Substitutionary Atonement Is Miracle Gro For Atheists 

I was perusing the ol’ Facebooks earlier today, and I ran into this picture:

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Here is quote from a “Christian” on the Facebook thread under this picture–“Very hilarious when all of you unbelievers burn for eternity, I myself wouldn’t want my worst enemy to suffer that way, so criticize the Lord all you want, but I feel really sorry for you. I will be praying for all.” And we wonder why so many people are leaving the Church…

This meme represents a very common belief in Christianity–The idea that “Jesus got what you deserve.” Which is, I guess–as most Christian theology suggests–an agonizing death on a cross, and three-ish days in hell. Most of the Church believes that we (humanity) are all worthless (Total Depravity), and that we all deserve to go to hell to be tortured forever. The other side of this coin is the concept is know as “Atonement,” and for much of the Christian Church, this is a central tenet of their theology…. And thus a central tenet of their understanding of who God is.

"Quid pro quo, Clarice." Sometimes my old understanding of God seems more like Hannibal Lecter than it probably should...

“Quid pro quo, Clarice.” Sometimes my old understanding of God seems more like Hannibal Lecter than it probably should…

There are many different understandings of Atonement, but most of them have to do with making reparations for wrongs. In the Old Testament (as well as much of the Old Testament world), the process of “making things right” between God and mankind was accomplished through sacrifice. The world–for thousands of years–has had a model of taking care of sin and evil that basically boiled down to “blood for blood.” It was quid pro quo… tit for tat… An eye for an eye. To people living in the earliest, most fear-filled stages of human consciousness, God was (is) a wrath-filled being for whom only perfection was good enough. He was (is) the angry volcano God, demanding our virgins be tossed in, in order to propitiate his violence (Propitiation is the process of appeasing the wrath of God. As in, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” ~ I John 2:2… I say this to mention the fact that this way of seeing things is definitely in the Bible).

"Want a lick? Psych!" I imagine Abraham looking a little bit like Eddie Murphy here.

“Want a lick? Psych!” I imagine Abraham looking a little bit like Eddie Murphy here.

For example, take the story of Abraham hearing from God that he was going to need sacrifice his son Isaac. The point of this story is not that God sometimes requires human sacrifice. Or that God is the sort of Being that pulls a giant “PSYCH!” on the people he supposedly loves (“Ha! I totally had you going there, Abe. Man, you should have seen your face… You were like, ‘Is this dude seriously going to make me kill the son he promised me?!? You were TOTALLY crying… And now you’ve got some tears on your tunic.” **God points at Abraham’s tunic, Abraham looks down, God flips Abraham’s nose** “GOTCHA AGAIN!!! When are you going to learn?? If I was tweeting this, I’d end it with #sucker.” ~ God). But the Bible does not give a target as much as it provides a trajectory. It shows us a direction–An expanding and unfolding understanding of the heart of God for the creation that he loves.

Don't play charades at my house either...

Don’t play charades at my house either…

So listen–in the time in the Bible was written, human sacrifice was common enough that everyone knew about it. The gods were pissed, and it was believed that in order to appease their anger and punishment, you had to give up your best stuff… crops, animals, sometimes even your kids. So when they told the story about Abraham going up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac, they were all probably like “I know how THIS is going to end.” But in that Biblical story, whether there was an actual person named Abraham who was 100 years old when he had an actual son named Isaac with his 90 year old wife Sarah was not the point–the POINT was that THIS God–THEIR God–is DIFFERENT… Different than those mysterious and capricious gods who demand blood to keep their wrath at bay. And sure, in this story they only moved away from human sacrifice to sacrificing a ram (one which God provided)… But that was at least SOMETHING. Baby steps, right? Baby steps toward the heart of God. And God, in his loving and patient way, only reveals the extent of his goodness that our hearts and minds are ready to hear.

So the old model of how atonement works was basically this–We’re all garbage, and as we embody that garbage (sin), we put our sin on an animal, and then we kill that animal (or scapegoat it), because God requires blood. God requires that TRANSACTION. But the Old Testament is full of verses that speak of how God is not really interested in transaction–He is interested in transformation. Psalm 40:6 says, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire– but my ears you have opened.” I Samuel 15:22 says that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” Jesus himself quoted Hosea when he said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'”

Atheists be like, "So you're telling me God had to sacrifice himself to himself to change a rule that HE MADE?!?"

