Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The gods aren’t angry

Saturday night I heard Rob Bell speak in Pittsburgh. It was ok, I like Rob a lot, I think he is a dynamic communicator and handles his success with great humility. His presentation has left many thoughts and questions have been ruminating in my mind since then. Rob painted a picture of the God of Israel being a God who reverses and operates outside of the system of sacrificial appeasement and control like the Sumerian and most other ancient religious systems. Yahweh demonstrates his reversal of this by providing a sacrificial substitute for Abraham’s son Isaac and he provides a peace meal within the elaborate sacrificial system of Leviticus. This all culminates in Jesus’ rebuking the sacrificial system and claiming himself to be the temple and ultimate sacrifice so that all humanity will not have to live any longer under the stress, anxiety and fear of not knowing whether or not they have appeased the gods and God. Jesus was killed by the sacrificial system itself. He did not resist or fight back he willingly submitted to the corrupt sacrificial system of the Jews and the Romans and died. The once and for all sacrificial system ending sacrifice of Jesus gives humanity and all creation freedom from this perpetual ambiguity and fear of not knowing if we are at peace with the God. This is a grossly over-simplified summary of Rob’s brilliant presentation, but...

...there are questions that are maybe intentionally unanswered are about the nature of God’s involvement in the death of Jesus, that seems to me to be a part of the same kind of sacrificial appeasement system. At one point Rob asked a question that went something like this: what kind of god do you serve that needs to be appeased by the shedding of blood? Didn’t Jesus need to die in order to appease God’s anger? Aren’t those the reformed doctrines of propitiation and atonement? Did Jesus have to die on the cross in order for the reversal of the system of sacrificial appeasement and control to be overturned once and for all? And in reversing that system isn’t God implicitly involved in participating in that system and therefore complicit in the sacrifice of his own son? Let me state it explicitly. Did God need the blood of his own son to be shed (like the Jewish and other sacrificial systems)? If so how does that differentiate God from the whole system of sacrificial appeasement and control?

I certainly believe that in and through the death of Jesus and even more so his resurrection we are free from sin and its power but I must confess that the I have been thinking about the necessity of what has been called penal substitution, where
the punishment for sin must involve the shedding of blood. As Rob explained, in the Hebrew Scriptures, this was the ritual sacrifice of animals; in the NT it involves the sacrifice of Jesus. God in this atonement theory seems unwilling or incapable of forgiving sin in any other way then through the shedding of blood.

I realize that these are large, very large and potentially threatening questions to what some would call the reformed and evengelical faith but I just thought I would pose them since they seemed unanswered by Rob and were ringing in my head throughout this week. I am interested in your thoughts.


terrytimm said...

thanks bro for raising the BIG question.

i felt like rob was intentionally not filling in all the blanks in his talk on saturday night. i hope we the listeners (the community of faith here in pittsburgh) will grapple with both the wonder and complexity of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

i raised the same question this morning in a conversation, was/is the death of Jesus a necessity to God forgiving sins? while i am extremely grateful that Jesus willingly offered His life for the life of the world, who am i (or any theologian) to say it is the only way God can forgive. perhaps the people of God will begin to explore the depth and beauty of the various atonement theories and embrace more of the inexplicable wonders of the cross and the grace of God we do encounter in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Terry. One of the eye-openers that occurred for me in seminary was the presentation of multiple atonement theories. I guess I would also highlight the word "theory" here as we can probably never truly comprehend what happened on the cross.

personally, in what sometimes feels like an increasingly violent world, I have a really hard time worshipping a go who needs blood in order to be appeased. I take nothing away from the sovreignty of God and if I get to heaven and find out I'm wrong, I hope they still let me in.

one of the more important things I was introduced to in my wacky. liberal, San Francisco education was the moral influence theory of atonement. I know it seems flaky to many evangelicals, but I think the idea of Jesus holding up a mirror to the violence of humanity is a powerful one. A god who demands blood will keep us in perpetual fear. Perfect love casts out fear. Love corrects and directs. Maybe our sins are forgiven when we recognize a different way of operating in the world, the way of Jesus. The way of love over fear, the way of self-sacrifice over self defense...


bj woodworth said...

