Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Competing Theologies

I had a lively discussion recently with a close minister friend from another denomination, about some of the differences in our religious and philosophical philosophies.  My friend is part of a group that is seeking to eradicate all the substitutionary atonement language from its teachings, actually experiencing a visceral reaction to the very idea of any kind of blood sacrifice, who find the idea of a god who actually gets angry with his/her people for any reason an anathema and generally seem to have completely left the Christian faith for all intents and purposes, apart from a marvellous involvement in many issues of social justice I can certainly learn a lot from! Our friend is determined that Jesus died not for our sins, but because of them....the crucifixion being one of only political expediency that for some reason God Himself seemed powerless to stop.  I confess I am somewhat unclear as to why the idea of Jesus dying to shed blood to cover our sins to a Holy God is so difficult for my friend to grasp, but the equally fantastic idea of physical resurrection is not.  I want to talk more about it next time we get together.  The emphasis my friend and his group put on discovering the god within ourselves seems far more like Hinduism 101 to me, than any form of Christianity, progressive, emergent or otherwise.  Our friend seems determined to distance himself and his followers from any contact with an Old Testament God who had the gall to become angry when beings of his own creation disobeyed him to their peril and the peril of the world around them; to distance themselves at all costs from"rabid evangelicals who are more committed to intellectual points of doctrine than to acts of love."

My husband suggested I blog a bit of my own written response to our friend's ideas.  So, here it is, in part:

I guess I have never viewed God, even in the Old Testament, as being a particularly angry being, or at least I have only seen him (and I am using the universal "him" here as using him/her gets unwieldy) being angry with justification. As a heavenly parent it doesn't offend me as his child if he eventually has to resort to anger to regain my attention, or the attention of my church community or nation, to try to save us from further sad consequences of our own decisions to refuse to choose what is good and loving. When my son used to try to play in the traffic in front of our house and refused to listen to reason, my anger as expressed in yelling and withdrawal of privileges was a way  to try to  impress upon him the seriousness of possible dire consequences to himself and others. My punishment was an expression of love, even though at the time he didn't understand it and thought I was a terrible person. I guess I never before considered that Christians as created beings would think their creator never had right or reason to be angry. To me, if he didn't do everything possible to try to let us know we are in danger or creating danger for others, then I would see him as indifferent rather than loving.

A major factor in my decision to become a Christian was reading the Book of Job. I was tired of my own poor choices and their results. I was freaked out by the possibility of the Hindu notion of the god within because if what is within human beings is all there is to a god's expression of possibilities then I saw no point in living. I was looking for someone bigger and greater than humans, someone ultimately with the ultimate good of the universe in mind, and I found him in the God that confronted Job in the midst of Job's own apparently God-ordained sufferings and decided that, whether or not Job was an actual person or the book was simply an analogy regarding the characteristics of our creator, that was the gutsy, calling a spade a spade kind of God I could relate to. hahahaha 
It was the same when I read the stories about Jesus. The idea that he would willingly be the ultimate substitutionary atonement for an imperfect creation to be restored to harmony with a perfect creator (as defined by the creator's concept of perfect rather than my own) filled me and still does fill me with awe. The way he lived out the love of the father, yes, even in expressing anger at those leaders in the temple who were leading their followers astray, for their own good as well as for their followers, struck me very deeply.
I do not understand all the reasoning behind God's requirement of blood sacrifice. I find it repulsive to be honest. However, because I see God as being so vast and bringing ultimate justice, then if he thought these blood sacrifices were necessary for us to recognize the seriousness of his role as creator, then I accept it even though I cringe at the very idea. I am quite certain Jesus could have escaped his punishment at the hands of government authorities, or at least made a good attempt with the help of his followers. That he didn't even try, that he believed his life sacrifice was necessary for the sake of all his followers who were to come, still brings me to a place of awe.  I have accepted God's definition of love that is more than simply fuzzy good feelings and also contains elements that my human emotions are capable of taking great offense to, such as the idea that sometimes suffering results in a greater good.

So that is the gist of what we talked about.  This is a rather hackneyed account of the conversation and subsequent emails, but the discussion we had has certainly inspired me to at least try to discover more effective ways to talk to the people in some of our oldest, mainline churches that are starting to redirect their interpretations of the Bible and other Christian literature. It can be a discouragement or a challenge and I think I am getting more fired up to prepare myself to enjoy the challenge rather than run from the discouragment!
Obviously I need your prayers!  Bless you!!


chris e. said...

Is this the 'crossless gospel' your associate is promoting?

Susan said...

Not crossless per se, but in this theology Jesus died only because he was forced to by people who refused/didn't understand his message of love, not because God deemed his death necessary to pay for our sins. The idea is that we are not such blackened sinners, just imperfect, since God lives in all his created beings. We just have to each discover that and work on finding how to express that love to save the world from destruction. Jesus didn't need to die, it just happened due to lack of understanding by others. For some reason I didn't understand, God wasn't able to stop it. Still trying to find out some of the logic of this point of view, so more discussion to come. I am enjoying it.

chris e. said...

Glad you are enjoying it. Their theological train is certainly off the tracks! That's going to be one huge job, getting that one back on track. Probably best if it hadn't left the station in the first place, no?