No, Jesus Didn’t Die on the Cross to Take Away My Sins
One of the Christian teachings that never set well with me is known as the penal substitutionary atonement theory. This line of thinking is essentially that human sin is so abhorrent to God that he needs a blood sacrifice to bring about justice and allow the sinner to be able to have a relationship with him again. When Jesus died on the cross, the theory insists, he was taking the place of sinners as a sinless substitute. God’s wrath was poured out on his dying body, and he experienced the consequences that everyone else deserves and which is required in order for people to be reconciled with God.
It never made sense to me.
I wondered how God could demand that I be more forgiving than He was willing to be? How could God be all-powerful and yet “unable” to be near sin? If Jesus was supposed to be God, and God is supposedly not able to be near sin because of his holiness, how come Jesus hung out with sinners without compromising his holiness? And most importantly: Who says that blood sacrifice is necessary for forgiveness in the first place?
Eventually, I came to believe the penal substitutionary atonement theory is just one more toxic belief created by patriarchal Christianity. It does not reflect the nature or desires of God any more than the sexual slavery and genocides seen throughout the Bible reflect God’s purposes. Those things are descriptive of human cultures during those eras, and the Bible records human attempts to understand God with the explanations available to them during their time in history.
As I studied anthropology and theology in my undergrad and grad school classes, I was fascinated to learn that human sacrificial systems are very old. It made me wonder if the idea that God requires a blood sacrifice to forgive sins was less about God and more about the fact that in those cultures all gods required blood sacrifices because that secured their position as the most powerful of all. How could ancient people understand God other than to assume that he required blood to be appeased? They also assumed that the world is flat and the universe centered around the earth. The Bible’s record of those beliefs is not an endorsement of their truths.
In seminary, I read a book called Understanding Religious Sacrifice, and it seemed to hold the missing piece of this puzzle for me. The author of one chapter suggested that the inability of men to relate to/understand/control the female ability to bear life through blood is where sacrificial systems come from. He asserts that the very concept of blood sacrifice is a patriarchal invention. Violent sacrificial systems are at essence a male attempt at making an equivalent experience to female life-giving through bloody self-sacrifice.
Patriarchy operates by hierarchical “othering.” One is a man because he is NOT a woman, and one is a powerful male because he is NOT a weak male. This othering in the hands of sinful people becomes a hierarchy rather than the complementary nature that God intended. We see children in patriarchy trained in this hierarchy from early on. Boys know that they cannot be women. They cannot grow into “mother” the way that girls can. This is the beginning of the development of gender identity in children as a normal stage of development. However, when you factor in patriarchy, now boys need to define how they are better than girls, not simply different from girls. Patriarchy requires reasons for why males should lead and dominate. Yet, there is this problem. Women are life-bearers in a way that men cannot be. How do men compete with that?! Answer: Violent sacrifice.
Violent sacrificial systems seen in human cultures are the equal and opposite side of the sacrifice coin to female life-bearing. There really is no better word for pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood than “sacrifice.” Women do not personally benefit from the experience, and we bear physical and psychological scars forever. Babies are literal parasites of blood, body, and mental energy culminating in the most painful physical experience that a human can endure. On the other side of birth, good attachment between mothers and their children produces a measured psychic bond. It is why moms know when a sleeping baby has a fever and get up to check on them. Good mothering and sacrifice are synonymous, but it is radically different from the sacrifice system requiring the blood of the innocent. Motherhood is the spilled blood of the willing in order to bring new life.
The hierarchical system of patriarchy produces marginality. Anthropologists and psychologists have found that women and men have different responses to marginality. The female response to marginality is “I am not helpless because I am connected” while the male response is “I am not helpless because I am the most powerful.”* Interestingly, there is newer data in trauma research that shows this same tendency. Now that more research is being done on women, we’ve found that flight, fight, and freeze are not the only trauma responses. The fourth is “befriend” and is almost exclusively female. Women befriend in order to stay safe in trauma. This might mean befriending an abuser or others who may help her survive a situation. In the marginality of trauma, women often react by seeking connections, and it is measurable with the release of the hormone Oxytocin (called the “bonding hormone”). Interestingly, the release of Oxytocin in women is also found during labor, birth, and while nursing a baby.
I believe that women are biologically hardwired to embrace marginality. It is required in order to produce life. This is exactly the experience of pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood. It is the blurring of those lines between self and other. There are some fundamentally different things that women offer the world through our experiences with marginality. We know through recent studies that women leaders often lead with more empathy and a more frequent ability to collaborate without dominating. But what will we find if we start exploring what women intuit about the nature of God?
Theologically, it makes me wonder why we aren’t using concepts like motherhood to understand the cross of Jesus. Is a better understanding of sacrifice that of embracing marginality to bring forth life? The image of God as pregnant and giving birth to us as new, spiritually alive beings through the life and death of Jesus is so much more of an image of sacrifice than an innocent Christ being murdered by his angry Father to appease a bloodlust of some kind. This violent view, in my opinion, was invented by men and is reflective of the sacrificial systems in human religions across time and cultures. This is different from what Jesus referred to as our “second birth.” In fact, doesn’t the very language used by Christ to describe his purpose demand we look at the cross through the lens of motherhood? If we are born spiritually, Christ is doing the birthing. What he is describing is the spilled blood of the willing to bring life rather than the male imitation which is the murder of the innocent to satisfy the offended. Violent sacrifice is a cheap imitation of the life-giving sacrifice of mothering.
We haven’t been able to bring God as Mother into this conversation about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice because men have monopolized the theological conversation for the past 2000 years. Maybe that is why we have been fixated on things like the penal substitutionary atonement theory for so long. Male-offered theology is almost exclusively about explaining God, explaining God’s sacrifice, and defining what that means for the way we live. My experience with women is that we do not require those explanations as much as we want to participate with it in empathetic connection… which goes hand in hand with our experiences with marginality under patriarchy and as life-bearers.
It is possible that some of the God-playing being done in patriarchy, specifically in the Christian church, is at its very core due to the lack of a robust exploration of what it means that God is as much female as God is male. Both men AND women are image bearers, yet we have never adequately explored the depths of what it means that God is also our Mother. Perhaps reforming our understanding of the cross is the most important thing that female image bearers have to offer us. Jesus did not die to rescue us from the wrath of God against our sins; he became the human embodiment of the divine, suffered and sacrificed in life and death because there was simply no other way that we could understand what God is like. This understanding of what God is like as revealed in Jesus is spiritual birth. Jesus’ life and death was the sacrifice to make this birth possible for we were conceived, birthed, and continue to be nourished by Love.
* Quotes from the linked chapter in Understanding Religious Sacrifice.
52 thoughts on “No, Jesus Didn’t Die on the Cross to Take Away My Sins”
I stumbled across your blog and recognized a kindred spirit so I read several… At one point there was discussion of Richard Rohr and Living School. I am a graduate and so grateful for the experience. Beside the wonderful curriculum, I gained 10 study buddies who still meet regularly 3 years later. These are my team mates, my tribe and the brothers and sisters who know me and will never reject me. Living School and my study group have helped me so much in my deconstruction-reconstruction. A community like this is a benefit of Living School that I pray will be in your future.
Thanks so much! I have several friends who have gone through the Living School, and it sounds like a life-changing opportunity. In fact, my spiritual director is a graduate. I deeply appreciate that frame of reference and the kindness and openness I have experienced from people who have attended.
