Comments: Easter opinions

Congrats, Canon Fraser! (And a blessed Easter to all!)

Posted by Kurt at Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 7:18pm BST

I don't know how it's possible to excise the idea of substitutionary sacrifice completely from the atonement. Sure it's a very challenging notion for people not raised in a sacrificial religion but it's there none-the-less. Surely it has to remain as one metaphor amongst several - even if it is not painted quite so starkly and horribly as Giles does. God himself provides the sacrifice - and sin always has its price (consequences) even if it is not necessarily God who requires these.

The other problem I have with the idea that the notion of sacrifice is not necessary at all is that it encourages the modern belief that sin doesn't really matter and the idea that God doesn't have to keep the moral rules of the universe. Doesn't this make him the most repugnant of dictators?

Posted by Drew_Mac at Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 8:43pm BST

Thank you Jonathon for reminding us how Christianity became co-opted by tyrannical tendencies. Thank you Giles for reminding us that God is loving and compassionate.

God so loved this world that when the world cried out from its torment by Satan, God bounced Satan out of office. God so loved this world that when Gaia requested a male guardian, and the Jews cried for a new messiah, God gave them Jesus.

Jesus did some pretty fine tap-dancing to convince, Gaia, the Cherubim of the Ark and others that he could be trusted to fulfill the scriptures in a loving and gentle way. He went so far as to send a direct message to the Daughter of Zion not to be afraid, for her messiah came gentle riding on the back of a donkey.

Who are Jesus' friends? Are they those who think that songs of praise and communion wine and bread white wash over their greed, deceit, tyranny and abuse? Or are they those who comprehend that Jesus was given missives by God, and that he is held accountable for whether or not they are being fulfilled? A true friend is the one who reminds you of your dreams and hopes, and puts you into to tune with your conscience.

When you hear a beautiful choir, God knows which of those children have been molested by priests. When you here a wonderful sermon, God knows which of those priests have contrived to deny succour to their communities. No amount of human prayers or offerings bring Jesus into grace with God, only Jesus own conduct and integrity can do that. When he is silent while his churches abuse and lie, then like his corrupt priests, he is also out of grace.

God honors covenants, even when the soul is not perfect. The covenant of Noah stands, even though he was a drunk; the covenants with Moses stand, even though he struck the earth; the covenant with Zion stands, even though she is female; the covenant with Jesus stands, even though he has not been gentle.

God is not diminished by the inadequacies of others, nor will God allow others to claim they are God, when they are not; to say that God approves, when God does not; or to say that God does not care, when God does.

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 10:29pm BST

Canon Fraser seems to assume that any sacrificial view of the Crucifixion or the Eucharist is tied up with the doctrine of Substitionary Atonement. I think that's a mistake.

Posted by BillyD at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 12:23am BST

Thank you, Giles Fraser!
To me, the notion of Jesus of Nazareth living a wonderful life, preaching and practicing a wonderful ministry, and then being sacrificed to appease God is bizarre. Cruel, bloodthirsty, and capricious. Especially when you consider, according to orthodox Christian teaching that God’s Son -- Jesus of Nazareth -- was part of God from the beginning, is now part of God, and will always be part of God.
So God creates humanity, knowing that humanity is prone to error and sin. From the beginning, God also knows that God’s Son is going to have to come to Earth in order to be sacrificed, and thereby satiate God's demand for a perfect blood sacrifice for everyone's sins. So God sacrifices God in order to meet the demands of God!
It is high time that Jesus' death, execution, and triumph be taken out of the language of a 1st Century candidate for Jewish Temple priesthood – St. Paul.
Even in the Jewish Scriptures -- the Old Testament -- the later writings are moving away from blood sacrifice. There are references to the stench of sacrificed animals being revolting to God. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit, according to Psalm 51:17. Or see Micah 6:6-8
The story of Jesus is powerful. The story of the transformation of the apostles and followers after his death is inspiring. To wrap it in blood sacrifice or substitution atonement theory takes a transforming story and traps it in archaic concepts.
Drew_mac, sin, bad behavior, etc., demands atonement by the individual, not through sacrficing animals or humans, but through a change in course, restitution, or, if so desired, punishment.

Posted by peterpi at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 1:45am BST

Thanks, as so often, to Giles.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 8:13am BST

"No, Jesus is not a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God."