I think Rob was dancing all around what you guys have said and i do not hold it against him for not articulating it. I am actually thankful for being somewhat cryptic and drawing it out of me. I wold love to read more about his in 2008.

Ben said...

I am so saddened to read not only Rob Bell's open ended comments but the comments that have been left on this blog.

To say that one is "extremely grateful" that Jesus would die for God's people and then say there are multiple ways of atonement makes a mockery of God and the promises he has made to his people.
(Isaiah 53)

God is just, and can not simply turn a blind eye to people being in rebellion to him, and yet because he is merciful Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. Taking the wrath of God that would have taken us an eternity to pay off.

Why would God send his willing son to die for us and pay for our sins if there were other ways he could do it? There is no other way. The entire theme of the OT is that man only fails in his attempts at justification and that man needs a perfect sacrafice to do what he cannot. We see this is God's plan as early as Genesis 3 when he says one is coming that will crush the evil one for us.

For those who believe that Christ led a perfect life and died on our behalf on the cross(philipians 2:8)our sins have been forgiven and we have been given the righteousness of christ, which means God looks at us as though we led a life of obedience. This is just the opposite of living in perpetual fear, we have now died to sin and are alive in christ. (Romans 6). Christ who is the heir of all things and who after making purification of sins sits at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 1).

Rob Bell sadly, views himself as above God and scripture. I pray that I do not sinfully judge him, but I plead with the people who are being influenced by his teaching to turn away. He is rejecting God and the Bible and sounds sadly like the men of Galatians 1: Paul says I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but that there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. We distort the gospel when we rob glory from God by saying, we were not really that bad or maybe there are other ways, or that we can not clearly understand his word.

I pray that all of us would see the Bible as the standard of truth, God's very words and we would be amazed at the cross and in our salvation. That we deserved to be called enemies but through Christ alone we are called sons and daughters.

I pray our generation is not like the people the author of Hebrews 3 talks of, who heard the truth and yet rebelled. How sad will it be for those on the last day who knew the gospel and turned away.


bj woodworth said...

Atonement, penal substitution and propitiation are just a few of the many metaphors that the Bible uses to describe how we are saved through Jesus' death and resurrection. Since the bible does not limit it's understanding of salvation to just these ones because we ought to be sure to not be myopic either. Consider adoption, reconciliation, redemption, restoration, justification, chosen, ransomed. All are only possible in and through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Growing u in the Reformed evangelical world I think I need a more holistic and fuller understanding of salvation and what the work of Jesus has done and is doing in my life and the world. This does not make me sad it makes me glad.

cory said...

I thought Rob was saying that God didn't create the sacrificial system, man did. God effectively eliminated it for us through the death and resurrection of his son. Maybe death and resurrection are the only things that we can fully appreciate. God could have just said that we're forgiven, but would we believe it? Probably not. Why did God participate in our system of sacrifice in the first place (see Cain & Abel)? The text says that God was pleased with Abel's offering, but not with Cain's. Was it that God was pleased with blood, but not with "fruits of the soil"? Or was it that Cain really wasn't giving that much? It doesn't say. What does it mean when it says that "The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but not on Cain." Maybe Abel had some good fortune with his flocks, but Cain's crops weren't doing so hot. "So Cain was very angry" with God not liking his offering. But even then God knew that he was going to restore creation through this system of sacrifice. Sacrifice is like the ultimate sign of love. Why didn't he do it sooner? Maybe if the Father sent His Son sooner, things wouldn't have worked out right, his message wouldn't have spread, that our system sucks and grace is awesomest. Christ's death and resurrection shows us that we're forgiven, he means it, and we don't have to convince ourselves by shedding more blood. Sorry for the rambling, maybe there's something of value in here. At least I'm thinking about it, right?

Sarah Louise said...

Wow, I'm glad I don't have to be a theologian. And am I glad that I didn't know in advance that RB was coming to town.

As a woman, no, I guess just as a person, I see that Jesus didn't have that hard of a life until the end. I mean, he was God's son, he healed people, etc. He was just like Elijah! But the point of his life was not to be the second Elijah--who did almost all of the same miracles Jesus did. I mean, I like Elijah, but he got taken up in a chariot. I'm jealous.

