Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Substitionary Atonement and Torture

The question is: why do Christians who attend church the most faithfully tend to support the use of torture. I've previously noted why torture is always wrong, but why do we not accept this testimony? One answer could be political -- the party that support(s)ed torture is supposed to be the more religious party.

But could it also be religious? I'm reading Borg and Crossan's The First Paul (HarperOne, 2009), and they wrestle with Paul's atonement language -- so that discussion is fitting into my mind this morning. But could it be that if one accepts the premise that God is justified in torturing (eternal fires of hell) a sinner, unless there is a substitute (read Jesus) who is able to bear the torture for us. Note that most theologies of atonement assume not simply death, but a torturous eternity for the sinner. Therefore, if God is justified in such an act then sure there is no reason why we're not justified in doing the same.

I think that we have to recognize that atonement language is present. We hear that Jesus has died for our sins, but if this true, what does it mean? Borg and Crossan suggest that our traditional readings of this matter are incorrect and anachoristic. We're reading medieval theologies into Paul.

To help us sort out this issue, Borg and Crossan suggest that the cross "reveals God's character as love and God's passion in the world." It's not substitution, but rather that he died for the sake of another. They write:

A parent risks her life and dies in order to save her child from a burning house. A soldier leaps on a grenade in order to save the lives of his buddies. One might say that the mother and the child died instead of the child and his buddies, but one wouldn't mean as a "substitute." Rather, they gave up their lives for the sake of others. They died that others might live. (pp. 120).

While Borg and Crossan don't deal directly with our current issue, I think that they're right about the implications of our theological choices. So, could it be that a theology that assumes God is in God's rights to torture, might give one permission to do the same?


John said...

It isn't just Paul but Jesus himself who speaks of Divinely initiated torture (Matthew 18).

Am I rationalizing by suggesting that here Jesus was using traditionally understood language for a form of punishment/compensation which cannot be communicated in human words?


Mystical Seeker said...

I think you raise a good point. If God represents the greatest that is, then the attributes we assign to God surely would seem to correlate with our values of what is right and wrong. And if we think that God endorses torture as a means to some sort of higher end, then it is not a big leap to support torture by human s towards some allegedly higher purpose. Maybe you really can draw a straight line from substitutionary atonement to Torquemada and Dick Cheney.

I remember reading somewhere that the Alpha course uses the example of the priest who chooses to die in someone else's place at a Nazi concentration camp as an analogy of Jesus's substitutionary atonement. It amazes me that people would actually make this analogy, since it basically makes God out to be a Nazi.

Cody Stauffer said...

Very true, our theology dictates what we accept as right and just.

Reading this reminded me of a quote that Fr. Richard Rohr made in Albuquerque. I think Phyllis Tickle made the comment that we now have to wrestle with what we mean by atonement, recognizing that our widely accepted view of substitution/penal atonement was so new in the scope of Christian history. Rohr got up after her and made this statement:

"Christ didn't come to change God's mind about us, but to change our minds about God."

Mystical Seeker said...

I like that quote!

Anonymous said...

We seem to be playing fast and loose with words here. The political torture issue at hand is whether using physical harm to another is a right way to extract information or to cause a change in view/perspective. The problem is torture can be an overused word. "its torture raising these kids.."

I think jumping from torturing prisoners for information to the atonement is a HUGE leap. Was Jesus tortured, sure, the night before his death. What was his reaction.. nothing. Clearly this wasn't to support torture, rather how do we respond to it.


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


The question here is why evangelicals especially have been supportive of the use of torture. Could it be that embracing penal substitutionary atonement, which in many of its forms assumes that God requires the torturous death of Jesus in order to satisfy his honor, etc. I think there is a correlation.

Mystical Seeker said...