See, I usually like Giles Fraser a lot, but this statement, because it is correct, is incorrect in a sense. Jesus is indeed not a blood sacrifice to appease a viscious God. But that doesn't mean that His death on the Cross isn't a sacrifice. I read a piece, I thought by Fraser, where he drew the comparison with a firefighter who dies rescuing a child. We would all agree the firefighter sacrificed her life, but how many would say it was necessary because of the sins of the parents, or worse, the child? So, when we refer to Christ's sacrifice, are we really using the word with a meaning other than the intended one? There are several problems. First, more traditional Christians have a sense of revulsion against PSA. It turns the Gospel, and the understanding of God that comes from it, on its ear. We know it is a perverse misrepresentation of God, and in part it makes us angry that anyone could say such horrible things about our Friend. Second, we don't really understand sacrifice any more. Not in this sense, anyway. Third, as someone has said, we really don't like the idea of sin. Look at the number of people, even here, who are quite willing to acknowledge they are not perfect, but angrily reject the idea that they are sinners. Likely, that's because those who so loudly promote PSA also have the idea that sinner equals criminal, and like so many other Christian terms, they have changed the meaning of "sinner" so effectively that even those of us who ought to know better have a difficult time remembering the truth. I'm sure there's more. I don't really understand his linking of sacrificial imagery for the crucifixion with African ritual murder, either, unless it's the similarities between it and PSA. But just because we find PSA loathsome is no reason to ignore the sacrificial imagery that attends the Crucifixion. Instead, we ought to be trying for new and clearer understandings of one of the central mysteries of our faith.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 12:40pm BST

I hadn't thought of that before - Saul looking for a job as a Temple priest. What did they say, "Given the locals and these Romans, it's likely only to be a temporary post." But then they all were, if Saul was susceptible to belief in the last days. Perhaps the priests didn't like being told it was now only a temporary job. So they told him to go and do something else. So he went off touring the synagogues instead, peaching for evermore the incompatibility between having a Messiah and following the Law, and then thought there was a religion he could organise once he met those who had their Messiah who was about to come back.

Posted by Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 2:21pm BST

"..sin, bad behavior, etc., demands atonement by the individual, not through sacrficing animals or humans, but through a change in course, restitution, or, if so desired, punishment."

I thought the point about the cross was that *God* himself suffered, not simply some innocent animal or human, to bring an end to the OT sacrificial system which was, after all, only a metaphor for the seriousness of sin - which is something so serious that humans CANNOT atone for their own sins by any means. I doubt that any sort of ontological ransom was *really* paid to God or anyone else - but these are all *metaphors* which may help, or not according to your background or culture. If the metaphor of sacrifice is useless to some there are others in the pages of the NT - but really we can't pretend that it isn't there just because we find it challenging and uncomfortable.

The cross shows us both that sin causes serious suffering and that it can be forgiven through self-sacrificial love - NOT through some sort of sadistic or masochistic transaction to placate a vicious God.

Posted by Drew_Mac at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 2:51pm BST

Yes BillyD I agree it looks that way. Christ was obedient even unto death...and God has highly exalted him. I agree with those who here suggest an orthodox kind of Patripassianism is a helpful angle. But the sacrifice arising out of God's love is for US rather than for him and Giles is right to keep banging on about there being no need for appeasing God in any way.

Posted by Neil at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 4:00pm BST

"sin causes serious suffering and that it can be forgiven through self-sacrificial love" - Drew_Mac
Agreed. What you said needs no "Substitution Atonement" theology. Sin is harmful, and needs major personal atonement by the person who sins, a sacrifice of one's spirit, to fix it. If I sin, then Jesus of Nazareth’s death by crucifixion doesn’t atone for the sin. Only by my own actions, by a change in my own behavior, can I accomplish it.
Jesus preached a new way to approach God and atonement. A way that did not involve unthinking ritualistic following of rules without looking deeper at what the rules intended: "Gee, if I do A, B, and C, in the right order, then God will be pleased with me and I don’t have to change." A way that did not involve killing harmless animals to atone for one's own behavior: "I just beat someone up. Now I have to go sacrifice a bull to make God happy." A way that said you are personally responsible to yourself and others.
To me, Jesus was trying to reform a religion under siege by internal and external forces and pressures. He challenged the authorities and the prevailing world-view. He was freeing people and preaching a new revelation about how to approach God -- an approach that would put powerful people out in the cold and unemployed. He was also being deliberately provocative – and he did so at Passover, a holiday of religious freedom. It was in the interests of both the Jewish temple worship authorities and the Roman rulers to silence him. History states that Pontius Pilate was a cruel and ruthless tyrant. Crucifying a trouble-maker wouldn’t have slowed him down in the slightest if he thought it would leave a message for the locals as they began Passover.
But if the Jewish Temple authorities and the Roman rulers thought executing Jesus would chasten and frighten his followers, they ultimately failed. Something happened that instead transformed them. That “something” is the Easter message.

