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I have a long, meandering thing here, about my theological musings… - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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[Apr. 9th, 2004|01:43 pm]
John
I have a long, meandering thing here, about my theological musings and Christianity.




I suppose you could call this a meme or something, but it's an idea that I've been trying to send out when I have the opportunity. You have to understand that no one has yet decided that whatever I have to say is brilliant, so that anything I say can be published when I want it to be, in front of an appropriate audience. So, this has been going out by Usenet postings, live journal entries, and so forth.

Anyway, I have hope that the meme is spreading… perhaps I had something to do with it, perhaps not, but in either case, it makes me feel good.

There's this notion that goes around that says that Jesus died because of our sins. See, someone had to suffer for our sins, and Jesus, because he was innocent of sin, was the perfect candidate.

I think it's a load of malarkey. And, I know that a lot of people believe it, and that a lot of people would give their lives for that belief, and that I'm probably dismissing it much too cavalierly by saying something like that it's "a load of malarkey", but this is an idea that's been running deeply.

I was out jogging one Good Friday, several years back, and I was concentrating on this. I believe it was 1990 or so, because I'm pretty sure I was listening to Def Leppard. It might have been Guns and Roses, or some other hot, fast, loud band. I was, in fact, jogging by the Frankford Arsenal, which is no longer an arsenal of any kind, and wasn't then, but I grew up in Bridesburg, and it always has been, and always will be, "The Frankford Arsenal". At least until a new generation of people give it a new name.

Folks, if there is anything at all like a religious experience that I have ever experienced, I experienced one that night. Because, I realized that one of the key elements of the crucifixion involved a blow against despair. Here is the leader of a new set of ideas, and he is beaten, humiliated, condemned to death, and dying in a slow, painful manner… and there is still hope. There is still going to be a great victory.

It means, even when everything is horribly wrong, and it seems like there is no hope, you shouldn't give up.

If there is a God, and he speaks to people who listen to him with all their hearts, he spoke to me that night. And, he assured me I was not on the wrong track in fighting back against this notion that Jesus died as a result of sin.

I knew I was on the right track, after a fashion, you see. I had been realizing that there was something wrong with the whole "suffering cleanses" notion on a deep level.

If you hurt me, and you get hurt in return, what does that mean? Two people are now hurting, not just one. Has the universe become a better place? Or is there simply more pain there now, than there was before you were hurt?

No… if you hurt me, only my healing from that hurt, only my greater happiness after that hurt, can erase what that hurt has done.

If there is evil that's been launched in the universe, if there's hurt going around, launching more of the same doesn't seem likely to fix the problem. That seems obvious, and natural to me. So, it seemed to me that, if the crucifixion had done something, it couldn't be that it was some kind of 'extra pain to fix things'… it had to be something good, to offset evil.

But it went further than that. If someone hurts me, I don't necessarily want that person to suffer. I mean, okay, I'm human… yes, there are times when I wish someone would hurt for something they've done to me. And, there are certainly times when I feel that if someone hurts because they hurt me (or tried to), it can be awfully useful. If someone tries to mug a person, and the mugger ends up hurt (or in jail, or whatever), that can be a good way to stop muggings.

But, it doesn't mean that a would-be mugger *must* suffer to stop mugging people. If some other, non-painful way of stopping the mugger exists, the main goal (stopping muggings) has been accomplished.

Okay… anyway, where was I? Right. If someone hurts me, I don't necessarily want them to hurt in return. I don't see any need for that person to hurt. Okay… but I'm human. I'm much less good, wise, and all-around wonderful than God, right?

Then *why* the hell isn't God that much *more* unwilling to see more pain in the universe?

I can accept one of three explanations:

1) I just don't get it.
2) I'm better than God at this kind of thinking
3) The people who've interpreted this kind of thing in the past did so without my expert assistance and ingenious insight

Okay, I'm being a bit silly, here, but you get the point. It's possible that I don't "get" this, and that there is a way that pain given to one person balances out pain done to another. But, I know, as well as I can know anything, that this isn't the case. If God is, in fact, God, I'm not better than him. Therefore, the people who've interpreted this thing must have gotten it wrong. (Let's be fair; they still would have gotten it wrong with me around. In fact, if there hadn't already been a large body of work leading up to these questions, I wouldn't have been able to realize these questions existed, much less that they had answers.)

No, if there's evil in the universe, God wants the same kind of thing that I want: for the evil to be corrected. And, if there's evil going around, then the solution is to wipe it out with something good.

God doesn't want pain in return for sin; he wants virtue.

And that means that if Jesus died to correct a sinful course, if his death meant something huge for mankind and their sinful ways, it had to be something incredibly good… a huge wave of good, to wipe out a huge wave of evil. That something couldn't just be suffering… it had to be something else.

Anyway… over the years, the message has refined for me. I've gone back and re-read the gospels, and done more thinking, and I realize that the message was, in essence, that Jesus came to earth with something more powerful than anything… more powerful even than death itself. And, if you read his message, it says that, repeatedly. He says, over and over, that there is another world that's more important than this one, and that nothing in this world is worth more than the next one. Don't build up treasure here; build up treasure in heaven. Do not worry about your own worldly things; give to the poor, and help those that are suffering.