Torture is not only used by authorities to gather information or to change a point of view. Sometimes it is used to set an example so others will be cowered into submission, or sometimes for no other reason than for sadistic pleasure. The Romans tortured their political criminals, such as Jesus, as a political act. It doesn't really matter why torture is used, though--it is recognized by modern, civilized societies as morally wrong in all cases. Doesn't matter what the ostensible justification is. The Romans themselves did not torture their condemned political criminals in order to extract information or to change their point of view; they did it as part of their overall plan of subjugation and punishment of those who threatened their established order.

According to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the Romans were used as God's proxies for the commission of torture. God supposedly needed to have Jesus tortured and he used the Romans, who were masters at cruel subjugation, to serve his purposes. So no matter how you slice it, this doctrine claims that torture can be acceptable in order to serve a divine purpose. And once you accept this, I suspect it is not too difficult to accept that torture might be acceptable in other circumstances. I once remember running across someone who claimed that God favors capital punishment precisely because God had Jesus executed. So if this justification is used for capital punishment, the same can be used for torture.

Anonymous said...

I like Fr. Richard Rohr's quote too.

All the rest is commentary. Really, this is cartoon stuff. It’s quite embarrassing and leads many away from the church. To think it might justify torturing others in this life? Who wants to identify with that? I don't buy it at all. Gives me the "blank stares".

This has been my concept, never was more than this since I was 6 years old or so. You see, I don't think we'll be meat puppets then.

Daniel 12:2 (New International Version) Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

David Mc

A. D. Hunt said...

I think Evangelicals have been supportive of torture because they have for nigh on 30 years mistaken the agenda of the Republican party and American nationalism as co-extensive with Christianity.

The candidate for the episcopacy of Northern Michigan wrote an essay saying that Anselm's atonement theology supported violence and this medieval scholar refuted him. Just scroll down to "An Open Letter to the Bishop-elect of Michigan"


John said...

I think substitutionary atonement is intellectual nonsense. It is an attempt by Western Greeks to make sense of the the Jewish notion of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and the New Testament refrains that Jesus died for our sins and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. If Jesus was the son of God and was God himself, then how do you explain the humiliation of the Almighty God on the Cross.

Western Greeks thinkers within the Church sought an intellectual framework to fit all this into, and they logicked their way into Substitutionary Atonement. Worse yet, the position developed within the Western Church that this nonsense notion was not only an elegant solution to the conundrum, but that it should become and article of faith and a test of orthodoxy.

In my thinking it is a working theory at best, and at worst it denies the image of God as merciful and compassionate as described by Jesus. It paints a picture of a god implacably yoked to the mathematics of justice - of a god obsessively insisting that someone has to pay the price before humanity can cross the bridge into the heaven of reconciliation with the Creator; and only the slaughter of the unblemished paschal Lamb of God carries the theological weight to balance out the scales and offset the weight of the totality of human sin.

For me the theory of Atonement as always made God seem like the troll in the fairy tale of the billy goats gruff! Worthy of fear but surely not worthy of worship.

Some things (if not all things) about God are a mystery, resisting simple, once-for-always explanations, and constantly calling humans to reflect and re-engage with God and with the revelations of God for new and contextually relevant insights and for whispers of Divine inspiration.

OK, that' my rant.


Jody said...

I had started to respond to this posting on Tuesday. To be honest, I had to wait because my initial response to your posting, Bob, was to feel a bit frustrated and a bit insulted. I read your post as recycling the tired liberal line that "it's impossible to affirm a traditional theological belief and be socially conscious." That was an unfair response on my part, since you've begun a very thoughtful discussion on this topic. I feel obligated to respond, though, because as one who affirms substitutionary atonement, I can say that belief caused me to oppose torture as strongly as I do.

I will readily agree that many evangelicals have used a belief in substitutionary atonement either to justify an ethical laziness or, worse, to affirm acts of violence. However, I don't see how this is an INEVITABLE result of a belief in subsitutitonary atonement. I think it's not only possible to reconcile a beleif in substitutionary atonement and an opposition to torture, but I'd argue, the Christian who thoughtfully reflects on substitutionary atonement is left with no other choice but to oppose torture.

