Yes, I’m supposed to be on vacation… shhh… don’t tell anyone. I just wanted to share a few of my Easter Sunday thoughts with those who couldn’t make it.
We all know that there are all kinds of contradictions in the Bible and that you can use the Bible to substantiate almost any position you’d like on almost any subject. I can understand how that happens. Afterall, the Bible was written by men who were trying to share Israel’s experience and understanding of God as they had been told or learned. Different ideas and perspectives on God and Biblical topics makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is contradictions existing within the very being (or energy, if you like) of God.
The God that I know and believe in is very simply LOVE. Pure, unconditional, unbounded, unfettered love. Any theology that suggests that God can somehow be that and vengeful, vindictive, angry, punishing, hurtful, or jealous at the same time makes no sense to me. I just can’t do the mental gymnastics (nor am I willing) needed to make those contradictions in God acceptable. It makes much more sense to me that the contradictions took place in those who shared the stories of God and wrote down the stories of God, than it does for those contradictions to actually exist IN God.
Sacrificial Atonement Theology, that we often hear on Good Friday or Easter is a perfect example of a theology that Christians have adopted over the centuries that attempts to make sense of Jesus’ death, but ends up turning God into someone who I don’t believe God can be. This popular theology (for the last 800 years or so) states that Jesus had to die because God required the sacrifice of a perfect human in order to forgive the sins of humanity and bring us back into full relationship with God.
Let me flesh that out a little more. That theological understanding of why Jesus had to die was finally fully articulated by St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1097. It goes like this: Adam and Eve (taken as a literal story and not simply myth) disobeyed God and everyone inherits their sin, known as original sin (you can thank Augustine in the 4th century for this). Because of their sinfulness, and because God is a just God, their disobedience requires punishment. Their penalty for their sin is death, they are cast out of the Garden of Eden where they were immortal, and now we all live outside of Eden where we are all mortal and die. However, God loves us and doesn’t want to punish us, but God’s honor has been shamed. God is torn between love for us and requirements of justice, and so comes up with a plan to fix the sins of humanity. God decides to require a perfect human sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity. Jesus is born to a virgin (hence not incurring the human sin of his mother’s sexuality) and God requires Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price we all owe to God for Adam and Eve’s sin. Because Jesus was obedient and did the “will of his Father” in enduring great pain and suffering and dying on the cross, we are brought back into full relationship with God.
Interestingly enough, another theologian, Abelard, came along shortly after that and said, “Who will forgive God for the sin of killing his own child? How cruel and wicked that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should in any way please him that an innocent man should be slain – still less that God should consider the death of his son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world!”
Personally and professionally, I do not believe in Sacrificial Atonement. I do not believe in a God who requires human sacrifice. That is completely contradictory, in my mind, with a God of LOVE. I also do not believe in glorifying the suffering of Jesus, because that leads us to glorify and somehow make sacred the suffering of human beings. (For example: “Be grateful for your suffering, endure your suffering, because then you are being just like Jesus.”) Finally, I do not believe in glorifying the cross – it was an instrument of torture and death. We are the only world religion that has a weapon as its symbol… seems wrong to me (though I admit it took me a long time to realize that).
Progressive theology’s answer to The Million Dollar Question: Did Jesus have to die? Is NO. Jesus did not have to die because of some master plan that God had to forgive people for sin. Was it inevitable that Jesus die? Probably.
Let’s look at Jesus for a minute… John Shea says, “Jesus’ deepest identity is his relationship to [God] which overflows into a mission of love to an alienated world. Whatever else Jesus is, he is this first and foremost. .. What he desires is to give the life he is receiving from the Divine Source to other people. He is faithful to that task…” to the end.
Jesus kept loving until the end. His options were to fight, to run and go into hiding, or to stop preaching his message and stop trying to help people know and respond to the God of love that he knew – all of those things would have been contradictory to LOVE.
I can’t imagine that Jesus wanted to lose his life. However, I do believe he understood that there were potential consequences to his resistance to Roman imperialism and oppression. And I believe he played the cards he had, while he could, to make the most impact.
That brings us to Resurrection.
I don’t particularly care how you understand the resurrection. Whether you believe that he was physically raised from the dead, or whether his body was hidden somehow and he appears in spirit, or whether you don’t believe any of it, doesn’t particularly matter to me. I personally don’t worry about that too much. However, I realize that the stories of the resurrection attest to the fact that somehow his followers experienced Jesus’ presence after his crucifixion. In a religion that did not really believe in an afterlife – Jesus was alive.
It was the ultimate “no” to the domination systems who brought about his murder. You can kill the person, but you cannot kill their spirit or their love. His love did not die on the cross… the energy of his love, the spirit of his love lived on and still lives on. God is present through the violence and suffering back to life again. Please notice that I DID NOT say that God causes the suffering so that we can experience life again. It is God’s constant, abiding presence (especially in the dark times in our lives) that leads us to the open doors, the opportunities, the right paths.
We spent Friday night taking time to honor the sadness in our own lives, the suffering, the pain… On Easter we remembered that God has been with us through that dark night, that God is there in the gap between death and life, and that God is present as we come to life again. Joy is possible after sadness. Life is possible after death. Hope is possible after despair. Healing is possible after being hurt. There are open windows after the doors have closed in our faces.
THIS is how Love works. Love is alive. Love dwells among us. Love compels us to love one another as we love ourselves. Love will never die.