When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive — when love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream, and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room — plenty good room — for all of God’s children. And when love is the way, we actually treat each other … well … like we are actually family.
– Reverend Bishop Michael B. Curry, Saturday, May 19, 2018
I can’t tell you how many times I cheated on my first wife. Sure it was “only” via porn, but it was incredibly frequent, and damaging all around (my heart is heavy with sorrow just typing this). As it often is, my addiction was a numbing and an escape. More specifically, and why I’ve been sharing this “secret” in tandem with a blog series, belonging and love are ESSENTIAL aspects of living a thriving and full life. Certain, common things I used to believe about God left me feeling like I did NOT belong and was UNLOVED at a deep, primal, and cosmic level. Yet, coming to understand them as untrue and shifting my beliefs about our Source has not only freed me from porn, but also played a big part in my becoming more in love with life, people, and God than ever.
This is Part 4 in a series of blogs and totally stands alone, yet if you want more background on where I’m coming from and/or what I’ve already discussed, here’s the link to Part 1: https://gracenpeaceyoga.com/2018/05/13/lies-we-believe-about-god-part-1/
Before getting diving in, I’d like to emphasize I approach this with humility, awe, and an immense love for Christ.
God Needs Sacrifice
Are there verses in the Bible quoting God as asking for sacrifices? Sure. That’s where the culture was at that time. Pretty much all people groups in the Old Testament era thought their deities required sacrifices to be appeased. It was a tit-for-tat arrangement in which humans sacrificed children, animals, crops, etc. in order to feed their god/goddess, so that the deity would show them favor and bless them with children, land, crops, victory, etc. That said, God is WITH us and has always met us where we’re at, meaning when people thought our Creator required sacrifices to be appeased, for the sake of connection and relationship God let them.
We see a variety of voices in the Old Testament, usually prophets, saying God does NOT want or require sacrifice … in the way we usually understand it anyway. Micah famously declares:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.6-8, NRSV)
What I think Micah, other prophets, Jesus, Paul in Romans 12 (for instance), etc. are getting at can be summed up like this: God does NOT require blood sacrifice and death to be appeased. God names us beloved from the beginning, because like all good parents, our heavenly Parent takes GREAT pleasure in Her/His kids. What our Creator does call us to, though, is a sacrificial, Christ-like lifestyle. The long and short of this is LOVE, giving of our selves for the thriving and flourishing of people.
When we look at the Christ’s life, I believe we see justice, kindness, and humility modeled perfectly. Justice is a healing, mending, and restoration of anyone and anything that isn’t as they should/could be (i.e. illness, trauma, violence, hunger, poverty, oppression, racism, sexism, etc.). Kindness is having wide-open, vulnerable, compassionate hearts that yearn for thriving and flourishing for EVERYONE. I LOVE how Micah invites us to walk humbly WITH our God. Humility is going through life connected to our Source, seeing the interconnection of ALL people, considering ourselves neither better or worse than others, and employing our gifts, blessings, etc. for the goodness of others … like Christ.
God Killed Jesus &/Or Needed Jesus to Die on the Cross
I see this as very much related to the previous point, and I’ll start by saying (1) I believe Jesus’ death on the cross is absolutely CENTRAL, life-changing, and the most important thing ever, and (2) the Cross is a massive topic with large books devoted to it, so I’m only going to say a small part of what I could say/believe. I do NOT think God needed or arranged for Jesus to be killed, even though some verses seem to say this. I’ll simply say other verses, reason, and experience tell me otherwise. Our Creator tells us to love our enemies, that one day there will be peace and harmony among ALL beings (even ones antagonistic toward each other) because that is God’s desire/way, and that LOVE is the point of all the laws, so it seems nonsensical to me that the same God would REQUIRE Christ’s death to forgive us and be in right relationship with us. This would be a cosmic example of the classic parental saying, “do as I say and NOT as I DO,” and very much akin to parent telling a child “murder is wrong” while killing someone in cold blood; please forgive me for stating it so bluntly.
A pushback I hear on my take on this is: What about our sins? In response, I’d ask: Did God really need a sacrifice to atone for our sins? With that in mind, here’s another way to think of it: Is the Divine bound, confined, and beholden to someone/something else? Is there a cosmic law saying sins can’t just be forgiven, there MUST be blood to pay for them? Meaning God’s hands are tied behind God’s back and is forced to kill Jesus? Hopefully you see what I mean here. What is more, in the Gospels we see the Christ walking around and forgiving people of their individual sins at the drop of a hat (which gets Him in trouble with the religious leaders), and as Jesus hangs dying on the cross He preaches forgiveness.