Atheists be like, “So let me get this straight–You’re telling me God had to sacrifice himself to himself to change a rule that HE MADE?!?”

And so, to me it makes infinitely more sense that, as Richard Rohr says, “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.” What if we’ve been getting this Atonement model wrong all along? Because the thing is, this model–with all of our sins being put on Jesus, and him being punished for them–It doesn’t even make any SENSE. We tell this story because it fulfills a desire in us for justice–for a transaction–but killing someone who is innocent for the crimes of the guilty is the farthest thing from “justice.” Imagine with me for a moment…

Let’s say I had a town. It’s actually my town. It’s called Boeskooltown, and I make the rules. And the people in the town are there because I allow them to be there. In this town, what I say GOES. I know what’s happening in my town, and I’m powerful enough to enforce the rule…. Rules that I created.

Imagine there’s a middle-schooler living in Boeskooltown… Her name is Emma (because every middle schoolers name is Emma. Because Friends). She is sweet and awkward and funny, and sometimes afraid and annoying and selfish. Now, let’s say that Emma’s step dad–A grown-ass man named Jimmy–just beats the actual hell out of Emma… Like “barely even recognize her anymore” kind of beating.

Now imagine that I, as the man in charge of the town, reveal a way–because I love the citizens of my town–of forgiving Jimmy. And that way is this: Instead of punishing Jimmy for the awful thing that he’s done, I’ve decided to punish my own kid, who is completely innocent of any crime. And then I tell you all–Citizens of Boeskooltown–that my punishing of an innocent for Jimmy’s crime is actually because I demand… (wait for it)… “Justice?” Is there any better example of INJUSTICE than an innocent person being punished for someone else’s crimes? Is there a scenario where this makes sense–Especially if I’m the one making the rules?

Wait, God REQUIRED this??

Wait, the Good Father Jesus spoke of  REQUIRED this?? That’s certainly enough to make people fear him… but LOVE him?

Atonement says, “Someone has to pay for this,” but every single thing about Jesus–His words, his life… even his death–reveals and embodies a God who does not function that way. Atonement says, “Something has to die!” but Jesus looks at us and says, “That something is you–The false you.” Atonement looks for a way to span the perceived chasm between us and God, but the Incarnation and the Word of God cry out “Emanuel! God is with us!Atonement says “An eye for an eye,” but the best picture we have of God says, “You have heard it said… but I tell you…” I mean, Jesus flat out tells us that loving our enemies is being like God. If there was something that atonement needed to “make right,” it was our understanding of the nature of God.

IMG_1443

All you have to do is look at this picture of these shopping carts to know that there is human brokenness. And yeah, I went to Walmart. I’m part of the problem. Leave me alone, I’m poor.

Then Jesus dies–in such a horrible way–and we’re left trying to make sense of it all. And that ancient voice speaks up and says “Our brokenness was (is) too much for God to handle.” For thousands of years, humanity was unable to believe in, or even imagine, a God who was loving enough to love us in all of our brokenness. And I am not oblivious to the brokenness… One needs only open your eyes to see it. But there is goodness in humanity as well. And just in case no one has ever told you before–You don’t deserve to go to a place called “Hell” where you are tortured forever. You are not worthless. You are loved by God. And your brokenness is not too much for God. He still looks at us–his creation–with the same loving eyes he had in Genesis 1, when he said “Very good.”

"It's a chopper, baby."

Grace is a chopper, baby.

We are skeptical of this free lunch called “Grace.” We think, “There must be some catch. Can we really TRUST this God? Could he really be this good? Could God really love us this much?” So when Jesus dies, everyone figures that THIS must be the one giant payment–the final transaction–by which God’s wrath is appeased. And they did this because their minds weren’t ready to be able to imagine a God who is not interested in transaction. But again… God is not interested in transaction–He is interested in transformation. And when we force there to still be a transaction, we take away the real beauty, the real love, and the real power of an act of mercy.

Beautiful tune. Harmful theology.

Beautiful tune. Harmful theology.

