14 June 2006

Good stuff on the atonement from my friend Caryn

Well, the interesting discussion between my college friends is still ongoing, and it's wandered into territory like original sin and the atonement (i.e., Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross and how to interpret it). My friend Caryn posted some thoughts that I thought were really brilliant, so I asked her permission to post them here. Here's (an excerpt from) Caryn:

The whole "why did Jesus have to die on the cross?" thing is what we
call a mystery. I don't subscribe to the idea that a mystery is
something we accept and don't ever think about again. I believe
we're supposed to think about it - figure out what God is trying to
tell us here. This is where literalism breaks down and we fail to
get the moral of the story - and there are many morals to the
story - it reaches people in different ways. When we slam down the
window and stop analysing then we're in trouble. I fail to
understand the people who say: I accept it, no need to think about
it, let's go picket a gay marriage or something so we can spend
eternity with a God who hates people and kills his own son. Then
they turn around and blame gays as the reason why people are
Christianity and causing civilization to crumble.

So why DID Jesus need to die on the cross? Well the issue of free
will is still to an extent an open question, but let's assume that
we do in fact have free will. It wasn't God, but humans who decided
to kill Christ. What God didn't do was intervene. Another Christian
mystery states that Jesus IS God even though he is separate
from "The Father" aspect. So God allows himself to suffer in human
form. It was actually from the writings of a Jewish rabbi that I
realized why this could be a great thing. We turn to God precisely
because we are suffering here on earth. Sometimes our prayers get
answered, but a lot of times we're not sure if our prayers are even
heard. It is hard to appeal to a God for comfort in our darkest hour
when we think of God as separate from us, living in paradise, not
having to suffer a day in his eternal life. Except that he did. He
allowed himself to - not because he wanted to, but because for
whatever reason he felt it was the right thing to do. Now we have a
God that can personally relate to our suffering; we don't
necessarily have to feel abandoned when the prayers don't go our
way. God didn't answer his own petitions when he was hanging there.

In my opinion, the most profound words Jesus ever spoke were "My
God, why have you forsaken me?" If Jesus is who we say he is - he
doesn't really believe that God has abandoned him, but in all his
real human anguish he probably felt that way with every nerve of
body. This is comfort too for those who have railed against God
when things went wrong and then later felt that their anger divided
them from God. Jesus himself yelled at God and Jesus IS God.

As for punishing Jesus - again its humans, not God who accomplished
this. Did God know this ahead of time? It would appear so - and if
we take that literally the whole free will thing goes out the
window. But what if seeing the future doesn't work quite the way we
think it does - what if it's the best educated guess that can be
offered based on the evidence at hand? If God sees us running
around torturing each other and not being especially nice to people
who have radical ideas, it's not rocket science to say - I'll send
them myself as a human to lead them away from their current way
doing things, which they're not going to like, and to which they
usually respond in a hideous fashion - they're going to crucify me.
Maybe God shouldn't have taken the risk - but apparently he thought
it was worth it. He thought WE were worth it regardless of what he
knew we would do to him as a result. Far from being unforgiving,
that's probably beyond the scope of any forgiveness that we will
ever aspire to - forgiveness before the fact knowing full well
what's coming. And after the suffering on the cross, he doesn't
change his mind - he's still forgiving.

And what if we hadn't crucified Christ? If we were that spiritually
advanced to accept his stories and be ok with him, maybe we didn't
need him to die. But we weren't and he did.

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