My point here is this lead me to wonder: What is going on? Why the Cross? What’s important about it? And to conclude: I bet it’s something bigger, more amazing, and even more worthy of worship! Let me start by noting it seems to me the Gospels emphasize the importance and centrality of the cross without really explaining it very much, while Paul “explains” it with varying metaphors that match the audience he was writing to (a sacrificial metaphor to a religious city, a military metaphor to a military colony, an economic metaphor to a trade center, and so on). I point this out because I’ve come to understand religious language is often metaphorical (not literal) and/or story-driven (like Jesus’ parables) because it points us toward a Mystery, which is less knowable intellectually than it is experientially. What I’m saying is Jesus’ death on the cross changed everything, and while us describing it is fumbling in the dark, experiencing it has the power to save us.
That said, here’s a few thoughts 🙂 on what Jesus’ death did and why it matters SO MUCH. N.T. Wright writes on it’s how Christ became King of creation and started a revolution of divine love, wherein we follow the Way of Christ and give of ourselves for the thriving and flourishing of all beings. Jesus became King by revealing to us on the cross what God is like and what power is for. Think of it this way (I’m paraphrasing the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 here): God is all-powerful, so Jesus being Divinecouldhave used this power for control, riches, gain, and domination, but instead showed godly power is always and forever manifested as an outpouring, a giving, and a sacrifice for the benefit and blessing of others.
When it comes to the Bible, a general principle that will guide you well is, when you read “you”, assume it’s plural, because most of them are. Along these lines, the ancients (i.e. people alive when the Bible was written) didn’t have a conception of self or individual like we have, that notion came much later. Instead, they understood things communally and collectively. Thus, I can and will emphatically state: Jesus died for our Sin. We need look no further than the news and see the mass shootings, genocides, wars, terrorism, fear of wars, missiles, etc. to know there’s something wrong. In Nazi Germany, GOOD and loving people contributed in various ways to the killing of MILLIONS of Jews. Why? Sin. There are collective forces, structures, spirits, or whatever you want to call them that enslave us and leads us, often without knowing it, to hurt, harm, and hinder.
Perhaps the primary force/lie/spirit here is violence. It seems to me we’ve long been collectively subjugated to the notion that violence solves things; we’vethought violence will reconnect us to God (sacrifice), solve disputes (wars), stop crime (prison and death sentences), calm our fears/anxiety (gun ownership), etc. YET, have any of those worked? NO! Violence just leads to more violence. So, to end this Sin, on the cross Jesus subjected Himself to the worst violence imaginable by responding with LOVE and FORGIVNESS to free us from the demonic hold of violence.
I don’t know about you, but I got excited about how FANTASTIC Jesus and the Way of Christ is just by writing that! While I could say WAY more I’ll conclude this part with what I believe is one of the other essential aspects of Jesus’ death on the cross. Sin and Death are the enemies of God and humanity, and perhaps even more than the spirit of Sin, we are beholden to the fear of Death. We strive to stay looking young, make a name for ourselves, solidify our legacies, avoid grey hairs, etc. because we are deathly afraid of Death. To paraphrase the eloquence of Brian Zahnd: Christ died and went into hades to fill Death with Himself, so that when we die we experience nothing but Christ. God didn’t need Jesus to die, but we did, because death is not only flipping scary, it’s NOT how things are supposed to be, so the Christ defeated it!
God is Impassive
I’ll end with one last, and much quicker one. 🙂 From the Greek’s we’ve inherited the notion that God is unfeeling, and has no emotions. Author and professor Richard Beck puts this really well, so I’ll just quote him:
“The problem with the brand ‘impassive’ is that it doesn’t invoke the positive background of God’s love. God emotions are unchanging in the sense that God never ceases loving you. God is unmoved in the sense that nothing you can do can cause God’s love to waver or decrease.God is impassive in the sense that God is love and never, ever, falters from that love. God’s love is faithful and true and sure and unchanging and eternal.
Thus, the ‘emotions’ of God are more relational than emotional. Given how I stand in relation to God’s love God’s relationship to me can be described as joyful, sorrowful, or wrathful. Not in the sense that God is “reacting to me,” but in how my actions against the backdrop of love creates shadows of contrast.
The framing here isn’t that God is emotionless, but that God is unwavering, eternal, unchanging love.
And given that God is love, no matter what I do God will not ‘feel’ toward me anything but love.”
That seems a fitting place to in this one. I “think” there’ll just be one more in this series. May these words bring you life, love, and closer to God.
Grace and peace,