We want all the accounts to be paid, because the real thing that offends us is grace. We look around at all this mess, and we say “SOMEONE HAS TO PAY FOR THIS!” And to hear otherwise offends us to our very core, but that is what God has been saying all along. He’s been saying “You can trust me. I love you, and I’ve got this. Now LIVE that way.” He said (says) it in creation, he said (says) it in the incarnation, and he said (says) it in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus… It’s just that people weren’t ready to hear it. And this is why Jesus said, “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.” Many of us still cannot bear it yet; nonetheless, Jesus still speaks to us today: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Today’s Patron shout out goes to Logan Arkema. It makes me feel really old to say that I can clearly remember when this dude was BORN. What a fine young man he has grown to be… Thank you, Logan, for valuing what I do enough to help support it. If you want to be like Logan, you can do that HERE. Also, if you want to ask me something directly you can do that on Twitter or also on Facebook. I love discussing this stuff.

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34 Responses to Substitutionary Atonement Is Miracle Gro For Atheists 

  1. theboeskool says:

    And before you all tell me how much of a heretic I am, I am aware that there is a really good Biblical case for a substitutionary understanding of atonement. And yeah, I think Paul would have disagreed with me… I just think that Paul would have been wrong. Just like he got a lot of stuff wrong–Stuff about slavery, women, and other things. We venerate him almost to the point of idolatry, but Paul was not infallible. He did not have a complete understanding of all this–At least not if you trust the words of Paul himself… because he talks about seeing “through a glass, darkly,” and he says, “Now I know IN PART.” He says things like “It SEEMED good to the Holy Spirit and us…”

    • PastorM says:

      At present, I am finishing James Boyce’s Born Bad about the history of the doctrine of original sin and its impact on the Western world. Your post goes along well with some of his insights.

      I have wondered about the relationship of imago dei and original sin, total depravity, etc.

      Thanks for your post.

    • youngman44 says:

      A couple of thoughts: I actually don’t think you’re heretical and think there are several quality, conservative scholars who question these issues (e.g., Michael Gorman, Joel Green). But, even they see a difference between “penal substitutionary atonement” (which in your box above you define as “subst-atonement”) and “substitutionary atonement.” There is a nuanced difference between God becoming a substitute sacrifice for another to save that person from His own wrath vs God dying to save someone from their own self-destructive, freely chosen path and drawing them away from that through love by bearing that sin – this is contra-Reformed Calvinism (there is still a form of substitution but not the Calvinist, penal-kind).

      On Paul – leaving aside the debates over Paul’s inspiration – I think your reading of Paul on slavery and women is a shallow, a-contextual reading; you might consider Daniel Kirk’s, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? or William Webb’s, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, to name but a few. When Paul is read in his context, he’s women affirming and subverting slavery. He just does it (as God so often throughout the biblical story; and as Jesus himself worked within his own cultural milieu) often through a very subversive, slow process of not overturning the culture; but instead applying the medicine of the cross to the cultural ‘rules’ in such a way that would undermine and eventually overthrow power.
      Peace!

  2. Michael says:

    Excellent Chris! Do you mind if I preach this? (I’m going to anyway, just thought I would do the “Christian” thing and ask, you know?) Seriously…GREAT!!

  3. Joey Tipping says:

    All I can say to this post is AMEN! God bless you.

  4. Beej says:

    Chris, Chris, Chris. seriously, dude, get out of my head, or more accurately, my heart. I have, as of late, been very torn in my spirituality. I actually said to Amy earlier today “I really don’t want to be an atheist…”, but I have so much to reconcile. I currently don’t consider myself a “Christian” by the mainstream definition right now. Maybe a “I like that Jesus fellow-tian?” People praying for good fortune, like a new car or job, while children are starving and innocent people are being gunned down by “God’s chosen people” just does not sit well with me…AT ALL. I personally don’t believe in prayer, at least not how it’s presented currently. But i’m working on myself, and my understanding. Keep up what you do, brother. You know I love you and your heart.

    • Hi Beej,

      I don’t know you, but based on your short response, which is amazing in its candid personal revelations and encouragement, I wish I did.

      Justice is a huge concern, and we see a lot of injustice, often by people who claim Christianity compels them to act the way they do. I can’t apologize for other people who are offensive, or defend them. I don’t think I can condemn them either. There are always going to be people who are afraid, and who hurt others because of it. I have been one of them at times. Sometimes I get stuff wrong because of my fear. Hopefully this won’t be one of those times.