Thank you for this explanation. I agree that Jesus didn’t die to take away our “sins” – (yet agreement is not required).
Honestly, I don’t read the bible with any regularity. What I di is practice meditation 3+ hours daily.
Many words elude us as you have graciously pointed out. One is the word “sin”. My understanding of this word is quite simply “to turn away from God. .
So there’s that. Just as an individual cannot contract for a third party, or make a promise for another, Jesus cannot make you focus on God.
The real message in the crucifixion was to demonstrate the Ascension of the Soul, not the “washing away or cleansing” of sins”.
The karmic seeds of an individual’s life stay with them from one life to the next. The past actions (stress) is stored in the 3 bodies – ethereal, emotional and physical. The seeds are “cleansed” as one becomes Self Realized, otherwise the seeds continue to accumulate.
We live and operate in the waking, sleeping, dreaming states, the ego states Higher Consciousness is available beyond these three states. This is where we can burn away or cleanse the seed of karma.
The kingdom of God is within each individual and it resides in the Heart Chakra.
God gave us free will. We can choose to meditate and focus on God or seek happiness through material objects. We have eternity to figure this out. What we focus on grows.
We are all connected. Of course, I have no proof of this, except my personal experience. When I keep my focus on God, which I have vowed to practice, all of humanity benefits. All of the practice focuses on the Praise, Gratitude and Love of God. Total surrender to God. Each thought in Praise of God plucks the heartsting of all humanity.
Also, God is not male or female. Abwoon is oneness as described in Jean Chandler’s blog: …”Abwoon d’bwashmaya (Our Father who art in heaven). The prayer begins with the blessing that emanates from the divine creator. The ancient Middle Eastern root ab refers to all fruit, all germination proceeding from the source of Unity. This root came to be used in the Aramaic word for personal or spiritual father—abba, but its root does not specify a gender. It points beyond our concepts of male and female to a cosmic birthing process.
The word Abwoon has four parts to its sound-meaning: 1) a: the absolute, only being, pure oneness and unity, source of all power and stability, echoing the Aramaic word for God, Alaha, literally, the oneness; 2) bw: a birthing, creation, a flow of blessing, as if from the interior of this oneness to us; 3) oo: the breath or spirit that carries this flow, echoing the sound of breathing and including the forces we call magnetism, wind, electricity, and more. This sound is linked to the Aramaic phrase later translated as holy spirit; 4) n: the vibration of this creative breath from oneness as it touches and interpenetrates form. This sound echoes the earth, and the body vibrates as we intone the whole name slowly.”
All religions are saying the same things.
The reading of the bible, bhagavad gi/a, koran, et al are simply clues. The most powerful path to the Supreme Being is meditation.
Christ Consciousness is who we are. This is explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras written before the bible. Keep in mind, the East had just as many errant messages. So if you choose to do some reading, I recommend “Enlightenment ” by MSI. MSI was a sanskrit scholar and translated Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras with clear and easy to follow explanations.
Praises and accolades for your work.
Jai Isham Ishvaram
Thank you for this comment, Ann. I really loved your explanation of Abwoon d’bwashmaya. How beautiful! It’s so interesting to dig back into origin and context of words and stories. They come to life in a whole new way!
One of the things I am learning is how truly connected we all really are as well as to the earth itself. It’s easier to forgive and to love my own self when I see that interconnectedness clearly. Everything we do impacts everything else. It reinforces how valuable every living thing really is.
Hi Delaina! I’m not sure why I do this on my phone… definitely makes it harder and honestly, I don’t even know if I’m responding in the right spot! Lol! I’m trying to respond to your comment about Moses writing the Pentateuch and his authorship being self-referrencing and, therefore, illogical to believe. If it’s illogical to believe that Moses wrote it simply because it says he did, then it would also have to be illogical for me to believe that the book Yielded Captive was written by Delaina May. The book says she is the author. I don’t think it’s illogical for me to believe it. And many decades from now, if my kids kids kids have the privilege of reading it, I would hope they would read the name of the author without doubting it to be true. Great book, btw! 🙂 But as for Moses, it’s not solely self-referrenced. Many people throughout the Bible declare that Moses wrote it. Joshua, for one. Then Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi. In the New Testament you have John, Luke, Acts, Romans (and maybe more)… all referring to the writings of Moses. What is more, Jesus himself said in John 5:46-47, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
In 1982, an author by the name of DeHaan said this… “Prove that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch and you prove that Jesus was totally mistaken and not the infallible Son of God he claimed to be. Upon your faith in Moses as the writer of the five books attributed to him rests also your faith in Jesus as the Son of God. You cannot believe in Jesus Christ without believing what Moses wrote. You see, there is much more involved in denying the books of Moses than most people suppose” (1982, p. 41). You may disagree, and that is your decision, which I respect your right to agree or disagree. But understanding what is true and what is false in all of this matters, and I hope your readers are doing their own critical thinking about what you or anyone else (including me) teaches. I, for one, am grateful for our conversations here, causing each of us to dig into the truth of the Bible. I have definitely learned a lot!
You can prove that Dalaina May wrote Yielded Captive because there are historical documents including contracts, emails, photos, and dated drafts proving it. Not because my name shows up in the book.
Historical documents show that Moses didn’t. It’s an argument against history and archaeology and science to argue that he did. Just because the ancient Jewish tradition gave credit to Moses for authorship doesn’t make it reality. They also thought the earth was flat and the center of the world. 😉
It’s kind of the same thing that 7 day creationist have to do. They have to insist that the literal reading of the Bible and their interpretation of it is the foundation of truth even when multiple scientific fields have shown that this simply isn’t how the universe came to be.
I think that we have to think like the ancients. It was normal to use myths to point to explain bigger truths and it was normal to ascribe authorship where there wasn’t and to smash literature together that was written by multiple people and to copy other documents and to use exaggerations to make a point or tell a story. So I think if we treat the Bible the way it treats itself, and the way the ancients did, it’s really not a problem to say that the true authorship was vast and complicated and gave credit to Moses when he didn’t actually write it. And historical and scientific evidence supports this approach.
Also, how exactly did Moses write the end of Deuteronomy that describes his death and the reaction of Israel to his death??
I think the end can easily be credited to Joshua, or even a scribe. That’s not a stretch by any means to say Moses wrote it except the end about his actual death. You’ve referred to archeology a number of times but I don’t know what archeological finds you’re referring to. I’d definitely be interested though if you would share. Also, as for the style of writing, what evidence points to that? I’ve honestly never heard of any historical books being interpreted the way you’re saying the Bible should be. I would think that the number of references throughout history stating Moses as the author would be similar to the modern day evidence we have that Delaina May wrote Yielded Captive. Obviously, you’re still alive so you can attest to it yourself, but what about when you’re no longer here? If we apply the same logic you’re using for the Bible, anybody could say whatever they want about your book and call it their own personal “truth,” but it might not be truth at all.
This answers your questions but there are many many scholarly articles and books you can look up to study more. Among biblical scholars (not pastors not theologians) it’s not really a debate. Moses did not write the Pentateuch. And just like you easily ascribed authorship to Joshua even though the Bible never does, you can do it for the rest of the Pentateuch.
Here’s the article. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-who-wrote-the-torah-1.5318582
You’re right, the Bible does not say that Joshua wrote the end of the Pentateuch describing Moses’ death. But Joshua, among others, says that Moses wrote those books. Jesus himself assigns authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses and treats it as the words of God himself (inspired of God). How do you account for that?