I don't see in substitutionary atonement a vengeful, bloodthirsty God gleefully sending his son to death, but a loving God who chooses to forego his wrath through an act of self-giving love. Liberals and evangelicals (I hate using labels- sorry!) are often mistaken in their critique and affirmation, respectiely, of substitutionary atonement, because they fail to examine substitutionary atonement in light of the Trinity (the ONLY way it makes any sense) and in light of reconciliation(2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
To quote Miroslav Volf: "What happened then when God 'made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (2 Cor. 5:21)? The answer is simple: God placed human sin upon God! . . . The God who is One beyond numbering and yet mysteriously Three reconciled us by shouldering our sin in the person of Christ who is one of the Three. That's the mystery of human redemption made possible by the mystery of God's Trinity. The One who was offended bears the burden of the offense." (145).

If this is God's way of dealing with his enemies- to give of himself, God the Son freely accepting the penalty that belongs to others, so that the wrath of God WON'T be exercised- I'm left baffled by: 1) evangelicals who see no conflict between God's embrace of his enemies through the cross, and 2) those leveling a charge that substitutionary atonement will inevitably lead to support of torture merely because such a belief presents an image of "divinely sanctioned violence." Yes, it's divinely sanctioned violence, but put things in perspective in the torture debate- what if the one offended, the one to carry out the punishment, takes that punishment on himself? Instead of the heretical nonsense in many evangelical circles that torture and substitutionary atonement are even reconcilable, I see a better application in the torture debate: A guard is assigned to waterboard a prisoner, and instead, the guard demands that the torture be inflicted on himself. After the torture is inflicted, the guard, bloodied and wounded, turns to the prisoner and says, "I have borne your punishment, and you are not an enemy- you are now my friend."

I'll readily say that substitutionary atonement needs to be critically examined, for historical, ethical and theological reasons, nor do I think it's the only way to understand the atonement. However, I think that both critics and thoughtless advocates of substitutionary atonement should understand that support for "divinely sanctioned violence" is not the most (or, I'd argue, even A) logical outcome of such a belief.

Mystical Seeker said...
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Mystical Seeker said...

The problem with an analogy of a prison guard in a camp that tortures its prisoners is that it makes God the Father out to be a sadistic camp warden. Not just sadistic, but a psychopath, since the warden in this case doesn't even care who suffers the torture, as long as torture is carried out on someone. The Alpha course, or so I hear, tries to make a similar analogy with a priest to took the punishment for a fellow inmate at a Nazi camp. This analogy is unintentionally funny because it makes out God the Father more or less explicitly to be a Nazi.

Jody said...

Mystical Seeker,

Imperfect as the image I used is, the purpose is to illustrate that God is choosing to be the one to bear the punishment. As I said earlier, I think a Trinitarian theology is necessary to avoid a problematic view of substitutionary atonement. Where both my comparison and yours ultimately fail is that in a Trinitarian view of the atonement, the "warden" himself feels the torture. He isn't just randomly unleashing or allowing the torture on someone else. Both my example and yours are still assuming someone else orders the torture or execution, and an entirely separate person is the victim. Without a Trinitarian approach, your criticism has merit, because the "warden" receives none of the torture and indeed can come off a sadist; in light of the Trinity, the exact opposite happens, in my opinion. God the Son stands in as the victim so those who would bear the punishment go free. My Trinitarian belief affirms that the Father, Son, Holy Spirit act interdependently, so the Father will experience the pain of the cross himself, not just as a grieving parent but because he acts in concert with the Son.