      I’m writing because when I saw your sincere expression of being torn in your spirituality, I wanted to say something profound that will help you in some way. Well, I haven’t figured the profound part out, but I do hope you continue to seek answers within the heart of Jesus. He said if you ask, and keep after it, He will help you find answers. I have found that to be true in my own life.

      (Also, I think that prayer is supposed to be mostly about connecting with God and helping others do the same – hth)

    • nokoryous says:

      Beej,

      I hope you realize that those stereotypes you’re mentioning don’t really encapsulate a lot of Christians (I’m assuming the religious fanaticism referenced here is actually referencing the extensive global victimization of Christians at the hands of Muslim extremists), and that it’s as frustrating for those of us in the Christian faith to be thusly misrepresented as it is for nonbelievers to look in and diagnose the apparent ailment that exists when people have self-serving Gospels. Preservation/elevation of self is of course human nature, and there are plenty of humans who are going to encounter Christ, take on his name, but not take on his countenance or obey his teachings. Even the first apostles saw people doing this and their response is largely the content of the New Testament. Augustine once wrote “Never judge a philosophy by its abusers.” As a Christian who studies the Bible daily I’m at least with you as far as looking at health-and-wealth-gospels, militant religious extremists, then coming away asking “where do you find grounds for that?” Hard to read Hebrews 13:5 then turn around and pray for a promotion.

      Like you’re alluding to, the Jesus that we encounter in scripture is so appealingly unlike that, and as we become people who don’t just run through the Bible (and will likely in turn abuse it), but rather people who let the Bible run through us (instead of seeking to manipulate it), then we begin to reflect actual Godliness that is centered in selflessness.

      Wholistic Biblical theology takes time to develop. The Bible is a deeply historic, poetic, complex book that deals with subject matter that is barely comprehensible to our most commonly exercised senses and thought-patterns. Keep asking good questions. There are answers.

      • Beej says:

        thanks for your reply. as far as my generalizations. I fully recognize that’s what they are. but when I am inundated with “pray for me” posts over an illness, bad day, or other situation that is a first world problem, I get very discouraged. same with #blessed posts. I don’t think God had anything to do with your new Escalade.
        as far as the other comments, I was referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ongoing murders of their youth, particularly the children. This is something that weighs very heavily on my mind.

        I’m working on me, for sure. thanks for the response.

        BTW Chris is one of my very best friends in the world, thus my very candid (expressed in a very public forum) response.

      • theboeskool says:

        I love both of you. Immensely. Such good people…

  5. jhaney says:

    So, Chris, why did Jesus die on the cross?

    • Mel T says:

      To prove life to be deathless and love to be the master of hate.

      • jhaney says:

        Well, Jesus proved life to be deathless when he raised Lazarus from the dead, so resurrection of the dead was already done. Sending your son to die on the cross would seem to prove hate the master of love, to me. So you need a better argument.
        Why did Jesus die on the cross?

    • Ben Kuiken says:

      I had that same question…I am also curious to know what you do with the following passages:

      Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
      upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

      2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

      • theboeskool says:

        I would say a few things to that… 1) I’m not sure. 2) Part of the incarnation–God becoming man–is that the God of the universe enters into humanity and all that in embodies… Including human suffering. Death is part of the deal. Sometimes when a loved one dies, it brings people peace to come to the conclusion that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know that it does.

        Not to say that there is no significance to Jesus’ death… There is HUGE significance. Without his death, there is no resurrection. He looks at us and says, “You want to live? Then die to yourself. And then TRULY live. And he doesn’t just SAY it… He LIVES it.

        I know that there are all kinds of Bible verses that allude to Jesus as an atoning sacrifice… I just don’t read the Bible as being a “There. Now it’s settled” sort of book. The mystery deepens. The truth deepens. The wisdom deepens. The spirit is still moving and speaking… And even though the blood sacrifice model worked for people at that time, I don’t think that is the fullness of the truth of the Bible. Just like the command to kill all the women and children in the OT wasn’t the end. Just like Kosher dietary laws weren’t the end. Just like women being silent and submissive wasn’t the end. Just like slavery wasn’t the end. Just like “kill all the homosexuals” wasn’t the end. It is a progressive way of understanding scripture.

