Thoughts on the Death of Jesus.

Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God’s wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.

Instead, Jesus death offers life because in Christianity, and in Christianity alone, the God and Creator of the universe deigned to become human, to be tempted, to reach out to those who had been de-humanized and restore their humanity, and ultimately to die in solidarity with every one of us. Yes, he was a sacrifice. Yes, he was “sinless.” But thank God, Jesus was also human.

The hope he offers is that, by dying on that cross, the eternal Trinity became forever bound to my humanity. The God of the universe identified with me, and I have the opportunity to identify with him.

Tony Jones from his blog at Belief.net.

Some day I want to write a story about a man who wants to be a father, but only if his child turns out to live an absolutely perfect, mistake free life. If the child makes a mistake or is selfish in any way, then the father would be justified to express his wrath for the duration of the child’s life. How dare that child be imperfect!? If only the child would have remained perfect, then the father could have loved him or her with all his heart, absent his eternal wrath.

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10 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Death of Jesus.

  1. Thanks for sharing Tony’s post. But I can’t stand reading some of those comments. Its just crazy.

    Anyways, I’ve been thinking about Good Friday and how it relates to non-violence. If you have any thoughts regarding that Zach I’d love to hear them!

    Thanks.

  2. I just don’t see why the cross happened at all…it seems much more cruel that God would allow His sinless Son to be tormented and killed just to “die in solidarity with us,” as Tony says.

    Plus, what is “sin”? Or perhaps I should say what “is” sin? What is “justice” in this scheme?

    It seems funny, too, for Good Friday posts to be devoted to debunking a classic view on the Atonement.

  3. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    Hey Matt, where is the justice in that statement? Why are you so thirsty for justice on behalf of Jesus when Jesus himself seems uninterested?

    Additionally, I don’t see how the concept of sin (separation from God) is at odds with Tony’s thoughts.

    And as far as your complaint that one would dare discuss the meaning of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, I bet many leveled the same charge at St. Anselm’s in 1097. And Aselms theory works great if you believe in a mechanistic, purely legal relationship with your god. Fortunately, there are other theories. Thank God for that.

  4. I’ve really been mulling some of this over during the last several months. Of course there are different theories of atonement and we’ve tended to propagate one alone (especially over the last couple hundred years). But, this question of nonviolence that Lewis brings up could actually give a perspective on Matt’s question of why the cross had to happen at all.

    I recently re-read Mark Kurlansky’s book Nonviolence 25 Lessons in the History of a Dangerous idea. “Secular” book, yet he credits Jesus with introducing the concept of non-violent resistance to the world.

    Could it be that the cross happened because of Jesus’ commitment to nonviolence?

    I’m not so sure that Jesus died because it was “God’s will” as much as maybe Jesus was committed to living in God’s will, one of those being a commitment to non-violence, but it came with a cost.

    I too would love to hear Zach’s take.

    Also, I’ll share my thoughts on the justice and sin issue just for the heck of it. I see sin as the unlike God-ness that causes brokenness in the world (especially in the relationships that are broken at “the fall” in Genesis). So, justice is when those things are restored, put back together, and I see that happening at Easter. In the cross I see our brokenness, that God would actually show up among us, someone would actually live the way we were all created to, and instead of us realizing what’s happening we rebel and kill him. In the cross I see the clearest picture of the worst that lies within us attacking the best of those among us, and God’s great love that in that moment there is no decision to simply put an end to all of it and torture or destroy us all. But rather to have compassion for us – for we didn’t have a clue what we were doing (killing God’s son, yes, but maybe also rejecting the Kingdom of God that is upon us as Jesus preached).
    In Easter I see the exact opposite of this brokenness. In Easter I see the promise of all the relationships being restored (everything being made right, made just – thus here I see justice). In Easter I see the first fruits of a new humanity to which God calls all of us. Like the first flower that let’s you know that even through Spring isn’t here yet, it is coming, so Jesus’ resurrection tells us that through him God is going to restore all things. The Kingdom isn’t here yet, but Jesus is resurrected, and it is coming. Sorry to jump ahead liturgically, but that’s how I’m coming to understand the justice issue.

