Monday, December 18, 2017

Jesus: Just a Regular Guy

I've always heard that Jesus died as redemption for our sins.  We grew up being told that we were born sinners, and Jesus took our sins upon himself.  In so doing, he bore the punishment for those sins so that we could be saved and find our way to heaven.  Indeed this has been one of the central tenets of Christianity from the earliest days of the faith.  Unlike the concept of the Trinity, which wasn't established until centuries after the life of Jesus, the notion of redemption has direct support in the bible.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit - 1 Peter 3:18 
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8
Of course, this whole idea violates my own innate sense of fairness.  If Adam and Eve were sinners, why should that guilt be passed on to me?  And the idea that my own sins could be redeemed by someone else paying for them has never seemed right to me.  From the time I was a young child listening to these stories in Catechism class, it bothered me.  It didn't make sense.  This was the very first inkling of doubt that eventually led to my rejection of Christianity.

But most Christians accept this doctrine.  They believe that Jesus died for our sins.  I often wonder if they feel the same kind of revulsion for the notion of Christian redemption that I felt as a child.  Or do they just sweep it under the rug, as they apparently do with so many other aspects of Christianity that don't make sense?  Well, it appears that at least some of them agree with me that this concept of Jesus being offered up as sacrifice to a bloodthirsty God as payment for our sins isn't right.  Joe Hinman describes a different view presented in a book by Jurgen Moltmann called The Crucified God.  I haven't read that book myself, so I can only pass on what I gather from Joe's discussion.  But it seems to put a new spin on the suffering and death of Jesus - the idea that this was not for the purpose of redemption, but to establish solidarity between God and man.

And how foolish of those silly atheists to think that all this suffering on the part of Jesus was to pay for our sins in the first place.  They just don't understand what it was really about.
The explicit premise of the atheist argument is that atonement works by Jesus suffering a whole lot. If Jesus suffers enough then restitution is made. But wait, restitution for what? For our sins? Then why should Jesus suffer more than we do or more than our victims do? Why do atheists seem to think,  that Jesus must suffer more than anyone ever has for the atonement to work? It's because the hidden premise is that God is guilty and the atonement is the time God pays for his own mistakes. Jesus has to suffer more than anyone to make up for what God has done, in conceiving of us by creating us. - Hinman
Excuse me, but I never heard any atheist make an argument like that.  Most atheists think that the Christian idea of the atonement is pure bullshit, and they would only place guilt on God if they thought he existed, which they don't.  No, the Christian idea of redemption for our sins is what we learn from Christians.  It's what they taught me in Catechism class.  It was a key idea of The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus rejected Satan's doubt: "it is not right for one man to die for their (humanity's) sins."  All that graphic suffering and torture is supposed to make us feel guilty for being sinners, and we should feel deeply indebted that Jesus is making this sacrifice for us - to save our wretched souls from our own sins.  If you've ever watched a passion play like the production I once saw presented by Pastor Ted Haggard at the New Life Church, the torture is quite graphic and that sense of guilt comes across loud and clear.

So what is it really about?  Moltmann's thesis is that Jesus was sharing with us the experience of our own humanity, including death.  By becoming one of us, Jesus is establishing solidarity with us, and making us see how much God loves us.
Death in Solidarity with Victims. ... Christ shared all of our experience, sin alone excepted, including death in order that we, by virtue of our solidarity with him, might share his life
Jesus died in solidarity with us, he underwent the ultimate consequences of living in a sinful world, in order to demonstrate the depths of God's love and God's desire to save us. - Hinman
That's a way of making God look like much less of a bloodthirsty monster and more like a loving, caring benefactor, who is only doing what any doting parent would do for the happiness of his child.  I certainly understand that Christians would want to cast their God in the most favorable light possible, but this really does seem to be a departure from the traditional Christian view.  There is no question that the God of the Old testament is jealous and vengeful.  This is the God that allowed Satan to beguile the innocent Adam and Eve (who knew nothing of good and evil before eating the fruit) into committing the original sin, and then pinned the guilt of that sin on the rest of humanity for all time.  And while the New testament presents a somewhat different picture of God, it doesn't abandon the idea that God demands payment for sin.  The very sin that he burdened us with, while placing the blame on Adam and Eve.  And that's where Jesus comes in - to save us from the sin that we never had any choice about.  And for those of us who can't or won't be redeemed, our just reward from this loving and caring God is the "lake of fire".
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. - Revelation 21:8
But let's assume for the moment that God really does love us and wants nothing but the best for us.  Why would he have made us to be sinners in the first place?  It's one thing to give us free will and allow us to prove that we won't abuse that free will by sinning, but another thing altogether to put us at a disadvantage from the start by making us all guilty of sin.  If God loves us so much, why would he do that to us?  Are we not supposed to be made in the image of God?  Surely God doesn't share that sinful nature with us.  If he wants us all to experience the bliss of the Beatific Vision, what's the point of placing this barrier of sinfulness in our way?  And please don't try to tell me that it has to be this way.  As we have seen in the case of Jesus (who is sinless), and various angels who have not "fallen", it is quite possible for God to make beings who are much more like himself, and presumably more worthy of abiding with God, without burdening them with the guilt of a sinful nature.  And the idea that Jesus shares the experience of mankind rings hollow, because he doesn't share our sin.  By any Christian view, Jesus was never just a regular guy.