        Here is some good stuff http://www.spiritofststephens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1380:the-mystery-of-the-cross-richard-rohr-ch-9-things-hidden-scripture-as-spirituality&catid=66&Itemid=82

      • Ben Kuiken says:

        I appreciate you taking the time to share some additional thoughts – I will check those resources out; thanks, man.

  6. Hello, As much and as many comments I have to the extensive subject matter in question, I am compelled to make my comments as brief as possible…… My name is Josephina, I am an increasingly progressing “SPIRITUAL ADVISOR”. A As I was reading your post, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, I was actually somewhat confused as to what side you are on……. That is, are you a believer or an atheist, as it appeared that there were many comments that appeared to criticize the “HOLY BIBLE”. However, there were also comments criticizing atheist. As I continued to read your post, it appeared that you are not an athiest, but it also indicated that you believe in “GOD”, but you fin d the “HOLY BIBLE”, a good reference fir advice and maybe eBen guidance for living a good life I apologize if I misunderstood your intentions or perhaps missed the message you were attempting to convey to readers. I WOULD LIKE TO COMMENT AND AS A TRUE BELIEVER IN EVERY PRECIOUS WORD CONTAINED IN “THE HOLY BIBLE”, YES…… THE WAS A 100 YEAR OLD MAN BY THE NAME OF ABRAHAM. Lastly, one cannot believe in one part of the “HOLY BIBLE” and not the entire book God bless you and all

  7. arachne646 says:

    2 comments: first, to josephinaspiritualguidancehelp; I just wanted to let you know that there are many of us who call ourselves progressive, or mainstream Christians, who take the Bible too seriously to take every word of it literally. It isn’t a historic, or scientific textbook, or an encyclopedia. It Is a variety of different forms of poetry, letters, and other forms of literature written by different people at different times and places about their experiences of God. It must be interpreted through a historical/metaphorical lense. Obviously, Jesus didn’t tell parables to be taken literally!

    Original sin, and substitutionary atonement, are theologies of the Western Church, and aren’t part of any Orthodox theology. Original sin and substitutionary atonement was a concept developed after the 2 Churches split, and were Augustine’s contribution to doctrine. The “moral influence” theory of atonement is of great influence in the Orthodox Churches, to quote St. Anthanasius “God became man so that man might become like God”.

  8. jhaney says:

    Chris, I read Richard Rohr’s idea paper and watched the video. I tried to have an open mind. Here is how I understand what he was trying to say:

    Christ died on the cross to show us that the supreme holy act is for an innocent person to allow himself to be brutally murdered by evil people.

    Of course, you don’t believe that. I think your true beliefs run along these lines:

    1. People are mostly good and God loved us when he made us and still loves us. If you aren’t a stupid arrogant Republican you will go to heaven.
    2. Jesus was a perfect man who was killed by evil people. If they had known how good he was, they wouldn’t have killed him. He let them kill him because he was nonviolent and full of love.
    3. If everyone would just try harder and follow my blog, they will be okay and the world will be perfect, too.
    4. I am a Christian because Jesus is great! I agree with everything he said and the parts I don’t like that make me feel bad, I just reinterpret with a bit of mystical meditation.

    • theboeskool says:

      You got that from Richard Rohr?? 🙂

      You have figured me out… All along, what I’ve been trying to do is actually tell people that Republicans aren’t going to heaven, and I’ve been trying to build a utopia by getting people to follow my blog instead of Jesus. You got me.

      • jhaney says:

        Yes– because when you start with the idea that you don’t really need saving, that you are pretty good just as you are, then eventually you don’t really need Jesus and then after awhile you don’t really need God. And if you don’t want to clearly face that conclusion, you just remake God into your image.

        Your only hope, and my hope, and all hope for mankind is to humble ourselves, see ourselves as dust and mist and this world as fading away. Then see God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the great “I AM” , the alpha and the omega, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who made the past and the future. The one whose ways we can’t fathom, who is God and yet allows us to cry, “Abba, Father”.

        Then you can start to understand why Jesus died on the cross.

      • theboeskool says:

        I need saving. It’s just not from an eternity in hell. God is not someone we need to be saved from. God is someone we are reconciled to.