Posted by peterpi at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 7:01pm BST

"Sin is harmful, and needs major personal atonement by the person who sins, a sacrifice of one's spirit, to fix it."

And yet the message of the whole of scripture, not just a bit of it, is that humans cannot atone for their own sins - that's why "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

I'm not a great fan of the Substitutionary Atonement theory and do understand the criticisms but I don't see that we can just ditch it without ditching the whole Bible and starting a new religion.

Posted by Drew_Mac at Monday, 13 April 2009 at 8:06pm BST

"The death and resurrection of Jesus show that God's life is inexhaustible, and cannot be curbed by our arid and muddle-headed judgments."
- Jane Williams -

Here is a woman theologian (the wife of our ABC), telling it to us exactly how it is - that God bypasses our tendency to judge others, and ourselves, by our standards. Rather, by his self-offering through Jesus on the Cross, God has offered us 'the new and living way', breaking though the Temple Veil, and revealing to all humankind what Love and Mercy are all about.

This just proves the veracity of the old saying that the Gospel is about one poor person showing other poor people where to find Bread. In Christ there is, indeed, no condemnation - to all who look to Jesus for the fullness of Life. Alleluia!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 2:01am BST

A small point, peterpi. Jesus or followers of ritual order would not say:

"Gee, if I do A, B, and C, in the right order, then God will be pleased with me and I don’t have to change."

Because "Gee" is a corruption of Jesus, and that would be like talking to himself or addressing him on a non-him matter.

I thank you (exit stage left).

Posted by Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) at Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 5:30am BST

"I'm not a great fan of the Substitutionary Atonement"

Nor am I, frankly, I think it borders on blasphemous. All the same, there is an element of punishment in the way the Crusifixion is approached in Scripture. I just don't think it forms the basis of the message. And it was a joy to find out it is not a core part of the Tradition. The Real Orthodox find it very dodgy, in fact, blame it for the decline of faith in the West.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 2:08pm BST

'And yet the message of the whole of scripture, not just a bit of it, is that humans cannot atone for their own sins - that's why "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."'

Quite so. If I could atone for my own sins, what would I need Jesus - or you lot - for?

Posted by BillyD at Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 5:19pm BST

Glossing over distinct (even if subtle, language) uses and meanings of sacrifice, simply will not do. Did glossing ever do?

Sin has innate consequences.

When we humans miss the mark – when we intentionally aim low and target others to get favors or rewards; surely we are diminished in all our relations – to God, to neighbors, to self. A simplistic sacrifice gloss on all that hamartia-consequence? Sounds well meant among many posters here. I'm disquieted, the sacrifice gloss is wanting. Our deepest, best grasp of what sin is, can hardly be that, Somebody Somewhere Must Pay. (After a proper interrogation with policing by state or religion, no doubt.)

Better to emphasize the self-giving, caritas, agape elements. Agape actually redeems - even terrible forms of human suffering, suffering for, and suffering with.

Of course Jesus was sacrificed.

WE crucified Jesus, preferring our regular human worship - obeisance to power, religious and cultural status, deep fears of change, our deep senses of superiority, and all that endless lot.

Sacrifices do not yet utterly disappear. Best guess is that we still hunger terribly for somebody we can sacrifice. Looking at ourselves reflected in the crucifixion, we must surely see our needs for sacrifice. After that we may see through, getting a changed glimpse of our sacrificial religious images, doctrines, and preachments. Haven't we so typically yet again, enshrined our hungers as essentially divine?

A sea change in perspectives on sacrifice is occurring, then, in our era.

Just as in everyday jurisprudence we are understanding that punishment is not change, let alone justice. Our reliable, contrary result is, once the offender is released, he or she is quite likely to be as violent (if, indeed, not more violent) than he or she was before we punished.

We continue to search, for real, effective, positive, enduring change - real repentance, real change of heart, mind, spirit.

Just a tip: developmental behavioral studies show that parents who use physical punishment get benefits of strongly suppressing child misbehaviors until no adult is watching; while parents who use time outs or other teaching/quasi-teaching methods of discipline regularly encourage childhood growth in conscience and in positive self-management by the child. I think we have a clue there, somehow, to something deeper and better than most valorzied religious notions of sacrifice as redemptive.