The Trinity is supposed to be a mystery, so all human examples will be inadequate. The closest I can imagine (and even this is imperfect) that parallels the work of the Trinity on the cross is to think of a family of two parents whose child has been murdered, and the parents decide that one of them, depending on the results of a coin-toss, will be executed in the place of the murderer so the murderer can go free and be redeemed. These parents have been wronged and grieved, and we would say they have a right to their wrath, but a violent and vengeful option that only punishes the wrongdoer will neither heal their brokenness nor transform the wrongdoer. The surviving parent isn’t merely tossing the other parent onto the electric chair, not caring who suffers the torture. Instead, that parent will feel an unspeakable grief at the loss because in marriage, the two were made one; he/she has lost part of himself/herself, but the action has taken place because both parents have decided that the law of love requires a sacrificial act so the murderer may go free. (This is actually the very image that came to me that changed my mind about the death penalty.) It takes an example this far-fetched and incomprehensible for me to understand the vastness of God’s mercy and the redemptive love of the cross. This is what I see happening in substitutionary atonement. The Father isn’t a remote sadist making his Son die for the sake of others, but He feels the pain and wounds from the cross. (I know this comes dangerously close to Patripassianism, but I don’t see any way around this.) A mercy this great, one that chooses to receive the punishment so the wrongdoer’s deeds are forgiven, can never be a pretext for supporting torture or inflicting death.

I think that’s where our approaches differ significantly. From your post, I don’t think you see the Father as taking any role other than the one ordering or inflicting the torture. For me, I think Trinitarian theology compels a materially different conclusion.

Mystical Seeker said...

As a panentheist, I believe that God perfectly feels everyone's pain, not just Jesus's. For a panentheist, it isn't necesary to construct a convoluted Trinitarian doctrine that no one understands but everyone is supposed to pay lip service to anyway and then proclaim its incomprehensibility a "mystery". Nor is it necessary to invoke the Son's incarnation as God's means of knowing what it is like to be human; God perfectly knows what it is like to be human already, and always did, because panentheism posits that God shares in all of our subjective experiences.

The problem I see with the parent and death penalty analogy, like pretty much all of these analogies, is that it takes for granted a starting point of "justice", a human concept that we generally understand, but then the concept is altered to such an extent that it becomes meaningless to even invoke the concept. It is a case of trying to have it borth ways--invoking the concept of "justice" when it is convenient and then dropping it like a hot potato when it isn't. The parent in this analogy isn't just taking the fall for the murderer by agreeing to be executed, but is in fact the lawmaker and judge who instituted capital punishment in the first place. The parent, in other words, had the choice of not executing anyone at all. Instead, we have this strange concept of "justice" that says that blood must be shed and horrible personal suffering must be carried out on someone, even if it isn't the person who committed the crime. This is not how most of us conceive of justice; consider the example of the twin brother in Sweden who, a few years ago, tried to serve time for his brother (http://www.redorbit.com/news/oddities/113169/twins_swap_identities_for_jail_break/). This was not deemed acceptable by the authorities, and for good reasons that have to do with how humans understand justice.

I also think that the idea that God is himself doing the suffering so that makes it okay to impose suffering on his son seems to border dangerously close to docetism. The human Jesus who suffered that horrible torture may have been part of the Trinity but was still fully human, according to Trinitarian doctrine. So just because God the Father somehow shared in this suffering, that doesn't change the fact that a fully human being was required to endure suffering in order to satisfy this concept of "justice".

The reason I disagree that "a mercy this great, one that chooses to receive the punishment so the wrongdoer’s deeds are forgiven, can never be a pretext for supporting torture or inflicting death" is that there is an underlying premise that immense suffering and torture must lie at the heart of this "justice". The fact that God ostensibly chooses to take have a fully human-fully-divine mystery undergo this suffering doesn't change the fact that it was God who ostensibly decreed that somebody has to suffer horribly in the first place.

And the worst part of it is that, if you believe that non-believers go to hell (which I do not), then a lot of people are going to end up suffering eternally anyway! So all that suffering by Jesus only saved some percentage of people from the torture that Jesus's partner in the Trinity decreed.

All in all, in my view, none of it makes much sense.

John said...


You said: "but a loving God who chooses to forego his wrath...."

Who determined that the God who self-proclaims to be a god of Love, mercy, compassion, and limitless forgiveness, is also a god of wrath?

