|The Cosmic Christ - Toledo Cathedral.|
This is the wholly unsupportable Christian orthodoxy that we have lived with for more than seven hundred years. No wonder people turn away from churches in droves now that it is no longer a community requirement to attend. Only the ego can support such a theory and only the tribe can maintain it.
It is not the point of the crucifixion and it never was. And it's not just me saying that. Great theologians such as John Duns Scotus and St. Bonaventure have been saying it for centuries. It has always been part of the Franciscan Orthodoxy and, now, Richard Rohr, says it magnificently in his new book The Universal Christ.
In a nutshell, all this "substitutionary penal atonement" came about because of theories by St. Augustine (354-430 CE) and Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 CE). It's important to emphasise that these were only theories - but they were gobbled up by Christianity like chocolate eggs at Easter - because they fitted so neatly into the ego's desire for blaming and shaming. If you can make other people wrong, you really don't have to do anything about the plank in your own eye. And you can worship Jesus Christ and thank him while doing diddly-squat about following him, healing and loving as he did. N.B. Jesus never once asked us to worship him. He did ask us to follow him.
St. Augustine came up with the theory of "original sin" — that humanity is born sinful because of Adam and Eve's disobedience and that Jesus died to save us from that. From what I've read, his point appeared to be that Jesus had saved us from that so it was over ... but good old Christianity preferred to pick up the idea and run with it. Blaming people and making them wrong is just so much fun, isn't it?
Incidentally, Judaism has no concept of original sin so it's fairly unlikely that the human known as Jesus did either.
St. Anselm's theory was that "a price had to be paid to restore God's honour and it needed to be paid to God the Father by one who was equally divine." (Cur Deus Homo? 1094-98). The ego is fully programmed to leap onto this kind of idea and promote it - that authority is angry, punative and violent and that we must either fight and resist it (atheism) or appease it even if that means rejecting or killing "unbelievers" (fundamental religion). For both sides this makes the genuine spiritual journey impossible. As Richard Rohr writes, "why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God?" (The Universal Christ.)
Franciscans, on the other hand (and I would call myself 100% a Franciscan), do not see the incarnation of the Divine in a human body and the crucifixion as a reaction to sin. We see the cross as a freely chosen revelation of God's love. God is spilling Its own blood to reach out to us and tell us that It understands and experiences our pain with us.
Life on Earth is painful. Where there is love there will always be loss and sorrow. Where there is food to find or grow, there will be hard work and sometimes injury. Where there is a child to be born, there will be blood and pain. That is not a punishment; that is just how physical life is. And God is in there with us, living it with us and helping us when we remember to be conscious enough to allow that.
God is not a distant authority figure who could choose to stop our suffering but won't (like our abusive parent/teacher/boss). God is in us, in creatures, in plants, in the land, in the water, in the air, in the fire. The choices WE make are God's choices. That's what free will means. The message of the Hebrew Testament prophets is, again and again, that God may be astonished and even horrified by our choices but that God will love us through everything. Don't believe me, read Samuel and Jeremiah ... and read them as metaphor for your own life because then they will make sense.
The whole Eden story is about teaching humanity about choice - we can choose good or evil - and every day, we do. What's more, we choose what we (or more accurately, our egos) believe to be what is good and what is evil. And like Adam and Eve we deal with it by blaming others ("The woman gave me the fruit"/"the serpent tricked me" Gen. 3:12) instead of taking responsibility for our own beliefs and actions.
Look at the rage over the donations to restore Notre Dame for example. The energy of blaming and shaming those who choose to give to restore a building rather than to the rainforests or corals or poverty is far more damaging to the life-force of the whole planet than the wealthy's well-intentioned donations. It is entirely possible that our pollution of the planet follows directly on from our culture of blame and hatred — particularly of those who have wealth and whom we deny that we envy so we can feel virtuous for criticising for their choices — and we could heal the Earth simply through the long-term application of love.
Richard Rohr again: "A religion based on necessary or required sacrifices, required primarily of Jesus and later the underclass, is just not glorious enough for, hopeful enough for, or even befitting the marvelous creation that we are a part of. To those who cling to Anselm's understanding, I would say, as J. B. Phillips wrote so many years ago, 'Your God is too small.'
"Far too many evils have been committed in history under the manipulative cry of 'sacrifice,' usually violent and necessary sacrifice for an always 'noble' cause. But I believe Jesus utterly undoes the very notion of sacrificial requirements for God to love us — first in himself and in all of us. 'Go, learn the meaning of the words, what I want is mercy, not sacrifice' (Matt. 9:13, 12:7).
"It is not God who is violent. We are.
It is that God demands suffering of humans. We do." (The Universal Christ.)
So, what is the point of the crucifixion and the resurrection? It is transformational not transactional. We all suffer "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" ... and by dying to that suffering, "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they are doing" (allowing it rather than resisting it or fighting people over it or blaming people for not saving us from it), then resurrection is a done deal. How? Because we let go of our own judgement of the situation and allow Grace in.
I can't say it any better than Richard does:
"The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a 'mixed' world which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured...
"... Jesus the Christ agreed to carry the mystery of universal suffering. He allowed it to change him ('resurrection') and, it is to be hoped, us, so that we would be free from the endless cycle of projecting our pain elsewhere or remaining trapped inside of it...
"...We are indeed saved by the cross — more than we realise. The people who hold contradictions and resolve them in themselves are the saviours of the world. They are the only real agents of transformation, reconciliation and newness.
"Christians are meant to be the visible compassion of God on earth." (The Universal Christ.)
Thank you for reading to the end. Happy Easter.