First, did you read the article I sent? I think it’s fair that you do that and reply to it before moving on. We can’t have a conversation if you don’t know where I am coming from and why I am saying what I am.
I read part of it but it’s requiring me to subscribe before reading further, which I don’t want to do. Do you have any other resources?
So weird. It never asked me to subscribe before. Well, I copied the whole stinking thing for you. Here’s the entirety of the article (though unfortunately you don’t get all the links). Let me know what you think.
For thousands of years people believed that the five books of the Pentateuch were written by Moses. The Talmud even explicitly says so. But it couldn’t have been, academics say.
Even a cursory read of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, shows that the Torah could not have been written by a single person – because of differences in style, language and contradiction in the texts, among other things. Scholars studying the bible in Germany during the 18th and 19th centuries concluded that it was a composite work by editors tying together earlier texts written by very different authors.
This conclusion is based on four characteristics recurring in the Torah. (1) The language used in different sections differs widely. (2) Varying ideology. (3) Contradictions in the narrative. (4) The text is strangely repetitive in part, for no obvious reason, indicating that two versions of a single story were included.
Let’s start with the indications that the authors of the Torah were a multitude of people from different eras, not one person; then we can consider who these writers were. Aptly, we can begin with examples from Genesis.
In the name of God
The best example of changing language is in the name of God.
The Bible begins with the line “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Throughout the first account of creation, God is called Elohim. But starting in Genesis 2:4, a second and different account of creation begins – in which God is called Yahweh.
The two accounts also vary in ideology. Elohim in the first account of creation was transcendent – creating the world by his will alone, without interacting with mankind. Yahweh in the second account of creation is immanent, almost human: He talks with Adam and performs surgery on him too. Evidently these two sharply different visions of God were conceived by different men.
In further proof of differential authorship, the accounts of creation contradict one another. In the first, Elohim creates the animals on Thursday and then creates man and woman on Friday – together. In the second account, Yahweh creates man, then the animals, and only after failing to find a partner for man among them does he create woman out of man’s rib. These strikingly different stories had to be written by different people.
Say what? And say it again
The repetition and contradictions thus start with Genesis. Another case is Noah’s Ark.
Unlike the case of creation, the redactor didn’t put the two accounts of Noah and the flood side by side. The two accounts are interwoven, as we see from the morphing name of God, which switches back and forth between Elohim and Yahweh from passage to passage. But the merger of the two stories is not seamless otherwise too.
For one, Noah loads the animals onto the Ark twice: “There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as Elohim had commanded Noah”״ (Genesis 7:9); and then again just a few passages later “And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life” (Genesis 7:15).
Even more strikingly, perhaps, we are told twice that the flood covered the earth: “And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters” (7:18) followed by “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.” (7:19)
If it isn’t concrete evidence that there was more than one writer, it’s still an impressively smoking gun.
Meet the writers: The Yahwist, the Elohist, priests, and the Deuteronomist
Ultimately the German scholars, led by Julius Wellhausen, came up with “the Documentary Hypothesis,” postulating that the Pentateuch was compiled from of four earlier books long lost in time, which were merged by an editor dubbed the Redactor. The scholars gave each of these four books (or writers) a name: the Yahwist, the Elohist, the Priestly writers, and the Deuteronomist.
The Yahwist was characterized by using the Tetragrammaton (“Yahweh”) as the name of God. The Elohist writers, who called God “Elohim”, were Israelite priests. The Priestly writers were evidently temple priests (Judeans) serving in Solomon’s Temple and their decedents, who dwelled on rite and sacrifice, and evidently engaged in battles over their status as well. And last but not least, “the Deuteronomist” is called so because he wrote Deuteronomy.
Incidentally, the first account of creation was evidently written by a Priestly source, the second by a Yahwist.
Scholars bitterly disagree over who wrote what and which texts are truly ancient and which were added later, as certainly much of the biblical sources surely consist of layers of additions and were not completely written by one single person. Yet there is much we can say about the writers of the Torah, even if we can’t name them.
The Elohist texts, the oldest in the bible
The background for the writing of the Bible is the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in the late 8th century BCE.
Israel and Judah were related Iron Age kingdoms whose residents practiced a sort of early Judaism, which was still a far cry from the rigid monotheistic religion we know today.
Archaeology tells us that the Kingdom of Israel was the greater regional power, while Judah was a backwater vassal kingdom. This changed when the Assyrians destroyed Israel in 722 BCE. Following Israel’s subjection, many of the Israelite elite moved to the Judean capital – Jerusalem. These Israelite refugees brought their sacred texts with them: the Elohist texts, which are probably the oldest in the Torah.
These texts were probably written by court scribes in Semairah, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, or by priests in one of the kingdom’s important cultic sites such as Shilo. The Elohist source focuses on locations in the Kingdom of Israel and on the Israelite heroes Moses and Jacob, whom the Israelites saw as their ancestors. (It is not known whether the ancient Judeans also thought Moses and Jacob were their forefathers, but after the “Israelization” of Judah, they probably “adopted” their patriarchy too.)
With this influx of culture coming in from the Kingdom of Israel, the Judean priestly cast had to come up with their own narrative about Judah with its own mythical leaders and traditions. This is where the Yahwist source comes from, though at least some may have been written by Judean scribes before the destruction of the kingdom of Israel.
Whatever the case, it was shortly after this destruction that the two texts, the Yahwist and the Elohist, were merged by scribes into a single book.
The man who wrote Deuteronomy
The next portion of the Torah to be written is Deuteronomy, and this time we have a lot more information on its author. We even know his name: Shaphan (though some think the author was the prophet Jeremiah).
This scribe may have single-handedly changed the entire course of history by leading the king to profoundly change Jewish worship.
While the Yahwist-Elohic scripts take no issue with polytheism and people worshiping God or even several gods in temples and other cultic sites throughout the land, the ideology of Deuteronomy is clearly one God, one temple. Its composition evidently coincides with the unification of the Judaic cult and exclusion of other gods, which happened during the reign of King Josiah starting in 622 BCE.
The account, possibly written by Shaphan himself, goes as follows: “And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.” (2 Kings 22:10-11)
Scholars generally agree that this “book of the law” was an early version of Deuteronomy. Shaphan claimed that the book had been found in the Temple while the priests were cleaning up the storeroom.
Josiah thereupon ordered sweeping religious reforms: “Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.” (22:13)
Josiah’s reforms centralized the Jewish cult in Jerusalem and banned its practice anywhere else. It created a powerful oligarchy of temple priests, which took over and became the cultural elite of Judah from then on.
The Priestly source
It is these Judean temple priests (and their descendents) who are the Priestly Source.
Theirs is not only by far the largest portion of the bible but was the last added – which doesn’t mean the texts were added to the “end”. For example, the first account of creation that opens the bible was written by these priests.
Possibly the priests felt uncomfortable erasing ancient texts that came before theirs. They may have feared a force would punish them for editing of early text. On the other hand, they didn’t seem to have a problem adding to the text.
While the Israelite priests saw themselves as descendants of the great Moses, the temple priests believed they descended from Zadok, the first High Priest to serve in King Solomon’s Temple. The temple priests honored Elohist text as well as references to Moses, and would not have changed them – but they could justify their primacy over the Israelite priests by writing that Zadok’s lineage was descended from Aaron, Moses’ big brother and that God commanded that only they may give sacrifices to God.