I know there are Scriptural references to the wrath of God, but it is a stretch to then presume that God's usual or even occasional reaction to a circumstance will be wrath rather than compassion and love. Substitutionary Atonement presumes that God's primary response is wrath, and God's secondary response is mercy and forgiveness - which in the scheme of Atonement, are merely Divine responses to pre-existent Divine wrath.

It is an assumption I find hard to accept.


John said...


In your response to Mystical Seeker you set forth an example of two parents and a murdered son, where one agrees to be executed in place of the murderer so that the murder will have a chance at redemption.

Your example still presumes a sovereignly imposed death penalty, and a sovereign who is less concerned with redemption and more concerned with formulaic or even wrathfully imposed justice than the self-sacrificing parent.

God makes the rules, God is not a slave to the rules. Atonement presumes that the rules supersede the will of God, and that in order to overcome the mindless monster of justice, God must engage in this act of self-sacrifice on the cross.

I remain disturbed by the notion.


John said...

Mystical Seeker,

You said: "Nor is it necessary to invoke the Son's incarnation as God's means of knowing what it is like to be human; God perfectly knows what it is like to be human already, and always did, because panentheism posits that God shares in all of our subjective experiences."

I see the incarnation as not intended to allow God to go slumming among his creatures, but for his creatures to experience a glimpse of the transcendent, and to know that the life of love and compassion that God calls us to lead can be led by a human being.


John said...

Mystical Seeker,

I think you are right, suffering is never from God, nor is it ever the will of God that suffering should occur, not as a crime and not as accident of nature, and not as a punishment.


Mystical Seeker said...

"I see the incarnation as not intended to allow God to go slumming among his creatures, but for his creatures to experience a glimpse of the transcendent, and to know that the life of love and compassion that God calls us to lead can be led by a human being."

John, I agree that this makes much more sense.

Mystical Seeker said...
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Mystical Seeker said...

"it is a stretch to then presume that God's usual or even occasional reaction to a circumstance will be wrath rather than compassion and love"

That was very well put.

"Atonement presumes that the rules supersede the will of God, and that in order to overcome the mindless monster of justice, God must engage in this act of self-sacrifice on the cross."

It seems like this theology has God investing a lot of creative energy in coming up with a legal loophole to get around the rules that s/he him/herself created in the first place--rules that are, I might add, extreme and horrific in their consequences. Imagine the ruler of a human society who created a system of "justice" in which everyone, from a jaywalker to a serial killer, gets the same, identical maximum penalty of excruciating and unlimited torture, and then to show how merciful he is the ruler concocts a legal loophole that still involves torture and death.

Ron Henzel said...

Borg and Crossan have raised some valid issues at this point, and propose a provocative solution to the problem they perceive. Ultimately, however, I cannot go along with it, because I do not believe it passes the test of biblical teaching. I also think it carries with it some problems of its own.

In the long run, I see their argument leading in the direction of invalidating all types of penal suffering. Would any of us seriously argue that imprisonment is not a form of suffering? Even monetary damages for the "pain and suffering" of others is the cause of suffering to those who are forced to pay them. Where is the line between torture and inflicting other types of suffering on people? If we totally de-legitimize any and all penal suffering, it will not be long before our legal system has no way to inflict any kind of punishment on criminals. Some may scoff at the notion that this is a logical outcome of Borg's and Crossan's argument, but there are a lot of things that didn't seem legally plausible twenty or thirty years ago that have huge constituencies lobbying Congress today.

I would argue that we instinctively know, thanks to the law of God that's written on all our hearts (per Romans 2) that justice demands that sin carry a penalty, and that such penalty would be meaningless if it were either enjoyable or non-problematic for the person receiving it. Penalties always involve suffering. The real question is, where does just suffering end and cruelty being?

As for the role of suffering in Christ's atonement, I've put down my own thoughts in a blog post titled "The Lamb That Was Slain."

John said...


You said: "I would argue that we instinctively know, thanks to the law of God that's written on all our hearts (per Romans 2) that justice demands that sin carry a penalty"

When my children commit a sin, a rules violation in my home, I have never been one to automatically impose a penalty. Instead my concern is that they recognize the error and appear sincere in their desire not to do it again. That is all I can hope for.