But would I ever want to have been Jesus? Am I jealous of his life? No, because Jesus came to take all the wickedness upon him and die this horrible death that was probably the most famous public murder ever. He's not this Elijah, he takes on the suffering of the world, he submits to it, he dies.

But HALLELUJAH, he is raised. So death has lost its sting. That's the miracle. The world killed Jesus, and God knew it would, but God knew he would raise Jesus from the dead, which the world didn't know or expect.

I don't think that Jesus would mean as much to me if he had not gone through the agonizing physical and emotional pain that he did.

Wow am I glad I'm not a theologian!

God ALLOWED Jesus to be killed (by the world) on the cross, so that he could be fully human, like us. But the spectacle of the cross, etc. was a dramatic lesson, rather than Jesus dying on a deathbed of old age. God is all about STORY. And honestly, the story that the world's sin killed Jesus but his Father raised him from the dead...

Well, you guys can work out your "Did God require blood, etc."

I will rest in gratefulness that when I go through my own garden of G moments and physical and emotional pain that Jesus experienced far more and he did it for me. And that that was NOT the end of the story, he came back to life after all that. (And it was not a Frosty the snowman moment.)(It was not the work of a magic hat--it was the work of a holy and sovereign God.)

So he died the most excruciating death, which he didn't want to, and then he came back to life.

I don't think I'm a glutton for punishment when I say that I need that. I need to know that someone else blazed the trail for me, and more than that, sacrificially died for me.

John 3:16 was a quote *from* Jesus. So he (the Father) loved us all the time, from the beginnning. Maybe you are asking a different question. Maybe what you're asking is, is God that mean? And maybe I'm answering a diffrent question. Maybe I'm answering the fully human/fully God question. Because his death on the cross, his submission, answers that question. Yes, he was fully God, because he chose to submit to the spectacle on the cross. A human man probably would have run away. Yes, he was fully human, because he experienced excruciating pain. He didn't get to take a God-sized Advil or rapid-release Tylenol.

And as for the OT sacrificial line, it makes a good story. Different people come to faith different ways and that's why the story can mean different things to different people.

So go be theologians, but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. As emergents, allow the questions, yes, but be careful. You might get a non-theologian come and read your blog on an early Sunday morning and say hey!! like I did.

Peace out,


I don't know who said this: "God must be very great to have created a world which carries so many arguments against his existence."

(It might have been Isak Dinesan.)

and for the record, I have re-read the post and all the comments and MY comments before hitting "Publish your comment"

meghan said...

I struggled with these questions a lot when I was growing up in the church. I grew up Baptist where we were constantly told that the wages of sin was death but because God loved us he sent his Son. This never made any sense to me. My thought was: why didn't God just make the wages of sin a bad shipment of produce?

Later I came to have (I think) a better understanding of it from a theological perspective. Asking why the law had to be the law is like asking why magnets of the same polarity repel. We were created to stand in unity with God -- and God himself is perfection and light. But we are imperfect. And what's imperfect cannot be around what's perfect. It's just like paper can't survive in fire -- it burns. Because of original sin, man was cast our of God's presence. It is the very nature of God that he cannot be in the presence of sin -- and it is our very nature to be in sin.

The law was given partly to draw our sin out (romans) and partly as a type for the dispensations of time that cover the covenant God has made with man (the structure of the temple...)

The God we know is the same God as the God in the old testament -- what's changed is man's relation to him. Through the blood of Christ, we can now come into his presence. It's Christ that makes us perfect -- makes us acceptable before God. But you have to realize what makes us unacceptable before God isn't that he doesn't like us or love us or prefer us, but that his nature itself is that which cannot be in the presence of sin. Therefore, without covering for our sin we can't be in his presence.

God wanted to find a way to be involved with man, even though man was fallen. That is the story of Christ.

Our God IS an all consuming fire. But this isn't something that needs to cause fear in Christians. And as I get older, I find myself fonder and fonder of the "old testament God" (i put this in scare quotes because it's actually the same guy.)