        I am pretty good just as I am. So are you. The sins of the people in Jesus’ life were not too much for him, and my sin is not too much for God. You are not saved by your right theology, and you are not saved by how well you humble yourself, and you are not saved by how terrible you think you are… We are saved by the love of God. You act like acceptance of total depravity is necessary for salvation, but the glory of God is man fully alive.

        Justice does not punish innocence to pay for the guilty. Feel free to spread your “good news” of how awful you are and how much God can’t stand us unless he looks at us through the lens of Jesus’s blood. I’ll let people know that God loves us–even our brokenness–and that we are made in the image of God… Fully beloved by God, and called to our true selves.

        Your version doesn’t sound nearly as much like good news as mine…

  9. Jeremy says:

    I think you make some brilliant points, Chris. I think the “total depravity” theology is what most people have a hard time with because it denies the fact that everyone is made in the image of God and has some of his goodness in them (the ability to love, do good, etc.). And I wholeheartedly agree that God is interested in our transformation, not a transaction. I usually agree with your somewhat controversial stances and love the way you always take a fresh look at what most people blindly accept. But I do think you need a disclaimer on this one that says this is your view and contradicts orthodox Christianity and most of the Old Testament and New Testament theology on Christ as the Lamb of God and the propitiation of sins. I know you’re familiar with all the references, so I won’t insult your intelligence by listing them. Again, you’ve got some awesome insight like there being so much more to the Gospel than the cross, but I think you’ve gone a very critical step too far in saying Jesus’ death on the cross was not the covering of our sins and the beginning of the “so much more” of now being reconciled to God.

  10. theboeskool says:

    Thanks Jeremy! I am aware of the strong Biblical case that can be made for Jesus’ death being to “pay for our sins” like they thought a ram’s life/blood would pay for/atone for/cover a person’s sins before Jesus.

    There are some different kinds of “coverings” that the Bible talks about. One is in Luke. In Luke 15:17, the Bible says that Jesus (in telling about the Prodigal son) said, “When he came to his senses…” It’s also translated as “When he came to himself…” What does this phrase mean to you?

    The parable of the Prodigal came after the Pharisees and teachers of the law were complaining about Jesus saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” I believe that Jesus is the best picture that we have of God. And over and over again, we see this this best picture of God–This God-man–sitting down and EATING (a big deal in that culture!) with “sinners.” Even in the story of the garden after Adam and Eve sinned, we still see a God who comes to walk with them–Just like he did every other day. A couple months ago, the pastor at our church said “Sin is human brokenness. Shame is our sense that God can’t handle it.” OUR SIN IS NOT TOO MUCH FOR GOD.

    After the Prodigal “came to himself,” he came back home to try to be a slave at his Father’s house… The first thing the father did (after he ran to meet him, embraced him, and kissed him, that is) was “cover” him. There didn’t need to be blood shed first. Our dirt… Our brokenness… Our sin in not too much for the father.

    Israel wanted a king. God said they didn’t need one, but they sure FELT like they needed one. So, the story says, God gave them a king… Not for HIM, but for THEM. What if the system of sacrifice–an earthly system they were all very familiar with as a way of “evening things up” or “squaring the balance sheet” with God–was the same sort of thing? What if the consciousness of that day was incapable of even imagining a God who was good enough to forgive sins without the sort of reckoning they had known their whole lives? Do we really think that the God of the universe needed an animal’s blood to be shed in order to forgive a person’s sins? That process is a cosmic balancing of an equation… And it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the power of MERCY and of actual forgiveness. Is that a way of looking at things that is wildly outside of orthodoxy?

    Anyway, I am not outside of the bounds of Orthodoxy… I might be outside of some people’s “orthodoxy,” but orthodoxy has never really been a “majority rules” sort of thing. I might be part of a minority. That’s fair enough. But for 1900 years, Christians who thought that it wasn’t okay to own black people were in the minority as well.

    Thoughts?

    • jhaney says:

      Chris– I get the impression from your writing that you don’t believe in hell. Is this true?

      • theboeskool says:

        That’s what it boils down to, doesn’t it?