Posted by drdanfee at Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 10:05pm BST

"If I could atone for my own sins"

I think we need to unpack this phrase a bit. Look at it in the light of the quote about Christ "reconciling the world to Himself." We tend to think of sin as crime, of forgiveness being about punishment, and atonement gets lumped in to that. But "reconciling" something to something else, like two email address books, is not about punishing one address book because it isn't like the other. It's about making them the same. So, Christ takes our imperfections and makes them perfect. "He became as we are so that we could become as He is." In so far as our imperfections, our Sin, has made us commit crimes, what we usually think of as 'sin', those are removed as well, or at least our guilt of them. But I think this idea of sin=crime and all that has come to be attached to that has led us far astray. I think that what we usually think of as sin: I swore, I was unkind, I killed somebody, I didn't share my goods with those who have less, in the words of my exRC friends who remember their days of Confession "IsaidbadwordsIthoughtbadthoughtsIwasrudetomymotherItouchedmyselfinabadplace"(all one word) they're not really sin, they're the effects of sin. So, atonement that merely results in expunging of the guilt of past crime is just treating the symptom. Christ's atonement treats the disease.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 6:59pm BST

Well, Ford, sort of. There's sin, the condition, and there are sins, the acts in which we act out on that condition.

Bottom line: killing someone is still a sin, even if it's not sin.

Posted by BillyD at Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 2:44am BST

I'm sorry, but if the individual doesn't acknowledge his or her own sinful behavior and try to change it, if a person doesn't try to atone for their own sins, then -- according to classic Christian theology -- Jesus may have died on the cross for that individual, but in vain.
Jesus the Christ isn't a combination of Santa Claus and Superman. He isn't going to save us from ourselves if we're just going along for the ride.
There has to be real change in the individual. At the absolute minimum an acknowledgment that we harmed another individual or acted against God. Ideally, that we mend our ways and try to do better. If our sin harmed another, that we try to make that person whole. That's what I consider personal atonement.

Posted by peterpi at Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 4:47am BST

"Christ's atonement treats the disease."

TS Eliot (East Coker)

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

I certainly appreciate that Orthodox treatment of what happens in atonement - but it still leaves those difficult questions levelled at Substitutionary atonement.

Why did our healer have to die on the cross to heal us? Was there not a less violent way to achieve the cure?

Posted by Drew_Mac at Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 8:42am BST

Do not overlook the fact, in your rush of Christian adulation, that there was (And is)salvation in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish people long before the death, or even the birth of Jesus.

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 10:14pm BST

"Why did our healer have to die on the cross to heal us? Was there not a less violent way to achieve the cure?" - Drew_Mac -

And herein lies the question: Did God put Christ on the Cross? Or was this the action of the very human beings Christ came to redeem?

My feeling is that God knew that Christ would have to endure the Cross, but it was not God's plan to put him there. God just knew it was a distinct possibility. And who was it that made the determination? Not the Roman Governor, but rather the religious officials of Jesus' day.

Kenosis is the word we need to describe this self-offering of the God of Love, who was willing to undergo the pains of death in order to deliver us from the inevitable possibility of extinction.
This was no act of masochism - rather the extremity of divinely redemptive LOVE.

However! Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Deo gratias!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 17 April 2009 at 3:43am BST

To follow the logic of this story through, how good of God to choose a Roman regime on the edge of empire that would kill perceived opponents and disturbers at the drop of a hat. Couldn't God have waited for more restrained times in more favourable circumstances in order to reveal his loving son?

The more you think this through, the more absurd it gets.

Posted by Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) at Friday, 17 April 2009 at 2:07pm BST

"Do not overlook the fact, in your rush of Christian adulation, that there was (And is)salvation in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish people long before the death, or even the birth of Jesus."

That being the case, one wonders why Jesus didn't just save himself the bother...

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 17 April 2009 at 3:57pm BST

Fr. Ron Smith, stoning was the Jewish form of execution. Romans used crucifixion. Jesus didn't build his own cross, lug it to Golgotha, nail himself to it, and somehow get the cross erect. The Jewish authorities didn't nail Jesus to the cross, carry him to Golgotha, and place the cross upright. Yes, Jewish authorities were responsible for bringing the charges, but it was the Roman authorities who determined he was a trouble-maker, and it was Roman authorities who determined his sentence, flogged him, forced him to walk with the cross partway, nailed him to it, and executed him by crucifixion.
So sorry, but I categorically reject St. John's (and other Gospel writers'?) assertion that "the Jews" this and "the Jews" that. Jewish authorities charged him with crimes, Roman authorities executed him
Last time I checked, the Episcopal Palm Sunday liturgy, in a communal reading of the Passion story, has the members of the congregation itself saying "Crucify him!"