Put otherwise, the temple priests – the “priestly writer” – are suspected of adding Aaron to the story of Moses in order to legitimize their standing in society.
Anyway, it was they who wrote all those laws in Leviticus. It was they who wrote most of the Bible.
The earliest parts of this priestly writing were carried out in the final decades of the Kingdom of Judah, but most would be written during the exile in Babylonia, after Judah’s destruction in 586 BCE. These temple priests led the Jews in their exile and continued to write in Babylon. Some even believe that Judaism as we know it today was forged in the crucible of the Babylonian exile.
In any case, when Cyrus the Great decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple in 538 BCE, he authorized a decedent of these temple priests, Ezra, to function as the returnees’ leader.
Ezra is called a scribe, a writer of books, and likely wrote at least some parts of the Priestly Source. He is also a good candidate for the Redactor, who edited the whole library preserved during the exile into a single book, though some further edits and changes evidently took place later as well.
Nehemiah, also a Jewish leader and contemporary of Ezra, seems to imply that at least some of the “book of the law of Moses” read to the people by Ezra on Rosh Hashanah upon the return from Babylonia was new: “And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month.”
There are some parallels between this story of the people learning about sukkot (“booths”) and the discovery of Deuteronomy, discussed above. In the first case they learned that they should celebrate Passover for the first time; now in the case of Nehemiah and Ezra, they are told to celebrate Sukkot. Whether or not these holidays existed before the writings of Ezra and Deuteronomy is unknown.
Over the years the Bible continued to change, albeit slightly. Several versions were in circulation before the text was canonized in what we call the Masoretic Text. However, it seems likely that by the time of the Second Temple, 6TH century BCE – 1ST century CE, much of the Torah existed in very much the form we know today.
I was raised evangelical, switched to a more progressive tradition as an adult which I enjoyed, but then still was not able to suspend my disbelief in the resurrection story. How do you accept that as real or reason that out? Do you have any book recommendations? I love your posts, and would love to hear more about these types of views on Christianity. Thanks!
That’s a very good question. One I wrestle with too. Some days, I struggle with belief a lot. It seems crazy and like a figment of my psychological needs. But I can’t not believe that God exists. Nothing makes sense without God to me. Not even science. The nature of God is the bigger question, and I fall into the God must be deeply good to bother with us at all. The person of Jesus fits that and I find his story compelling without needing proof of the accuracy of it. I don’t know that anything would change for me whether or not he was born of a virgin or if he was or wasn’t resurrected. I’ve seen and experienced enough weird unexplained stuff that I have space for the possibilities. And I know there simply is no way I’ll ever be able to “know” with certainty.
A long long time ago I wrote this post, and while it’s a bit dated for me in terms of my perspective of the Bible, in some ways, I think I fall into the same bottom line belief: it’s a choice. It’s a choice to believe and belief is as logical as non-belief and my life is better and more meaningful and productive with a God of love to believe in, emulate, and be centered in. http://dalainamay.com/certainty-faiths-distraction/
I also have been very encouraged and helped by basically everything that Pete Enns writes (The Sin of Certainty is great.). I saw this just a few days ago, and I deeply resonated with it. https://youtu.be/SsFvAX189hg
Dalaina, thank you for this. I’ll keep my response short by saying that I think and believe you are on point. Over the last couple of years I’ve been sharing with my son what I believe are not just views , but truths you have voiced in your article. I had to read your article twice because it resonates with me and it excited me! I have faced opposition from a few of my buddies when I share what I’ve learned about God in the face of Jesus, but I can’t go back to the lifeless way that makes no sense and paints a view of God that’s confusing and sinister at best. Thank you!
Solidarity on the journey. Once it explodes out of that box, it’s completely impossible to stuff it back in. I am learning that it is really okay to say that I’ve come to believe that my previous point of view is logically incoherent and full of cognitive dissonance and move on. When we get new information and experience, wisdom dictates that we adjust our viewpoints.
Dalaina, I wish I had more time to give this my full attention but I just don’t. For that I apologize, but I want to comment on this with at least a few important points. You posed the question ” Who says that blood sacrifice is necessary for forgiveness in the first place?” There are several places in the Bible that speak of God requiring blood sacrifice for sin as an atonement (a covering for sin). Hebrews 9:22 for starters: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” God himself lays out the plan for the Israelites to make atonement through blood sacrifice of various animals as seen throughout the book of Leviticus. Lev 17:11 “For the life of the creature is in the blood , and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar: it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” To say that the idea of blood sacrifice was not ordered by God as an atonement for sin, one would have to deny that the Bible is the inspired word of God, or at least many parts of it.
John doesn’t mention Jesus to be someone who simply helps us understand God. He said, “Look, the Lamb of God , who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29.
You also said “Jesus did not die to rescue us from the wrath of God against our sins…” However, the Bible says clearly in John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” As believers in Christ, the Son of God, if that is what we are, we should be more concerned about the truth of the Bible. Is it true and does it have authority in my life? Someone once told me something that stuck with me as I was dealing with a very painful experience from the mission field that was really similar to your own, though of course not the same, dealing with spiritual abuse. As I looked to books for help with the pain (and honestly, the bitterness), a friend told me to be careful and remember that those books are not the Bible and the author is not God. It has stuck with me. Richard Rohr has denied that Jesus is the Christ, as in the Messiah. He changes the definition of “Christ” to mean something cosmic that has nothing to do with the Messiah of the Bible. He denies Jesus as Lord.
The last thing I’ll respond to is your quote about Christ not being a willing participant in sacrificing himself for sin: “an innocent Christ being murdered by his angry Father..” Jesus himself clearly contradicts this in John 10:14-18: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father- and I lay down my life for the sheep. …the reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again…”
I recently watched a video that I thought was quite powerful about the truth of the Bible and some answers to progress Christianity. If you’re interested it’s called American Gospel. It’s over 2 hours long just so you’re aware, but well worth the time. Thank you for your willingness to engage in meaningful conversations! I have been following your journey, feeling your pain, and praying for you!
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate that you’re engaging with the post! I wanted to comment back with a few of my observations and responses. It took me awhile to get back to you because I knew my answer was going to be long and wanted to have a good block of time to write a thoughtful answer back. Buckle up!
Yes. You are right. I do not believe that the Bible is inerrant. If we mean that inerrant in the sense that it is without error, I think that is easily, demonstrably provable. There are many places where the Bible contradicts itself, where it contradicts known science, and where it is inconsistent with recorded history and archaeology. This was disturbing to me when I first realized it, but it isn’t any longer. I take the Bible too seriously to read it literally, and I cannot abide by the cognitive dissonance that it takes to believe the Bible has no factually inaccurate information.
The Bible is an authoritative book set in a certain cultural context in a certain time in history written by human authors who were trying to understand God as best they could. I think the process of writing and preserving those manuscripts can be said to be guided by God, but that doesn’t require that it become a divine, completely accurate book. God works through our humanity.
