actually just wrote about this, maybe my latest post will help clarify this idea.

      Love the quote from Stott as well. I think TIME magazine called him the “Pope of Evangelicalism.”

      He once said of the traditional Christian concept of hell:

      “I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.”

      This is similar to my thoughts on the idea that God somehow *needed to,* and subsequently did, “substitutionally” slaughter His son instead of us, and needs to view us through (or “impute” upon us) Christ’s righteousness before he is willing to forgive us.

      I think what you’re trying to articulate is one particular way of understanding the atonement – one that has some merit – but, we would do well to remember C.S. Lewis’ words in Mere Christianity (can you tell I like this guy?) (pg. 156-157):

      “Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work – the bit we could not have done for ourselves – has been done for us. We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts; it has already come down into the human race. If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it is fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, he will do it in us and for us…One of our own race has this new life: if we get close to Him we shall catch it from Him.

      “Of course, you can express this in all sorts of different ways. You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

      An ironic quote for me to be sharing, I know, considering I’m about to write another million paragraphs arguing about Christ’s death. But good words to remember still. I am sorry to hear you were upset by my thoughts here! This is a good reminder, though, that we are indeed talking about things “way above our pay grade.” (the tired mantra: “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” is starchily beginning to march through my mind).

      I’ll just respond to a few of your most salient points:

      “His argument is that animal sacrificed weren’t enough [sic] to cleanse sin and take away God’s wrath.” – – agreed. that’s the point!

      “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” mm…well, I am not sure how exactly this translates to the idea of God punishing Jesus instead of us. I will prayerfully do more research though, because I know that Hebrews speaks more directly on this than almost any text in the Christian scriptures.

      I fear you may have misunderstood my intentions regarding harkening to the early intellectual tradition of the church. Like our church fathers, I do believe that Christ sacrificially died for our sins, but I don’t believe violence that sets God upon the Son needs to factor into this.

      In fact, I think that only two of the seven or so thinkers you mentioned – Gregory the Great (c. 580 AD) and Occuminius (c. 990) – spoke in any sort of way that I may disagree with. From these single quotes, I hope I can say that every other one of the great Roman Catholic theologians you’ve mentioned above seems to vibe with what I’m saying: “Jesus’ death/blood/sacrifice makes our healing possible.” The revenge part of it that you are advocating for, though, is a whole nother’ discussion.

      You just quoted St. Augustine of Hippo: “For had not God hated sin and our death, He would not have sent His Son to bear and to abolish it.”

      I don’t know I’ve ever heard it better articulated! Jesus bears and abolishes our sin and death. That is what kills him. Not God “crushing his son” “instead of us.” One image paints a hero who bears the sins of the whole world, the other is ineffectual, and glorifies the myth of redemptive violence.

      “God takes initiative and punishment on himself to save those who repent.”

      Again, I think Lewis says it best, if a bit boldly: “…that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person?”

      July 17, 2013
  9. Lorraine Eilliams #

    I love reading all this, I am immersing myself in George McDonald and found real freedom in realizing God isn’t mad. I want to wrap my head around it all, the arguments on both sides are so interesting. McDonald says that as we actually DO what Jesus says, all the doctrinal stuff will become evident. I am pressing into that.

    I am a 13-year breast cancer survivor with not a lot of hope left for this life. I am finally facing and thinking about healing (specifically why God doesn’t heal so many that ask), and hell. So I am coming from a unique life perspective, and these discussions are super cool to read. Thank you for everyone bring civil do we CAN talk about it.

    September 13, 2016

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  1. Jesus is our sacrifice? What does that even mean? | A Real Rattlesnake Meets His Maker
  2. go with what you know | A Real Rattlesnake Meets His Maker

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