  5. I just wonder why we have to champion one theory of the atonement over and above the other. I think that multiple theories of the atonement are perfectly compatible (primarily when properly nuanced, which is the big key, especially for the juridical view of the atonement) and perfectly called for. Not only do they complement one another, but they enhance one another when taken together equally. There is no main point of the atonement in its various theories, because each point is euqally important and equally true.

    In the story of Christianity, we find more than a legal transaction of sin for righteousness — but we certainly don’t find less than this.

    In the story of Christianity, we find more than the idea that Jesus is my brother — but we certainly don’t find less than this.

    In the story of Christianity, we find more than a torn cloth between this fallen age and the age to come, which is already in our midst — but we certainly don’t find less than this.

    In the story of Christianity, we find more than a man last being first and first being last — but we certainly don’t find less than this.

    Just because folks on one side of the argument have decided to allow a good, meaningful, essential, important part of the gospel wither and become atrophied doesn’t mean that we have to do the same thing to another portion of it. A robust account of the gospel takes to heart the temporal, eternal, individual, corporate, juridical, relational, immanent, and transcendent nature of Jesus’ life, teaching, and work on the cross — and it say “Yes” to them all.

    Just because we live in a country that demands polarity and false dichotomies doesn’t mean that we as followers of Jesus in both life and death in its many facets should be forced to apply these things to who Jesus was and what his death has accomplished.

    Life only exists in the paradoxes, because it’s then that we’re forced to take the leap of faith into the dark abyss. Not because it gets us somewhere or takes care of some business. But because it is the only choice we can live with. It is the only option, and we can no longer continue standing on the precipice looking into the unknown. We are compelled to follow, because we can see no other recourse.

    Instead of asking questions of how we can interpret the story of Jesus on the cross and risen, what we should really be asking is “how can we live this out?” And that is by reconciling ourselves to others, giving ourselves wholly to them. The other questions are important, but action is key. And if our debate doesn’t flow from, and spur on, charity from any side (and it usually doesn’t), then what good is it? Will it call us to action? No. It calls us to dig in and get ready to fight with the person we should be working beside.

    • Well said, Sean.

      I agree that life exists in Paradoxes to a certain extent but when viewing the cross with a purely atonement driven perspective, paradox all but vanishes.

      I love your last paragraph and I agree with it wholeheartedly. But it is possible that while our particular views are leading us to “live this out” that we continue the discussion of what the Cross means for us individually and corporately.

  6. It seems like Tony Jones’ and traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus’ death get to the same end. That end is eternal communion with God.

    Why does it matter how you get there as long as you get there?

  7. I definitely agree with you, Zach. It’s not only possible to discuss issues in that way — it’s imperative. Definitely wasn’t meaning to imply that we can’t/shouldn’t. Rather it’s the charitable discussions about these issues that will often spur us to action as much as our own convictions.

    Some of the most edifying and moving discussions about Christianity that I’ve had were with a left-leaning Episcopal priest educated at UC Berkley and a conservative Eastern Orthodox parishioner. We found as much common ground in our agreements as we did in our disagreements, if that makes sense.

  8. Thoughts:

    – Sean, your phrasing of “we find more than … but certainly not less” is brilliant. It is spot on, for often we move one of the many excellence of the cross to primacy, and therefore miss some of the other essential aspects of the cross (ie – only seeing sacrifical atonement)

    – NT Wright’s phrasing of the cross and resurrection as “the victory of God” is worthy of reflection here. Every soul-destroying power in our world and in me, have enter the body of Jesus. And they have died with him. This is what it looks like when God remakes his good world. The power of sin, addiction and death are now all illusion. Faith in Christ (in one essential way) means acknowledging that his work on the cross has in fact defeated soundly everything that seems to have supremacy over me. Owning and internalizing such truth will make us free.

    (Note to Zach: If you have time shoot me an e-mail I have a suck-free music project I would love to pitch to you).

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