Posted by peterpi at Friday, 17 April 2009 at 7:50pm BST

Substitionary Atonement models are despicable. There are some cultures/faiths that prefer the male authority figure with the females dependent. When the men are given prison sentences, they send one of their female relatives to do their time for them. Some mystics suggests there are male/female soul-mates and that the female gets hammered by God until the male comes to his senses, and then the male is meant to heal the female.

Sacrificial paradigms need to be thrown out. Sociopathic males don't give a toss and never get around to healing the females (or vice versa). Rather Ezekiel 18 should apply - the male is dealt with as the male does, and the female as the female does.

The other problem with sacrificial/intimidation strategies is they make out God is harder than God actually is. A useful strategy if you want to build a church based on intimidation and tyranny, but not good if you are genuinely committed to bringing peace to this earth.

Jesus had to be resurrected - otherwise God was without mercy. The actions to affirm Jesus were as much to put Satan back into his place as to confirm Jesus' annointment. Some of that "loving Jesus so much" was more "yes, we really are demoting you" to Satan. You see, both Satan and Jesus have nearly unsinkable egos. Satan could not believe that "the most favoured" guardian would be bounced out of his job. Jesus now has to learn that his annointment was not a license to repeat Satan's mistakes - but rather an affirmation of how much God despises idolatry and tyranny.

Rev L is right, salvation was there before Jesus. Isaiah 49 or Romans 2:14-16 "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets..."

There are other covenants that are part of God's plan and those players cooperate with Jesus when he and his Christians are behaving themselves. It was in everyone's best interests to have one annointed guardian of the planet, Jesus does not exist in isolation, and the whole deck of cards requires co-operation.

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Friday, 17 April 2009 at 10:27pm BST

"The more you think this through, the more absurd it gets."

Yes, exactly - to those who are without the benefit of faith. As Saint Paul says: "If it was God's wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the FOOLISHNESS of the message that we preach ... a crucified Christ; to the Jews (of which Saul/Paul was one) an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdon, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength' (1 Corintians 1:21-25)

Peterpi. I agree that we cannot limit the category of those who crucified Jesus. Sinful humanity bears the responsibility - but not the guilt; for Jesus asked his Father to "Forgive them - for they know not what they do" . Jesus has 'taken our guilt away'. The Passion Gospel rightly uses members of the congregation to say the words "Crucify him!" - as a token of our common responsibility, as human beings and sinbners, for his death.

BUT, Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Deo gratias!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 17 April 2009 at 11:10pm BST

'But life has meaning and depth that we can hardly imagine, and we find it today in the fire and bread and wine
of Easter.'

And Canon Lucy writes this having referred to the need for 'translation' a society where most adults live their lives without reference to any organised religion. It's a story we hear through a series of cultural filters, and, for a modern generation unfamiliar with its vocabulary and characters, it needs translation.

As commentators say on the Telegraph thread...where is the good news...feel good generalisations...platitudes to ease the ear.
And what a terrible and ghastly strap-line!

Good Lord deliver us from such watery wine.

Posted by Neil at Saturday, 18 April 2009 at 12:19am BST

"Why did our healer have to die on the cross to heal us?"

Because the Incarnation was about taking the entirety of the human experience and restoring it to its original state. So, the Incarnate God had to die, death is a part of being human. The classic mythology is that it didn't stop there. He then endured what all endured up to that point: going to the place of the dead: Gehenna for Jews, Hell for Germanic peoples, Hades for the Greeks, Ad for the Slavs, Imenty for the Egyptians, and on and on. He then destroyed those places in which the souls had been long imprisoned. Hence the shattered doors and broken locks on icons of the Resurrection. Now, why did it have to be Crucifixion, why didn't He just die in His sleep? Because the suffering of viscious abuse at the hands of other humans, especially when one is guiltless, is also a part of being human. It happens over and over. By suffering the worst that Fallen Creation had to offer us humans, including mistreatment by our fellow humans, He entered fully into the act of BEING human, thereby redeeming humanity. By that logic, would it not have been necessary to carry out the worst acts humans are capable of as well as just enduring them? I haven't figured that part out yet.

"I categorically reject...."the Jews" that."

I think you'll find Western Christianity agrees with you here, hence the clause in the Reproaches on Good Friday. I see the scene that morning in the Praetorium as a small group of politicians concerned for their own necks, having gotten a rabble they could manipulate. There can't have been room for that many people on the Pavement, after all. I think you'll also find that most modern theologians agree with this point as well, and it is quite evident in Good Friday liturgies, which is where is SHOULD be made most evident. It has also been one of the rubrics after the Creed in the Canadian Anglican liturgy for quite some time.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 20 April 2009 at 4:36pm BST
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