A few years ago, I spent time repenting of idolatry. I realized that I had been raised to revere the bible as the fourth member of the trinity. To question the Bible was to question God. That is heresy, and a very common one in the evangelical and fundamentalist Christian worlds. The Bible is tool; it is not a member of the Trinity. To challenge the bible is not to challenge god. Ironically, the Bible itself records people questioning and arguing with and adding to scripture (Jesus did as well). We see Scripture clarifying itself over time. My favorite is “God is a jealous God (written in 600 BCE)-> Love is not jealous (written in 54 AD) -> God is love (written around 100 AD). These sorts of contradictions (and this is just s subjective one, not science or historically verifiable one) could challenge your faith if you believe the bible has no space for error or internal inconsistency. But if you are able to see that the Bible, like Christianity, is a part of the ongoing revelation of God starting in creation, bursting forth in human color with the life of Jesus, and ongoing through the Holy Spirit, this is such a beautiful thing to witness. I love that the Bible upholds slavery in the oldest texts, whispers of some kind of equality in the NT while still not approaching freedom or abolition, but that now we are able to definitively say that we know that slavery is inconsistent with God’s nature and will. You couldn’t make that argument from the Bible alone. We function with the perspective of ongoing revelation in a lot of cases, but we don’t always know we’re doing it.
Additionally, I can’t accept that the Bible is necessary to know God because it eliminates the VAST majority of human history and even today where access and literacy keep most people from being able to use the Bible. I think the Holy Spirit did just fine before and during the bible times until the canon became what it is now. I think the Holy Spirit still does just fine revealing God. It’s ridiculous to me to think a teeny tiny fraction of humans in history (mostly wealthy, privileged ones) get access to God while the rest of humanity is/was doomed. Let’s remember that the early church had no bible either. We didn’t have the book in its current form until 1500 AD.
That’s a lot of words to say that I think the metaphors you mentioned using the sacrificial system belong in the “it’s historical and cultural” category. During times in which the early part of the OT was written, blood sacrifices to the gods were common religious practices. In many ancient cultures of that region, we find eerily similar stories to the ones of the Old Testament that pre-date the writing of the Torah. The Bible is a history of how God’s people were trying to understand God. They used the metaphors, myths, and practices known to them to do so. All the sacrifice system and temple stuff fits into that because those were the ways that all gods worked. Of course, they thought God wanted them to build a physical space, spill blood (kill the firstborns – how many times?), conquer villages, and murder the inhabitants. Did God actually want that? I don’t think so. Because those things are inconsistent with the person of Jesus, who is the image of God (more on that below).
You mentioned the verse “the Lamb of God , who takes away the sin of the world.” Two points to make:
1) Lamb is a metaphor as much as Mother is. Both of these are trying to explain something about the nature of God. Lamb points to the willingness and gentleness of Jesus to to die AND LIVE as a human so that we could understand what God is like, and it worked really well for a people group who functioned with violent sacrificial systems. What made Yahweh different wasn’t that he demanded blood (that was just the expectation) but that somehow he was like the sacrificed too. But all metaphors break down and all of them are incomplete on the their own. God was not an idiot lamb nor was he a split personality of victim and aggressor, and the metaphor of God as mother doesn’t fit all the pieces of God either. I will be first to say that this metaphor that I have offered isn’t enough to give a full picture of God. There are none that do.
2) I think the title would probably be better “No, Jesus Did Not Die IN ORDER TO Take Away My Sin.” What I mean by that is that sin is not the point at all, though sin might be “dealt with” as a secondary circumstance. Kind of like how when we deal with our past trauma that keeps us from trusting people, our relationships improve. If we just try to fix relationships when they are hindered by unresolved trauma, it doesn’t work. I think sin is dealt with when our identities as beloved become central and we live in that identity, but it’s a side effect.
The consequences of sin are what we do to ourselves, not God to us. God is not punitive. I believe God hates sin because it hurts us, but that hatred does not extend to hating us which is what penal substitutionary atonement looks like to me.. as if God is seeing us AS our sin and withholding love, mercy, forgiveness. That doesn’t look like how Jesus models relationships and forgiveness. For example, my kid can do something terrible to me, but I forgave him long before he asks. If in his shame, he withholds himself from me. That is HIS doing, not mine. The brokenness of our human relationships and the shame that we feel before God is the consequence of our actions, and God doesn’t lay on additional punishments for our failures.
I do not believe in original sin in the way that evangelicals teach. For the record, neither did anyone else until Augustine. It’s a relatively new concept in the church. I believe in original blessing and the freedom of choice to do wrong. We were made with the capacity to sin, but we are not sinners from birth.
The battle against sin is difficult because it is so hard to believe that we are truly and completely and unconditionally love. Humans don’t love unconditionally. If I am being honest, I don’t even love my kids unconditionally. Sin is what gets in the way of living as if we are truly loved. In our fear and shame, we act out against other people and do harm. We hustle and scramble and try to get ours because we don’t believe that we are valuable and worthy without earning our way. That is sin. I think it makes God weep because God so desperately wants us to understand our beauty and value and worth – enough that he incarnated himself so we could see what it looked like to be loved fully and to live as if we are. Jesus sinlessness was because he was secure in being the beloved of God. We don’t need to be forgiven of our sins – we already have been. We need to know that we are the beloved of God. So “new life” is to become alive and aware to the reality of how loved we really are – not a desperate act to avoid punishment.
As for Richard Rohr… I deeply disagree with your assessment. In fact, it’s only because of Rohr that I was able to hold on to faith in Jesus at all in the past few years. You are correct that he moves “the Christ” beyond the life of Jesus – because the Christ was around before the foundation of the world as a part of the Trinity. He’s differentiating the Christ as the cosmic reality of the 2nd person of the trinity and Jesus, when the Christ was embodied in the 1st century and was the unified God-man revealing what God is really like to the world. There is no minimization of Jesus as Lord there at all. It’s an expansion as to how much that holds when we see the cosmic nature of the Christ, not just in the moment of the incarnation but before and into the future. I highly recommend The Universal Christ if you haven’t read it. I don’t agree with everything Rohr says, but I think your assessment is way off.
Finally, the problem with “willing sacrifice” isn’t that he was unwilling; it is that sacrifice requires him to be a victim. If we are saying he was a willing victim of the political and religious elite and was executed unjustly, then yes, a willing sacrifice indeed. If we are saying he was a willing sacrifice of God’s. Then no, he was not. Because again, that requires a schism between Jesus and God. One cannot say that 1) Jesus was non-violent and forgiving of transgressors without their blood spilled and 2) God was violent and unable/unwilling to forgive transgressors without their blood spilled, and 3) Jesus is God. You HAVE to eliminate one of those. I’ve chosen #2 because Jesus is the center of my faith not the Bible’s metaphors.
I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I’ve been doing some research into a few things you’ve said and hope I can do justice to what I’ve found and what I believe to be true.
In a previous article you wrote about naming spiritual abuse. In it you said, “There is no such thing as ‘the Bible plainly says,’” and I see that statement as a position of truth. You are essentially declaring it to be true that the Bible is unreliable. But you also say, “Any ‘truth’ that is an absolute determined by a single group or person that cannot withstand rigorous scrutiny is no truth at all.” You go on to mention religious manipulation and I definitely agree with you on some of this. It’s important for all of us to seek the truth and pursue it, engaging in healthy dialogue in the process. I would encourage you, then, in light of seeking the truth together, to be careful not to make inferences that people who believe the Bible is literal are “cognitively dissonant,” those who teach it to be true are spiritually abusive, and that those who believe it to have authority are now idolizing the Bible. I don’t think you mean it to be manipulative, but it nears that category of preventing people from arguing with your position on the unreliability of the Bible. Before your post, I had never heard of idolizing the Bible, but I now know it’s not an uncommon teaching in Progressive Christianity. I think it’s a strawman. I rely on the Bible to understand who God is and how to worship Him, not the Bible. And I don’t know anyone who believes the entire work of the Bible (if that is what you are suggesting) is only literal. The idea that people believe that there aren’t any metaphors is usually only used as another strawman argument. But there are many passages that are intended to be taken literally.
