Monday, January 29, 2018

The overwhelming majority of Christians I know seem to subscribe to the atonement theory of Jesus’ incarnation, which says, as I understand it, the incarnation was God’s response to human sin. In other words, without human sin the incarnation would not have been necessary and therefore would not have occurred. However, there is another incarnation theory, accepted by the Eastern and Roman Catholic Church and dating back to the early 1100’s, which says the incarnation was not God’s response to sin but was God’s plan all along. Sin necessitated the cross, but Christ would have come either way; not because He had to but because He wanted to.

The difference is important. In atonement theology the incarnation begins with sin-Christ must come and die so God may once again love and accept us. Recall the Day of Atonement-the ancient ritual where a goat is sacrificed to pay the (blood/death) penalty for sin while another goat-the scapegoat-having had Israel’s sins transferred to it by the High Priest’s laying on of hand-carries the sins away into the wilderness. Thus, the people’s sins are both paid for and removed-forgiveness is completed, and consciences are cleared. Modern atonement theology as I understand it sees Christ accomplishing this once for all on the cross-which I whole-heartedly agree with. It also sees this as the primary purpose for Christ’s coming. This is where we part ways.

I do not believe Christ had to come and die to change God’s mind about humanity. According to Paul God already loved us- “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us... For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” Romans5:6-10;(NRSV; Italics mine). Jesus Himself says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 (NRSV; Italics mine). God already loved His creation; Christ came to change our minds about God.

Consider the Genesis 3 account: “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:8-10 (NRSV).   I see three points here. First, God walking in the garden hints at regular practice; the couple’s hiding says they knew it was coming. Second, after their betrayal the couple’s first act was to hide in fear. Third, God does not abandon His fallen creatures-He comes looking for them. These three points remain true today. God still desires our friendship and our love; we still tend to hide from His presence and He still seeks us out. God did not seek Adam and Eve out because Christ died for them, God sought them out because God loves them. God’s love comes first and never ends. When Christ comes, before He dies He shows us how to live (remember this, it will come up again).

That God sought out Adam and Eve after their betrayal is an important point and is not, in my opinion, the act of a God who needed His son to die before He could love or accept us. Consider again Jesus’ words “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-19 (NRSV). Now consider Abram “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6 (NRSV). What was it Abram believed? What God said. What did God say? “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…So shall your descendants be.” Genesis 15:5 (NRSV). Christ had not yet died when this promise was made; in fact Christ appears to Abraham “The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…[since]… all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him… for I have chosen him…and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice…” Genesis 18:17-19 (NRSV, Italics mine), and allows Abraham to bargain with Him to spare Sodom (vs.22-33). Again, not (to me) the actions of a God who demands blood sacrifice as a condition for friendship. God chose and sought out Abram before Abram had done anything one way or the other.

And since we are considering Abram, let us also consider Hagar, to whom God appeared (it was Hagar who named God El-roi-the God who sees) and Ishmael, who also received God’s blessing (Genesis 16:7-15; 21:9-21). To be sure, the promise and the covenant comes to Abraham and is passed down through Isaac and Jacob. However, Hagar and Ishmael also receive God’s direct blessing. And not only Ishmael; when Jacob returns from his long servitude to his uncle Laban he finds an Esau who (presumably with God’s help) has done very well for himself (Genesis 33:1-11). Now, I suppose one could point to these things as evidence for God’s sovereign election, or even predestination. I choose to see them as evidence of God’s unconditional love for all His creatures. This leads to my next topic-a statement made by Richard Rohr in one of his January CAC meditations, which I will pose as a question. Are we human beings trying to learn how to be spiritual, or spiritual beings learning how to be human?

Blessings JRG

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