        It really goes hand in hand with a violent, bloody atonement. A God who is the kind of being who would send the vast majority of his creation to burn forever in eternal torment is certainly the kind of God who might set up the rules in such a way that his own son’s tortuous death and blood is the only way to “pay” for their sins…

        So, to answer your question, yes–I do believe in hell. Just probably not like you do. I believe that we actually do have an innate sense of right and wrong inside of us… Otherwise, how could we figure out which way is the right way to be reading/interpreting the Bible? This “right/wrong” inside of us is also know as rationality. So, for example, if we have a book that says that the world is 6000 years old, but everything about science and geology tells us something different, I don’t just naturally acquiesce to the Bible to hold on to a claim of inerrancy which it doesn’t make about itself. Let’s say your father used to tell you stories, and you thought they had to be true in every factual way in order to have any value or truth, but then you found out that some parts were embellishments and folklore… You might be tempted to write off your Father as a liar. I wouldn’t. Doing that would require a GIANT presupposition that there is only one kind of Truth worth valuing in the world: Math truth. But there is all kinds of Poem Truth in the world as well.

        So if you’re asking me if I believe that everyone with the wrong theology or who doesn’t say the right prayer or who was born in a country that doesn’t know anything about Jesus is going to be tortured forever, no. I don’t believe that. That God should truly be feared, but never loved. And one of the reasons I don’t believe this is my rationality (a billion years of torture could never be a “just” consequence for 20 years of rebellion), but the biggest reason I don’t believe in this nightmarish narrative of hell is because I value the Bible. And what it says about God. And the Bible, in its totality, does not tell of a God who is anything like the awful God who is in control of everything, yet decides to actively prolong the lives and consciousnesses of his creation in order to dole out an inordinate punishment. That God makes less sense than Scientology… And that’s saying a lot.

        If there is a punishment after we die, I believe it is one which is designed to refine us and transform us, or else God would lovingly destroy us. I am not more loving and merciful and just than God, and if a man killed everyone I loved, I would not torture him and prolong his life in order to keep torturing him. That is disgusting. If someone was in agony and wanted to stop “being” and I had the power to make that happen, I would. We need to stop painting a picture of a monstrous God.

        Here are some more thoughts about that: https://theboeskool.com/2012/01/23/rob-bell-and-puppies-in-hell/

    • Jeremy says:

      Short reply: I’m completely with you on the “OUR SIN IS NOT TOO MUCH FOR GOD” statement and that Jesus is the best representation of God we have or ever will have–shamelessly loving on and hanging out with broken, sinful people like us. I’m totally with you on the slavery argument. But the sacrifice of Christ is the cornerstone (and tripping stone) of the Gospel and Christianity. It is not a case of the “majority rules.” It’s not something Christians can reinterpret because it’s too bloody or it doesn’t make sense to us.

      Long reply: would rather talk in person over whisky than blow up your comments. 😉

  11. jhaney says:

    Chris,

    I can feel how sincere you are in trying to reconcile difficult truths about life and death and the afterlife. I think you have been twisted by some really bad teaching on both sides. I can’t help you enough in this blog comment section, probably that whiskey with Jeremy is a good idea 🙂

    I do know a few things that may help you:

    1. God is perfect and perfectly good. He makes no mistakes. No one is going to hell by accident. Don’t listen to the noise of folks who will judge others and condemn them.

    Read these verses for understanding- Romans 1: 19-20 Tells us that God is known to all man because He reveals himself to them. Galatians 3:6 Abraham (born wayyyy before Jesus) was saved through faith.

    Remember what Jesus said in answer to the apostles desperate question: “Then who can be saved?” But he (Jesus) said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:26,27.

    2. Evil people are pretty happy being evil. If you were to go into a prison and ask anyone if they would rather you “put them out of their misery” they would say “no thanks” . Just look at all the appeals on death row. And if you asked them is they would rather go to hell or be completely annihilated, they would pick hell. In fact, I would guess a majority, if given the option of going to heaven or hell, would choose hell willingly.

    3. You should read C.S. Lewis. His books are the best for intellectual deep thinkers like you (and me). Start with Mere Christianity but don’t stop there. I’m reading Letters to Malcolm and it is very deep. The sermon The Weight of Glory will take you to a whole new level of understanding of God. And all Lewis’ teaching is orthodox.

    Here is some of what he says about sin:

    “And indeed the only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is the distortion of an energy breathed into us- an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions. We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.” From Letters to Malcolm page 69.

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