He said "give yourself over to what is good, and you don't even need to fear death". And, he proved it, by showing that not even death had power over him.

That message has even deeper meaning for me once I started deciding what the rules of morality must be.

You see, if there's a moral law, that says "In X situation, do Y", then every time X holds, you should do Y, and that should be the obvious choice to anyone who knows enough about the situation. And, this should be true no matter what other circumstances apply. If there was an X situation in which you shouldn't do Y, then "In X situation, do Y" is no longer a moral rule in my opinion… it's just a damn good idea.

So, Jesus, sticking to his guns through a long and painful death, is a good illustration of that. "This is the right thing to do, so even though it's going to kill me, I'll do it." And, he told his followers that they had to be ready to do the same thing… a damn good message, all around.

Today, though, I had a brand new bit of revelation.

Earlier, I had decided to argue that, if a child spills chocolate milk, you don't go spill a huge quantity of chocolate milk, and scream at the child "Now see what you made me do?" No, I said, you want the child to clean up the mess, and be more careful in the future. So, that convinced me even more that Jesus' death wasn't going to be some payment for sins.

Then another idea hit me, just today.

*How* could his death be payment for sins, how could it be some grand reparation, and have its roots in sinful behavior?

Betrayal; imprisonment; beatings; murder.

All of those were necessary parts (as near as we can tell, from the stories that are told) of the story.

Oh, it can make sense… all you have to do is accept that Jesus' death was the redemption, and pow, there you are, able to put together a circular argument proving that Jesus' death was the redemption. But if you think about it, if God needed someone to suffer divine justice, so that he wouldn't have to slam dunk every one of our asses into hell, then Jesus should have suffered at *God's* hands, not the hands of people.

As a lot of folks reading this know, I stopped using the title Christian to describe myself. There are too many Christians who believe that one must believe in the story of Jesus, and accept his sacrifice, to be saved... and too many who think that "to believe" and "to profess" or "to declare" or "to recite" are the same. But, I hope I am still following the message, and still learning more, so I try to think more about these things, especially on symbolic days like today.

So, today, my thoughts about the crucifixion are this:

Jesus came to the world with a message of peace, and was misunderstood, and aroused a good bit of hatred. It was horrible, and unfair, and nasty, but there were some people who wanted him dead. Even though it was horrible, and unfair, and just not-right on many, many levels, he knew that he had a job to do that would be best served by carrying through with his plan. And, since that plan called for helping people – those who would follow him, and those who would later hear his message – and didn't call for hurting people, he was willing to follow it, even though it was sure to lead to his death.

Even for a person who won't take the title Christian, that's a hell of a good message to listen to.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: kightp
2004-04-09 09:14 pm (UTC)
You should read this, love. janetmiles mentioned it in her journal, and it sounds as if the writer is on the same track you are ...
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2004-04-09 10:54 pm (UTC)
It's still the Frankford Arsenal. (We've always liked Bridesburg, whenever we've gone through it on our bikes. It's still very neighborhoodly, although probably not as much so as you recall.)

And many theologians define sin as a turning away from God, and hence from hope. I don't see where anything you've written is counter to the teachings I learned. (Written in your own voice, I mean, rather than writing about various ways Christianity has been perverted over the millennia.)
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[User Picture]From: umbran
2004-04-09 11:57 pm (UTC)
There's this notion that goes around that says that Jesus died because of our sins. See, someone had to suffer for our sins, and Jesus, because he was innocent of sin, was the perfect candidate.

Hm. IANAC (I am not a Christian), but in at least one form, I do grok the Jesus thing. I don't believe it, but I grok it.

But not as you list it there. You see, Jesus did not die because of our sins. Jesus died for our sins. It isn't that someone had to suffer, but in fact that someone chose to suffer that makes the whole thing work.

Jesus was a human. Flesh and blood, just like you or I. He knew what was coming, and could have avoided it if he wished. He chose not to. He chose to take responsibility for that which he had not done, because doing so would make the world a better place. He takes the responsibility, does what he can to improve things, and damn the personal consequences.

He asks, "If it be thy will, let this cup pass from me". God doesn't answer because the whole point isn't God's will. The point is Jesus' will. Is Jesus ready to hurt to make the world better for others? If Jesus, who is merely a man, can do it, so can anyone.

The message here is that you save souls by doing what you can to make the world better, even if it ain't so good for yourself.

So, why the forgiveness rap? Why do you have to accept Jesus, and merely ask for forgiveness, and you'll receive it? Well, it's simply a step in taking responsibility. Jesus could skip this step, as he didn't sin himself. But the rest of us aren't so lucky.

For those of us who are not lamb-like, it is hypocritical to take responsibility for other evils in the world before we take responsibility for our own. The old, "Take the beam out of your own eye before you deal with the splinter in another's," line. You have to step up and face this dude who died a horrible and painful death and admit, to his face, that it was partly your fault. Once you've done that sincerely and truthfully in your heart of hearts, then you're ready to go out and help make the world a better place.



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