I love that image of God as the divine Drano, pouring over us crystals of love so our hearts and souls can run clear. It isn’t pretty, but it has a certain clarity. So where we started is the ancient rite of Atonement wasn’t about appeasing God as part of a sort of wrath-prevention movement. Instead it was about God as Love coming to us so that we could experience the fullness of creation. If that’s the case, how did we get to a place where a lot of Christians respond with a “yes” to the question Tony Jones asks in his new book: Did God Kill Jesus?
The way most of us understand the story, Alison says, goes like this:
“God was angry with humanity; Jesus says, “Here am I”; God needed to loose a lightning rod, so Jesus said, “You can loose it on me”, substituting himself for us. Boom: lightning rod here: sacrifice: God happy. “Got my blood-lust out of the way!””
That rendering is a little sassy, but I think you recognize the rendering. Tony Jones points out that looking at the atonement through this lens in our culture, makes sense:
“And the Payment view of the atonement . . . is popular now because it accords with our modern sensibilities. We live in the most litigious society in the history of humankind, so it makes sense to us to think that when a crime has been committed, a person must “pay their debt to society.” That sense of justice appeals to us. But that’s not how God works. That’s us imposing our ideas of justice on God.”
What’s also lost, Alison reminds us, is the purpose of the original rite of Atonement. Here he draws a line from the rite’s original purpose, to Jesus. Don’t worry about understanding each phrase or sentence. If you can see the connection, globally, for my purposes here, that’s all you need to do.
“Creation is not finished until Jesus dies (shouting tetelestai — it is accomplished), thus opening the whole of creation, which consequently begins fully, in a completely new way, in the garden on the first day of the week. This means, and here is the central point: we understand creation starting from and through Jesus. God’s graciousness which brings what is not into existence from nothing is exactly the same thing as Jesus’ death-less self-giving out of love which enables him to break the human culture of death, and is a self-giving which is entirely fixed on bringing into being a radiantly living and exuberant culture. It is not as though creation were a different act, something which happened alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but rather that the salvation which Jesus was working was, at the same time, the fulfillment of creation. This was the power and the authority in Jesus’ works and words and signs. Through him the Creator was bringing his work to completion. The act of creation was revealed for what it really is: the bringing to existence and the making possible of a human living together which does not know death; and Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is our world that God could only be properly perceived as Creator by means of the overcoming of death. (p. 54-55)
I’m not going to put a bow on that quote. It does a lot on its own. Good night.