I think we can be in agreement that there are far too many people who practice spiritual abuse; who are teaching truth from the Bible, then using it for their own purposes to manipulate people and get what they want out of them. Take the whole RZ scandal, for instance. That’s exactly what he was doing. He was teaching truth and drawing people in, then using what he knew they believed to get what he wanted out of them, which was entirely contradictory to the Bible he professed as true! I’m sickened by what he did on so many levels. He abused women, and abused God’s Word. Now, would I look at the women and say there is something wrong with them because they were abused? NEVER!! In the same way, his abuse of God’s Word doesn’t make God’s Word wrong… only himself! Yet I see something at work in the Progressive Christianity movement. People experience spiritual abuse and blame the Bible rather than the abuser. So many people are walking away from belief in the truth of the Bible more because they saw and experienced the Bible being abused than from discovering it to be untrue. Or maybe their idea of Christianity relied too heavily on their personal experiences in the first place.
So, I think we need to look at how we know what we are reading or hearing is reliable, regardless of experiences. For instance, I read the scriptures, particularly Moses’ writing in the Old Testament, and he writes about his (and all of Israel’s) eye-witness account. He met with God, the meetings with God were witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people (many of whom were still alive at the time of the writing of the account), God gave them laws, he wrote them down, God met with him frequently and told him exactly how to build the temple and exactly how everyone is to perform their duties in the temple, etc. He’s definitely saying that this is what God did, what we (the Israelites) saw, the miracles He performed, and what He told the Israelites to do. So, if it’s an eye-witness account, do I believe the eye-witnesses? There were many, not just Moses. He alone did not see and hear these things. Many witnesses were alive at the time the account was documented and they would have had plenty of opportunity to deny it all and get rid of the documents, declaring it all to be false… especially since it was pretty damaging to their reputation! Why would they keep it?… unless it was true?
Enter Richard Rohr. Many thousands of years later. He tells me the eye-witness account is wrong and he himself knows better than Moses what he and the Israelites actually saw and heard. I have to reject his account over that of the eye-witnesses. Then I look at what else he is saying. He preaches about the Universal Christ. I’ve listened to his sermon and I’m trying to figure out where his teaching is coming from because I’m not getting it from the text of the Bible. It’s not there. It struck me that as he was reading from a stack of papers, he didn’t have a Bible. He even joked about it. So, I’ve been doing some digging and found that his teaching about the Universal Christ is not new at all. It’s practically identical to Hindu mysticism and teachings from a woman (Helena Blavatsky) from the 1800s who calls herself a theosophist. Her teachings are Luciferian in origin. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a resource… a place to start, anyway, and go from there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AIwGpaNX4Q See where this leads you. Is Richard Rohr’s teaching from God? Is it true? The most important thing in all of life is the truth! Keep digging!
In response to your comment on jealousy being an example of contradictions, there are different types of jealousy. Because of these variations, I don’t think the Bible is inconsistent at all about it, especially in light of the context in which they are used. For instance, God declares himself to be a jealous God in Deuteronomy 6. He’s talking to the Israelites about not following other gods. He is to be the one and only God. In that way, He is jealous for His throne. He doesn’t share it with other gods. Think of it this way: If your husband came home with another woman and told you that she is now also his wife… he is married to both of you. Excuse me? Would you not think that your jealousy as the position of the one and only wife is justified? Would your anger not be justified? I think it would! You love him and you expect love in return- and it’s ok for you to define what his love for you should look like by declaring that you are to be the only wife. If he brings home another wife, you can logically conclude that he doesn’t love you. But, there’s another kind of jealousy that I think is more like envy. I caught myself using the phrase earlier today. I showed something to my husband and jokingly said, “don’t be jealous!” Basically, the jealousy of wanting what you don’t have, which is really more like envy. Love is not envious.
What, then, is the Gospel? Is it really good news? Richard Rohr’s idea of god is of a god who is in essence completely powerless. By his own definition of the Universal Christ, one would have to say that Christ is everything and everything is Christ. Therefore, by inference, not only is he himself Christ, but I would have to make the inference that people like RZ are also Christ. His god does not punish sin… which gets him off the hook from whatever it is he might want to do. It also gets RZ off the hook too, right? And the people that spiritually abused you and me? While there might be comfort for some to think that they can do whatever they want with impunity, don’t we desire accountability for evil? I mean, even beyond consequences faced here on earth? Otherwise, the truth about RZ was not really known until after he was already dead and beyond earthly consequences. Are you permitted to rage against evil, but God is not? I think the fact that you experienced rage (wrath) against what happened to you is right. But who are you, and who am I, to believe that we have the right to experience justified wrath, but God is not? If I believe that the Bible is true, then not only are “evil” people accountable to it, but so am I. But that’s the good news! That’s where the Gospel steps in! If God counts me as one deserving of His wrath, but then takes the wrath upon Himself, He is both just in demanding punishment for sin, and loving by taking on the punishment himself and making a way for us to be reconciled to Him. It’s a free gift offered to everyone, but that gift is only available to those who don’t reject it. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” John 3: 36.
Keep seeking truth, Dalaina! When someone tells you that the concept of original sin didn’t exist until Augustine, find out if what they are saying is true. I don’t know who coined the phrase “original sin.” It might have been Augustine, but I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. If you’re referring to the idea that we were born into sin, it certainly didn’t start with Augustine. In Psalm 51, which was written by King David some 1500 years or so before Augustine, he writes, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Romans 5 also explains how sin and death came to all men through Adam: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners…” There’s so much more, but we each need to keep seeking, keep digging. Pray that God will reveal the truth to you, and I will do the same. Don’t just take my word for any of this, do the research. And don’t just take RR’s word either… do the research.
Ooooh Boy there is a lot to unpack here, Christy. Let me start by saying that the Bible is a masterful text and has stood the test of time as an example of sacred literature. That said, believing that Moses wrote (for example) Exodus or that the disciple Matthew wrote the Gospel by that name is totally incorrect. The ancient Israelites were not literate as we know that term. History and accounts of the people/tribes were verbal stories told over and over by the “historians” of the tribe that were the story-tellers. Moses lived (ca. 1500 BCE) around 1000 years before the Books of Genesis and Exodus were written (around 600 BCE). So while the stories are based in some historical events, the accuracy of those “eye witnesses” as you call them is at best a story about what happened as it has been passed down through the generations (L’dor vador) and as story-tellers are like to do, there may well have beed some embellishment. Our job is to read the stories in context, and to allow those stories and messages to wash over us and effect us spiritually.
Likewise, none of the apostles were educated or literate – none could write at all but certainly not in Greek. Paul, who was educated, often dictated to his scribe and did not “write” all of his epistles. I say this not as a matter of opinion, but as the result of years of theological research and an advanced degree from seminary in Theological Research. My seminary (Andover Newton) was co-located with Hebrew College, a rabbinical school and our “Old Testament” Hebrew scripture courses were taught by Hebrew scholars, not just by Christian scholars. We were schooled also in the practice of midrashic reading (similar to what we Christians do as Lectio Divina). We approached the scriptures as divinely inspired but humanly written.