That being accomplished there is no need for a penalty. In my house I make the rules and I choose how I will enforce them. A penalty is exacted, if ever, to cause future performance results or to compensate a victim. I do not and will not impose a penalty because I intuitively know that justice calls for a penalty to be exacted.

I personally receive no comfort or satisfaction from seeing a penalty exacted against an offender. I would prefer to see the offender reconciled to the victim or to see the offender reconciled to the wholesome values which justice seeks to protect.

Justice is an idea and for each of us it is different. It has no power or life of its own. It cannot compel obedience or satisfaction. It is not a monster waiting for its pound of flesh.

Compassion and reconciliation are the pre-eminent values preached by Jesus, not ritually enforced justice. Look at the story of the woman caught in adultery!


Mystical Seeker said...

Even if we are to presume that every rules violation must necessarily involve a penalty, I would argue (as I have before) that it defies any meaningful concept of justice to give the same penalty, which is the maximum and most excruciating and terrible imaginable, in response to each and every offense, ranging from the most petty act of jaywalking to the worst serious acts of rape, torture, and murder. And yet this is what the doctrine of substitutionary atonement would have us believe about God's definition of justice. It simply defies credibility. This is not justice in any sense of the word.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


I think that Mystical Seeker is right about proportionality. Just to take your suggestion that sin requires a penalty, how does a relatively minor sin demand death. We as humans, at least Western humans, having experienced the enlightenment would not make such a ruling. By doing this we make looking lustfully at a woman equivalent to genocide. Both may be wrong in the eyes of God, but are the equivalent.

But more importantly, what is the biblical definition of appropriate penalty?

Ron Henzel said...

Pastor Bob,

You asked, "How does a relatively minor sin demand death[?]" You mean, for instance, a sin like eating a piece of forbidden fruit?

Proportionality is the order of the day when it comes to laws that administer justice for sins that one human being commits against another. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life," as the Law of Moses tells us. But this same concept of proportionality cannot be found anywhere in Scripture when it comes to sins humans commit against God. And ultimately, all sins are against God (cf. Psalm 51); thus, as Paul teaches, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Proportionality is a good and proper idea. It expresses one part of God's nature, but it leaves out a couple of others. For one thing, "a life for a life" is totally just, and totally fair, but it leaves no room for mercy. Of course, this is not a problem for the actual concept of distributive justice in and of itself, but it is a problem for anyone seeking to be a biblical Christian, since God's word actually requires mercy of His people.

There is another thing, however, that proportionality cannot express, at least not the kind of proportionality that we're familiar with, living as we do on a plane where justice must be applied to equally finite beings. I am referring to the heinousness of rebellion against the infinite, personal, holy God. We have no way, other than the way God gives us, to measure this. How evil is it, really, to eat a piece of fruit that God has said not to eat, and that if you do, you will die? Is that proportional?

So Adam and Eve stole a piece of fruit. Now, if they'd stolen it from another human being, the law would require to restore what they'd taken and then some. But they stole it from God. But is this merely a matter of God's property rights being violated? Is it not more of a matter of His rights as the sovereign of the universe being violated? God technically owns everything. All the other fruit trees in the garden were His, too. With what fruit could Adam and Eve repay Him that is not already His? How would that be just?

No, they had taken something far more important from God, something that the average person has never wanted to admit is as deserving of punishment as it really is. This is why we are told about the change that occurred in them before God leveled His curses upon them. They became alienated from God each other (hence the nakedness issue), and each shifted blame to someone else. This shows us that they had not simply stolen fruit from God, they had stolen themselves. They were not two people who had rebelled only at one very minor point in their lives; they were now rebels by nature.

Death is a proportional penalty for sin because it signifies a whole attitude of rebellion against God. Death is a necessary penalty because God's nature demands it.

