2 04 2013

If you see Jesus’ death as part of the divine plan, as part of the will of God, that suggests that God required the suffering of this immeasurably great man. It is never the will of God that an innocent person be crucified, and to suggest that is to suggest something horrible about God.

If, on the other hand, we understand the language of Jesus’s being the sacrifice for sin as a post-Easter interpretation of his death that emerges within the early Christian community, we can then see that, metaphorically, it’s a proclamation of radical grace. The connection is this: If Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice for sin, understood metaphorically now, it means that God has already taken care of whatever it is that we think separates us from God. It means that God accepts us just as we are and that the Christian life is not about getting right with God. God’s already taken care of that. The Christian life becomes about something else, namely, living within this framework of radical trust in God and relationship to God that makes possible our transformation, and, ideally and ultimately, the transformation of the world.

—Dr. Marcus Borg

I spent most of my life in what I thought was a mainline Protestant denomination.  The church was nominally part of the Presbyterian Church – USA, which overall wasn’t nearly as restrictive as, say, Southern Baptists.  We could drink, we could dance, we could play cards.  Over time I got a sense that my congregation was on the rightish edge of PC-USA, but I figured there was enough theological wiggle room to make it work.

I’ve written before about the crisis that finally forced me out of that church, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it here.  The pain of that parting was intense and lasting, and it has kept me out of organized religion for the last year.  But it has also freed me to find my own way to God, to reinterpret  what the church told me for years.  And it has given me the freedom to reject completely the theology of guilt and fear that I accepted as a given for most of my life.

For much my life I accepted the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the idea that man was so evil, and God so unbendingly “just” that someone, somewhere, was gonna get it for all that sin.  It was presented as almost out of God’s hands, that the biblical (and therefore godly) definition of justice meant that someone had to pay.  And because mankind was so irredeemably rotten, Jesus was the sacrifice, the utterly innocent atonement for all our sin.  As a child, it made sense; as an adult and more importantly, a parent, it fell apart.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) fathom the idea that someone completely undeserving of the fate was pretty much created and born just so God could get His vengeance on.

That doctrine leads to fathomless guilt – “Jesus SUFFERED and DIED for YOUR SINS!!!!”  I heard again and again that I had to rely on grace, because my own sin was such an integral part of me that I could never, ever be good enough – but that didn’t let me out of the obligation to work harder, strive more for holiness, even as all the effort was utterly futile.  The same people supposedly proclaiming the grace of God were handing out a list of rules for how to be more godly, and at the same time telling me that nothing I could do would ever get me there.  None of it would ever be good enough.  Grace was necessary, but not sufficient, and it came filled with hooks.

Last year, in one of the few times that I attended a service post-crisis, the minister preached on grace.  But what she offered was real grace, true good news – that Christ’s act in going willingly to the cross was enough, sufficient for all of humanity, and that grace flows in abundance for all of us.  Grace washes over us like a river – all of us, whether we reach out for it or not, whether we profess belief in Jesus or not… grace is simply there, as God’s overwhelming love for the creation and all the lives in it.

And I realized, after five decades as a Christian, that I had never really heard the good news.

I cried through that sermon.  My eyes fill again when I think of it… remembering how my heart rose up and finally said yes, this is truth.  Saying that God is love is not some remnant of the 1970s Jesus movement, but instead a powerful statement of absolute truth.  God so loves humanity that God became incarnate – actually put on flesh and blood, and signed on for several decades of sweat and smell and desire and frustration, just to understand our existence fully.  That’s how enchanting we are to our creator, how much love we’re bathed in.  And that isn’t a God who creates a perfect sacrifice just so He has someone worthy of smiting.

So, God is no distant deity in some pure heaven far away. God is with us on earth in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims that love is more powerful than hate, compassion triumphs over oppression, and vulnerability overcomes power. Jesus invites us to put our trust in God, even in the face of horror, oppression, cruelty and death. God is with us. God feels and suffers deeply with us. And, what God does best is to bring life out of death.

—Lowell Grisham

The Creator loves you.  Infinitely.  Freely.  And what you are, right here and right now, is enough.  Because when Jesus whispered “It is finished”… he meant it.




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