As for the teachings of Richard Rohr, I feel you have misread his works or meditations. Here I am speaking as a long time reader of Rohr’s works and as a graduate of the Living School of Action and Contemplation, a two year intensive study program co taught by Rohr, Rev Dr Cynthia Bourgeault, Dr. Jim Finley, Rev Dr Barbara Holmes, and a number of other scholars on spirituality and theology. Outlining the many teachings of this faculty which apply to your comments would take far more space than I have taken so far. But the bottom line of their teaching and of Richard Rohr’s is that God is not “powerless” as you interpreted it, but infinite love. In both Seminary and in the Living School we have often addressed people like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and others not from a perspective of an angry and jealous God but from an attempt to understand how we are elements of that infinite love and are tasked to heal those wounds created by these twisted and diseased humans. There is no doubt in my mind that such people were capable of unthinkable horror and that if I were God, how I would be compelled to punish them accordingly. As a human I would be hard-pressed to find compassion enough to heal them. But I am not God, and whatever we relate to as divinity, which for convenience sake we shall call God, is not human either. Much of scripture ascribes human characteristics to the Divine – because it is the only way we (and the story-tellers) can begin to “relate” to the ineffable. But let’s not get our personal “understanding” of the Divine mixed in with whatever God actually is.
Here’s the bottom line: The brilliance of scripture and the unlimited power of the Divine are such that both appear to us in exactly the way we are capable of understanding them. In other words, I cast no judgment on your beliefs – they work for you! As do mine for me. But what I take issue with is your calling out much of Dalaina’s message, and of Richard Rohr’s teaching as unfounded or unresearched. Some of us have been doing this research for a very long time (I am 71), or have made a career of it, and I would encourage you to “do the research” as well. Keep studying and above all keep questioning – your beliefs will only grow stronger. Many blessings, Kris
Kris, I’ve been meaning to respond for a while but have been incredibly busy. I’m not sure that we’ll see eye to eye on this, but I did want to ask you where your basis for the claim that Moses didn’t write the Book of the Law comes from. He is declared to be the author at the very least in the book of Deuteronomy, Joshua claims that Moses wrote it, Jesus himself said Moses wrote about him, and those books are often referred to throughout the New Testament as the Law of Moses, or they’ll refer to “Moses and the Prophets,” or just “Moses.” He would have been very capable of writing considering he would have had an excellent education, regardless of the education status of the early Israelites… which I see evidence they indeed would have been educated, especially considering the history of Joseph. But honestly I think it’s irrelevant to whether or not Moses was educated and capable of documenting current events. He was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and would have had the best education in the nation. What evidence do you use to claim the Bible is wrong?
As for RR, I don’t think he is unresearched. I have come to the conclusion based on evidence of the truth of the Bible that RR is wrong. If you follow his teachings through to their logical conclusion, Jesus becomes irrelevant. Yet his disciples lives were so radically changed, not because of some cosmic Christ, but because they saw Jesus physically raised from the dead. I would recommend reading Garry Habbermas. Sorry, I know the author but can’t remember the name of his book and I have to go. Also, Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ.
Thanks for the followup. Regarding Moses, the key point is who actually wrote down that which Moses experienced. That is not saying that the laws did not come to Moses nor that he did not create the rest of the “law of Moses” – I fully believe that he and his priests were the source. Rather I am aware of the fact that those laws were passed on from generation to generation verbally – not in written form – until they were finally written down by either the Yahwehist or Elohist class of priests somewhere around the 7the century BCE (Moses lived somewhere around the 14th or 15th century BCE). So the laws are from Moses and rightly ascribed to hm but he clearly was not the writer. Same goes with the story of the exodus. Story tellers were the historians of old so part of their job was to make sure that the story was told with some accuracy, but we also know that they can and did editorialize, so reading the ancient texts is art not science.
As for Richard Rohr, I am not here to defend him. My experience of RR is that he is a prophet, and like all prophets, he uses metaphor and story to teach. And his teaching is that of developing a unitive consciousness. He will therefore say things that disturb the status quo (look at Amos, Jeremiah and other key prophets). Even look at how Jesus was a prophet of the same type. Rohr presents controversial and at times contradictory information and assertions designed to jolt people out of dualistic thinking into or toward unitive consciousness. Much of what Rohr teaches cannot be understood from a place of dualism (right/wrong, good/bad, this or that). But I follow his lead because I understand where he is trying to take us. We would do well not to place people on a pedestal or isolate on one person’s truth as absolute. I have never read the two books you suggested but just because I have written or they have written a book does not mean any author has a lock on the truth – it is just our truth.
Thanks for reading this.
Thank you for the explanation, Kris, but I still don’t see the evidence for your claim. Evidence is important because truth matters. Deuteronomy 31:24 says “After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end…” Joshua repeats this in Joshua 1:8 “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” What evidence do you use as the basis for your claim that this is false? You wrote to me previously about letting it “wash over you,” but if you believe this to be false, why would you want it to wash over you? What I want to wash over me is not a “truth” that I fashion for myself, but the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That He is the Son of God. I can rely on what the Bible says about God as Creator, me a sinner undeserving of grace, yet God sent his Son to take on the punishment that I deserved for sin against my Creator. He died, was buried, and raised on the third day, offering pardon for sin to all who believe. I hope and pray that you will seek the truth and find Jesus, a risen Savior!
The bottom line is that whatever works for you works for you. God, or Divinity or whatever you name it shows up to each of us in exactly the form and interpretation that we need. As you have seen, I am not a biblical literalist, and so words like “this book” does not literally mean to me a text on some form of papyrus or clay tablet or whatever. But that should not deny the experience and understanding that you have. So the bottom line is that I am not willing to try to convince you of my point of view just because I have a different set of sources than you. The power of scripture is that it speaks to us in whatever way we need it to be. And all of those interpretations and experiences are valid.
You are a blessed child of God and your spirituality is not in question. It is between you and your experience of God. There is no one way to to God, though in my belief system there is but one Source/God that we are all in the process of trying to understand and connect with.
So when we have these discussions they are not a matter of right and wrong, but rather ways in which we each add to the other’s experience of the Divine. God’s blessings,
Just popping in because I think I understand the disconnect between the two of you in regards to “who wrote the Pentateuch?”
Christy, to say Moses wrote the pentateuch because it says he did is self-referencing and illogical. We know that he didn’t actually write it because of historical. literary, and archeological evidence. Lots of people did over a pretty long period of time. (Here’s an easy article for reference, but there are a ton of books written on it if you want to dig: https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-who-wrote-the-torah-1.5318582 )
However, like Kris says, I think there is plenty of evidence that Moses existed and was a leader and the laws/stories could have originated with him even if they weren’t written down by him. I don’t think the fact that Moses didn’t write it makes it unimportant nor does it make the Bible a lie. Those who wrote it down didn’t operate like modern journalists. They weren’t trying to assert fact in the same way that modern perceive fact.
Kris answered you with several of the things that I would have mentioned here: firstly that many books that were said to be written at a certain time and places simply… weren’t. Exodus is an example of that. The eyewitnesses you speak of didn’t really exist at least in the form of the Exodus story. Also, archaeology tells us that the Exodus and conquest of Israel absolutely did not happen the way it was recorded in the Bible. It’s a legend, but it isn’t historically accurate. I would highly recommend reading The Bible Tells Me So by Pete Enns. He does a great job talking about how this can be true AND the Bible can still be authoritative and good (see more below).