Try as I might to make sense of the whole thing, I cannot help but come to the conclusion that it really is senseless, no matter what kind of spin Christians might like to put on the whole story of the torture and death of Jesus.  Whether it was in payment for our sins, or just to demonstrate God's solidarity with us, the suffering and death of Jesus cannot be seen logically as anything but a bloody, painful ordeal for the pleasure of a God who insisted that sinfulness, pain, and death should be part of the drama of human existence, when he could have just made us all angels in the first place, and dispensed with the drama altogether.


  1. K, couple points.....

    1) There's a stream of scholarship or historical theology that emphasizes the "substitutionary" or "payment" concept of the atonement, which seems to be the version you're referring here to as standard, wasn't predominant in the first Xian millenia. Became much more widely subscribed around the time of Anselm's rendering of it....

    2) latest thoughts on angelic realms - amoung some theological/biblical thinkers that believe in such - often see them as complex and ambiguous too, not as perfected or utterly lost circumstances the way you suggest, and not as so different than the earthly realms. Angels, "powers and principalities", and such, iow, don't always have to exist as "pure good" (eg Michael) and "pure bad" (satanic) forms, either, according to some readings, but might be subject to the risks and chanciness of free will also, albeit in their own way.....

  2. 1) a. I understand that there have been various theories of the atonement. They have all involved some kind of payment. There was the "ransom" theory, which is literally a payment. The "satisfaction" theory says that we owe a debt to God for what Jesus did. But I never heard of a theory of atonement that abandons the concept of debt or payment altogether in favor of the claim that Jesus is just establishing solidarity with us humans. The concept of payment for our sins is well supported in the NT. For example, this:

    Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. - Romans 4:25

    1) b. What difference does it make that there were these various takes on the concept of Jesus dying for our sins, anyway? We know that many aspects of Christianity have changed over the years, including the whole question of what Jesus was, and his relationship to God. One major point of my post is to point out the difference between what Joe says and what Christians are actually taught to believe (which Joe is trying to depict as a straw man used by atheists).

    2). Of course angels are capable of sinning. That's goes straight to my point. They have free will, and yes, they can and do abuse it. So why then, does God need to make us live in a world full of evil? And why does he need to burden us with original sin? He didn't need to do that to the angels. What is the point of making us suffer through this whole soteriological drama?

  3. I think the idea is more like it's "soteriological drama" all the way "up"? Including the angelic realm.

    The Augustinian/Reformed "original sin" concept isn't absolutely intrinsic and necessary to Xianity either...the Eastern Orthodox churches downplay it, eg, (largely on the grounds of Augustine's weaknesses with the original languages) so it's possible to do without it.

    cf Ezekiel 18 (iirc)

    1. so it's possible to do without it.

      - Again, that goes straight to my point. It IS possible to do without it. Yet the religious teaching I grew us with (along with most other people) tells us that we are "fallen" - we are burdened with sin, and all this earthly drama with its attendant evils is "necessary" in order for some of us to get to heaven. But the free will of angels directly contradicts that. If the can exercise their free will and be moral actors without living on this earth, then there's nothing necessary about our earthly existence at all. The whole soteriology is just a big sham.

  4. Well, some of the stuff you're writing here sounds like you might make a pretty good modern liberal theologian yourself! (Even if some of Joes takes on the likes of Moltmann and Tillich, etc, tend to be conservative, Imv, & are more compatible with mainstream religious thought than mine are....)

    .... in fact, it's not untypical of modern theologians (post WWII ones esp.) to characterize the "atonement " as more like paradoxical .... perhaps even basically incomprehensible.... and to cast Christ's suffering as essentially devoid of meaning .... as is the suffering of many other innocent victims. Such thinking is sometimes called a "theology of the cross" and juxtaposed against "theologies of glory."

    Check out the Moltmann quote here....

    1. Another one...l

      To know God means to endure God. To know God in the cross of Christ is a crucifying form of knowledge, because it shatters everything to which a man can hold and on which he can build, both his works and his knowledge of reality, and precisely in so doing sets him free.

  5. I didn't see that quote in the link you provided.

    But it seems I share the skeptical reservations some modern-day theologians might have about the atonement. Not that that would make me a theologian.

    1. oh, sorry skep!

      The quote's from another blog on the same site.....