Saturday, September 09, 2006

Christ's self-sacrifical love isn't enough. Thoughts on what the cross is about and how churchianity largely doesn't get it

Okay, I'm sick of complaining about my lack of time or worrying about what to write or podcast. So, if I stick to my "sick of it" --expect to start seeing some stuff here finally.

Here is a copy of an email I just sent to a pastor friend who is speaking on Colossians 1:24-2:5 and who is asking a group of friends for thoughts on various passages.

I wrote it in 15 minutes and got into preacher mode, but I think it has some good fruit-juice in it (from the life-giving kind of tree) that some of you might enjoy tasting.

Hi Scott,
I wanted to focus on the first verse, as it plays into something I have put a lot of thought bear with me as I try and ramble it out with v. little free time on my hands.

Col 1:25
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church"

Many evangelicals would be shocked to hear that this verse actually comes from the bible..."What, something was lacking in Christ's salvific suffering!?!"

Well, it depends on what you think happened on the cross.

There have been a number of models used within Christian History to desribe what happened on the cross...too complex a topic to go into here (though I'll try and find a journal entry from a couple of years ago that I think might be helpful to you on this matter...found it...and I am pasting it at the end of this email)

Here's the point: If one thinks that a divine legal transaction (penal substitution) is primarily what happened...that that is how we are 'saved'...the idea that something is lacking in Christ's 'perfect sacrifice' can be a serious challenge to one's soteriology.

However, if you see Christ's "salvific" power to save as the power of self-sacrificial love (perhaps most powerfully and clearly demonstrated (rom 5:8) in Christ's life, death and resurrection) then it makes sense that that same power from God, through his creation and throughout history (pre and post the passion) continues to be what saves us.

When people put themselves first for us each day (laying down their lives) or saints literally lay down their lives, this is the same 'saving power'. When people act in his name (in that culture a name meant their 'way'), when people 'love' ("Whoever loves is a child of God"), then they are BEING the church. Church is not something we go to, it is something we 'be' --and we are 'being' it when we make ourselves vulnerable to each other (even our enemies, or friends who hurt us --thus the suffering).

(That kind of loving intimacy is unfortunately the very thing that churches mega-program right out the door. Too big & too bureaucratic for the Spirit of love...sad.)

This has massively wide reaching implications: For example, if we can grasp this idea --that Christ and his self-sacrificial saving power continues in all who act in his name, in his love --we can see that God is at work in all places, all times, all cultures, and yes, all "religions", saving humananity through the same power that was in Christ. God creates humans in his image, humans create cultures in their image, cultures create religions in their image, and that light and the human cracks it shines through reflect on down. It is not our religions that save, not even "Christianity" as a religion, it the power of love seen so perfectly in Christ. When we really get and live this, then "God will be all in all." (1 cor 15:28)

When we see how DEEP (evangelicals believe this) and how WIDE (they are slow or afraid to admit this) God's saving love is, we can be freed from the law, from our self-righteousness, from our Christian clubs of ins and outs, from our judgmentalism, from eating from the tree of the "knowledge of good and evil" and from the fear of rejection/hell behind it all, and instead, in humilty, eat from the merciful tree of life -the fruit of the cross of Christ and the cross that we all bear when dying to our egos.

I typed this up in 15 minutes, so I hope it makes sense

Here are a few links that might be helpful, as well as the attachment I mentioned before:

Post from old journal on the meaning(s) of the cross:

I write this entry with my laptop partly eclipsed...the full glow of screens seems to stun my eyes and stunt my ability to reflect, remember write creatively.

A small group of friends met tonight to learn from each other what the world and the church has almost entirely eclipsed -the meaning of Christ's dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Interestingly, we met during a full eclipse of the moon -and it was just coming out from the earth's shadow when we finished our meeting. Kinda neat.

After reiterating the various historical theories of the meaning of the cross (the historically earliest ransom theory -in which God trick's Satan, so to speak, by the ransom payment of Christ for the sins of men, only for evil to find out that Christ's love was stronger than death; Anselem's theory of substitutionary atonement -in which the infinite debt humanity owe's God because of its sin (against an infinite God) is paid by the infinite/perfect offer of Christ/God on the cross; and the exemplary theory -in which God demonstrates his love for humanity in how Christ lives and dies for his message of love), we tried to articulate what the cross means to us.

We realized that Christ's suffering, death and resurrection can mean many different things to us, at many times. And that each of these meanings is a precious glimpse at a deeper mystery. Sometimes the passion reminds us that there is horrendous, seemingly meaningless or unjust suffering in this life -that life can be really hard and scary. Sometimes it reminds us that while things may seem meaningless, unfair, dark, and despairing -life can and will come out of it, and have the final word: Defeat and death are defeated by the resurrection. Sometimes it reminds us to not get revenge, fight back, take vengeance -but to love our enemies and to show it by enduring/bearing their evil -even when one is totally innocent. Sometimes it shows us that this is how our God of love responds to our own meanness, evil and sin -not by angry vengeance (an eye for an eye) but with compassion and mercy(forgive them for they know not what they do). Sometimes it shows us that this self-sacrificial love is the fruit from the tree of life, it is the Eucharistic food that most deeply sustains us. Lastly, it reminds us that God (and those who image God's love) write their message in blood, marking all of humanity as "my chosen ones".

We also noted with concern that this picture of dramatic love is not meant to show all angles of love. For example, sometimes evil behavior is not meant to be silently endured. Verbal and nonviolent physical confrontation (like Christ's overturning of the tables) is also how we love ourselves, others and God. Otherwise, for example, slaves and women would continue to be quietly abused.

And we also noted with sadness and anger that the primary angle on the cross that the majority of evangelical Christians (arguable the loudest branch of the faith) speak of (usually with many cliches and little understanding) is an angle, an image, a model that we have a hunch is mostly dysfunctional and dangerous. It disrupts and breaks our trust and salvation from a God whose love is infinite and unconditional. This 'substitutionary atonement' theory, often touted as the theory that most adequately demonstrates God's justice, actually points to an injust and cruel God:

A God who demands sacrifice and appeasement at threat of horrific punishment (eternal suffering in hell)

A God whose love is conditional, available only to those whose denominational requirements (right doctrine, enough faith, enough works, right spiritual experiences, etc) are met.

A Father who had to kill his son. (Ignoring or determining the human parties and systems of injustice that killed him)

A God who is limited to only accepting perfection.

A God who is bound by laws higher than himself, who is 'stuck' in a system.

A God who punishes infinitely for our mortal finite sins.

This, apparently bloodthirsty God, never quite sat right in our hearts and minds -and we are coming to understand why. While there may be some angle of truth we have yet to see, and while we may come to understand its origins in a human misunderstanding about God's nature possibly advocated in the bible, we in large reject it.