WHICH GOD DO YOU SERVE?
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
MARCH 28, 2015
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” (Heb. 2:14-15)
Lenny and I were watching TV in our living room on a dark, windy night in October, about 1988. A loud, insistent banging at the front door brought Lenny to his feet. When he opened it, a man we worked with, whom I’ll call Pete (not his real name), swept into the house, hair mussed by the wind, black eyes blazing with excitement. He began to pace around our living room like a caged tiger. Suddenly, he stopped, looked at us with those compelling eyes and announced, “Jesus is coming and boy, is He pissed. He’s going to take us to heaven and burn up the sinners.” I was so startled that I blurted out, “You don’t know the Jesus I know.” Lenny said with a smile, “God is love, and all will be saved.”
Looking horrified, Pete shouted, “If that’s true then I might as well have sex with every woman I see on the street.” That’s not the only time a self confessed Christian man has made that statement to me, and my reply has not varied. I told him that if fear of hell is the only reason he doesn’t bed every woman he meets, then he’s never met the Lord of life and unconditional love.
Clearly, Pete was serving a god who demanded a blood sacrifice from his only begotten Son, and complete obedience from us, before He could love and forgive us, a god, I hasten to add, who is NOT one we can snuggle up to or EVER feel totally comfortable with, no matter how much energy we put into behaving, obeying, and kowtowing to him.
Richard Rohr’s Meditation entitled, “Love, not Atonement” (March 3/20), is a real block buster to some who have spent their lives in fear of a god who will fry them eternally for unforgiven sins, and given that we’re told that this deity demands blood, we’re never sure but what it’s our blood he’s after. Thoughts like this do not give us peace when we wake up in the middle of the night and contemplate how much we’ve missed the mark set by religions powers that be. Rohr went on to say, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.”
The god worshipped by many fearful souls sounds more like the pagan gods Baal and Molech than the creator of heaven and earth and the father of our lovely Jesus. God had commanded the Israelites when they entered Canaan to utterly destroy their neighbors who were sacrificing their own children to these two bloody gods. When they failed to root out these idols and their bloody agenda, God empowered the prophets to rail against them. Jeremiah, aptly named “the weeping prophet” had this to say about the practice: “They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” (Jer. 32:35, RSV)
It’s important to know that the Valley of the son of Hinnom is Gehenna, a physical location on the SW side of Jerusalem where the fires were kept burning continuously in Jesus’ day. It was an incinerator for refuse, including bodies of criminals and animals. The word Gehenna has been translated into our Bibles as “hell,” but instead of an actual location, it has erroneously morphed into the eternal destination for the damned. On our trip to Israel in 2005, we drove through the place, which is now a residential neighborhood. Our Israeli guide quipped, “Now, you can go home and tell your friends you’ve been to hell and back.”
People who still believe that God demanded Jesus’ blood in order to forgive them from sin, are closer to the worship of Baal and Molech than to the living God. How could God Himself do to His own son what He condemned Israel for doing? The Hebrew writer throughout compares the superior New Covenant ratified by Christ’s blood, to the inferior old Covenant, noting that we have a High Priest who “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them...Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Heb. 7:25, 27, NIV)
Our on-line discussion group has been discussing Fr. Rohr’s excellent meditation on “Love, not atonement,” which puts an end to the idea of what has been called the “substitutionary atonement theory.” That dreadful point of view says that God demanded Jesus’ blood as an appeasement sacrifice before He could love us. What a horrible idea that is. Why? Because He loved us and died for us while we were yet sinners, and because of that love, we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23-24)
So if it wasn’t to change God’s mind about us, why did Christ have to die such a horrific death? That question was posed to me by an on-line reader of The Glory Road over ten years ago now. I gave it my best shot as did Harry Fox and John Gavazzoni. The reader wasn’t convinced, but I want to share Harry’s one sentence answer to the man: "Crucifixion," or its equivalent, is INTRINSIC to the kind of love in which God forgave and continues to forgive us, His enemies, who nailed Jesus to a cross (cf. Rom. 5:6-10; Col. 1:21-22). Romans 5:10, asks this question: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life?” The verse in Col. 1:21 shows the scope of that love: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
To make it even more remarkable, Paul said that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (II Cor. 5:19-20, NIV) God was not torturing His son so that He could be reconciled to us. GOD was IN Christ on that cross reconciling US to Him!
But someone is sure to ask, if God did not need Christ’s sacrifice to forgive us, then why did He have to go through it? To answer that, we need to look back at the Blood Covenant God made with Abraham, found in Genesis 15. During that era, the custom was that when two people made a covenant or agreement with each other, they split animals in two on either side of a ditch they had dug for the purpose of catching the blood. The more important or powerful person walked first through the blood, and then the one of lesser importance walked through it next. What that signified was that if either party broke the covenant, the other could spill his blood like they had done to the animals. The text says that Abraham was filled with a “dread and great darkness.” (Vs. 12) And well he might have been terrified because God could not fail to keep his part of the covenant, which was to give Abraham a son born of his own loins and Sarah’s womb, through whom all nations of the world would be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3).
Abraham’s part of the covenant was to obey God, circumcise all males in his family and their families after him. The entire Old Testament is a testimony to the abject failure of Abraham’s progeny to obey God. The Law, I personally believe, was given through Moses, to bring that failure into focus, because NO ONE could keep it. The animal sacrifices were to remind the children of Israel, that if they failed to keep the Covenant, God could shed their blood like they shed the blood of the animals. When they saw the blood running down the altar, they were to remember the Covenant. And it is significant, I think, that each person who sacrificed an animal without spot or blemish had to cut the animal’s throat himself. The priest sprinkled the blood on the altar, but the person asking for forgiveness had to cut the animal’s throat (Lev. 17:9). Up close and personal with the blood would have made that a sobering moment, for sure.
Only an animal without spot or blemish was suitable for the sacrifice, which is why no human could qualify to do it. John said of Jesus when He came to be baptized in the Jordan, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The sinless and perfect Jesus was the only sacrifice which could take away the sins of the world in order that WE be reconciled to God, not the other way round. What a difference it makes when we consider that God loved us enough to say, “You broke the blood Covenant I made with Abraham, and by that agreement, I would be justified in spilling your blood, but because of my great love for you, I allow you to spill my blood instead.” Thus, God was in Christ on that cross for the purpose of wiping out the enmity and hatred we had for Him and replacing it with love and gratitude, that in spite of our many sins and our abject failure to keep the law, God loved us enough to die for us. And Jesus loved us enough to live in us and through us. These words came to me recently:
Higher than the heavens
Deeper than the sea,
God’s love is pulsing, throbbing,
Reaching you and me.
Our lives can never be the same
Once we’ve felt His presence
Before that we never really knew
Love truly is His essence.
Father, we fall on our faces in worship before you because You loved us and died for us when we were lost in sin, and now, wonder of wonders, You live in us and through us that we may be ambassadors of Your love to all the world. We give You all praise and honor and glory, now and forever more, world without end. Truly, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth and we are His children. Amen.