But God's nature also desires (not demands) mercy. Adam turns to his wife and names her "Eve," the mother of all living, because it occurs to him after hearing the curses inveighed against the serpent that they are not actually going to die that very day. They will live and have children, and one of those children will defeat the serpent. How? By bringing God's justice and God's mercy together on the cross.

This is what the Scriptures teach, and it is what I believe.

John said...


You said: "Death is a necessary penalty because God's nature demands it. But God's nature also desires (not demands) mercy. "

This is where you and I disagree most vividly - there is no such thing as a "necessary penalty," and God's nature IS merciful and God DEMANDS that we are merciful - on pain of torture!! (Matt 18) Mercy and compassion are not mere desires or suggestions.

I would also suggest another interpretation of the Garden story. The sin was not eating the fruit, it was not lying or blame shifting - all of those are too minor, too venial to merit God's active response. They are the things children do, and those who are too juvenile to follow rules or accept responsibility for their actions.

For me the real sin was the choice to follow their own counsel, to reject what God offers, to not trust in the Lord to provide, to not trust in the Lord, period. It is a sin which every human being has shared since the first man and woman. It is THE original sin.

The nature of free will is that God allows us to believe in him, and to live a life of trust in God's good will, and faith in God's loving providence. Yet each and everyone of us has moments - for some stretching a lifetime - where we just don't have the confidence in the Lord that the Lord will provide.

We reach for that fruit because our own judgment tells that God is either wrong about this thing or that God has no role to play in this matter. We choose to go it alone - for whatever reason. That is the ultimate sin, to give up on God and shut God out of our lives, partially or completely.

Sin is not about breaking rules - rules are man-made. (In Christ all things are lawful but not all things are benficial.) Sin is about failing to love the Lord, it is about failing to love your neighbor.


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Ron, I wanted to pick up on your comment on the Adam and Eve story. Now, as you might gather from this blog I don't take that story as literal history, but instead as metaphor. But, whether history or metaphor, as I read the text. The "law" stated, if you eat of it you'll surely die, but what did that entail? Obviously they didn't die physically, but rather their relationship with God was severed and they became alienated. Does the reversal of this require death, or obedience? Might we look to another way of interpreting this text besides penal substitution, which isn't required by the Genesis text.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think most of us understand that the substitutionary atonement doctrine claims that "Death is a necessary penalty because God's nature demands it." The real problem is that simply asserting that this is God's nature is not, in an of itself, an argument. It is really just a tautology to say that God is this way because, well, God is this way. One needs to do better than that. This claim does not explain how this supposed Divine nature is consistent with any conception of God as being worthy of our worship, of God being just or moral--and in fact it really serves as a counterargument for the very existence of such a God.

Tell an atheist that this is the nature of the God you believe in and more than likely they will take that a perfect reason for not believing in your God. (Hence Marcus Borg's statement to atheists, "Tell me about the God you don't believe in." ) If human reason and common sense and morality cannot be used to describe God's nature, then what we are left with is an arbitrary and sadistic image of a God who assigns the maximum and cruelest punishment for the slightest offense, and we are simply told that it is not ours to reason but to simply accept. I don't think so. I prefer to use our God-given capacity to reason.

John said...

Mystica Seeker,

If God is a monster then God is monster, and there is not much to be done but to appease the monster.

But how do we know whether God is a monster or not? All I can do is look at what God has self-disclosed to humanity through God's creation and through revelation, Scriptural and personal.

I look at Jesus as the ultimate corrective on the human assumptions asserted about God in the Hebrew Scriptures. Not that the Hebrew Scripture are defective but they are incomplete, and as is anything written by humans, filtered through human hearts.

The conclusions about God's character which I see as disclosed in the life and teaching of Jesus include compassion, healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness and love of an unimaginable depth. The love of God is so great that God was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his life for the sake of the creation he loves so much.

Personal revelation has built within me a sustaining faith and a passionate love for God. I am working on learning what I can about what it mans to love as God loves. I am a long way from it though.

Creation is an inexhaustible source of surprises and blessings.