I’ll also defer to Kris’ explanation of Rohr since Kris knows him personally and has studied under him. From where I sit which is simply as a reader (and a listener on a few podcasts), I agree with the assessment. Rohr is heady and very easy to take out of context. I would definitely put anything he says in the context of the entire work. I don’t think it is fair to evaluate his work based on some other person’s read of it. It’s far too easy to encounter someone with a prejudice who takes things out of context. Go back and look for yourself. I’ll be curious if your opinion changes if you do.
I do want to add a few of my own thoughts as well. You wrote that based on a more recent post, I am “essentially declaring it to be true that the Bible is unreliable” when I assert that the Bible always goes through the filter of our interpretive lenses. No, not exactly. I am saying that our lenses are unreliable. I think the Bible is reliable in the way that it intended to be reliable. I don’t think it is reliable as a science book or even a history book because it was never intended to be. For example, I don’t think it is intended to be read as if the Exodus happened as the books describes. I don’t think the original authors even thought that people would think that because that is not how writing worked back then. Our American lenses are journalistic, fact vs. fiction lenses. Theirs were Middle Eastern and mythic (in the sense of telling truths with metaphors and stories). The point was TRUTH, not fact. And those are two different things. It’s why I have no problem with the creation accounts and being an evolutionist. The accounts are meant to tell the truth of God’s intentionality in bringing the world into being and to assert that humanity is made in the image of God. It was never meant to be read or believed that God made the world in 7 days.
To make the most basic explanation I can, I believe the Bible is simply the story of the human experience how God has been revealing Godself over time, starting in the beginning of humankind and culminating in the person of Jesus. In it, I see men and women wrestling with understanding God and getting it wrong as often as they got it right. In it, I see a progressive revelation that I believe to still be ongoing.
I do appreciate your word of caution about painting with too wide a brush at times. You are right that not everyone who is theologically conservative feels cognitive dissonance in their theology, and it’s arrogant to imply that they are simply too afraid to deal with reality. I DO think it is logically incompatible to simultaneously hold certain views that are very common in evangelicalism, and Penal Substitutionary Atonement, in my opinion, cannot exist where God is loving, just, and merciful. I can’t really back down from that one because a punitive God is not a loving God (see more below.)
To clarify, I also do not think that everyone that teaches this kind of theology is abusive, but I DO believe that this theology is used as the basis for spiritual abuse. I know it. I’ve seen it, and I have experienced it. The system is broken, and when people push back with questions, they DO experience shaming, manipulation, efforts to control, and fear tactics. I could give you 100 names and 100 horrible stories from various communities. (And if we are wise, we have to ask why it is so easy to use this kind of theology for abusive purposes. It reminds me of Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue wives where she explains the easy steps from Complementarian theology to domestic violence… maybe complementarian theology isn’t inherently abusive (I mean, I think it is, but pretending here) but used by the wrong person it is deadly.)
Finally, I want to tackle your last paragraphs: You asked, “Don’t we desire accountability for evil?” Here’s the thing. My day job is as a professional in anti-sex trafficking. I’ve sat in brothels and watched underage girls prepare themselves to be raped. I am close friends with women who have survived those kinds of experiences – some from the time before they were even old enough to go to school, and I have listened to stories about some of the worst things that humans do to each other… things that even if they were ethical for me to share (not my story to tell), I would not because most normal people would be so disturbed by them. And still, while I want to see justice for each and every perpetrator, rapist, sadist, pedophile, and trafficker, not ONCE have I wanted to see any of them tortured for all eternity.
If I think of the worst story of the worst perpetrator I know of and imagine that that man was standing next to me, and I had the power to hold his face over a fire to burn him for as long as I wanted so that he would suffer just a fraction of the amount of suffering he caused, I would not. Not even for a moment. Because while he might be evil… I am not. Justice is not served by causing pain to another human being. I want him locked away forever, absolutely. That is just and that is love because it protects both his potential victims and HIS own soul from a further slide away from his own humanity and it allows survivors to be free of fear of his return.
What will happen to him at death? Who is to know? I hope annihilation (super common and old belief about Jesus giving us eternal life as opposed to eternal death, not eternal torture). I would even call myself a “hopeful universalist”… not because I have any biblical proof of it, but because I am hopeful that God’s mercy triumphs over judgment (see James) and I think there is room for the possibility. So if I, a very imperfect and often vengeful human being, cannot hate THAT evil man enough to torture him for a moment, how much more must God’s mercy be? I do not believe that Love is served by causing suffering. I do not believe God’s righteousness is revealed in torturing sinners infinitely for the finite sins they committed, no matter how heinous. I do not believe that my capacity for goodness or forgiveness or mercy is more than God’s.
As for “doing the research.” I am. I have been. I’ll keep moving. It’s just that now I don’t have a pre-set answer nor am I afraid that my community will ostracize me if I come up with ideas and beliefs that don’t align with theirs. That kind of freedom cannot be described!
Delaina, thank you for taking the time to respond. I find it interesting that you consider what God would do or not do based on what you would or wouldn’t rather than on what the Bible teaches about him. You are your own standard. Then you quote James who, yes, said that mercy triumphs over judgment. However, you are painting a picture of a God who doesn’t judge at all and James doesn’t support that. Instead he says “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” He later says “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.” God does and will judge, but he is also merciful, offering his mercy and eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus. While mercy triumphs over judgment, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any judgment. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Mercy certainly triumphs over judgment!
I think a lot of people pick and choose what they want to believe about the Bible because they prefer to fashion a “truth” for themselves that suits their own preferences. One in which Jesus is not actually God, the Bible is not true, and neither has authority over them. But what does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord? If I deny that Jesus has authority over me, I’m essentially denying the Lordship of Jesus. That’s what I mean when I say that RR denies Jesus as Lord. If he’s smart, he won’t come straight out and say it.
This is the perfect day to reflect on why Jesus went to the cross in the first place if he could have done this some other way.
While you’re researching, I hope that you also will take some time to look at arguments that are different from what you are currently reading… like The Case for Christ written by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist who became a Christian because of the strong evidence of the resurrection.
Ah that’s where you are wrong. I am not judging God or defining love by what I want it to be. I am defining love/God by his OWN standards and definitions. God looks like Jesus, looks like his own definition of love, and holds himself to at least as high a standard as he holds everyone else.
A God who tells us to ALWAYS forgive will always forgive.
God that defines love as patient and kind and not easily angered and keeps no record of wrong does not keep records of wrong or act unkindly, impatiently, or easily angered.
A God that turns the other cheek and dies before striking back doesn’t turn around and strike.
It’s interesting to me that the wrathful god that I grew up with is actually not the model that we as Christians were supposed to use. We were supposed to look like Jesus, who was somehow God but acted nothing like him?
That makes no sense. It makes no sense that we are to be more forgiving than God, more loving than God, more inclusive than God etc.
Frankly, if people were to act like some people describe God, they would be put in jail.
I have not defined love and mercy for myself here. I am looking at how the Bible describes those things, how God sets his standards of behavior for his followers, and applying those expectations to God. That’s the lack of internal consistency that I’m describing precisely. It makes no sense to say “be like Jesus who is God but don’t be like God because we are to forgive and love rather than punish and withhold.”
Thank you for your theological reflection on the process of birthing and marginalisation. As a man (!) I have never quite got my head around what mothers have said about the psychology / spirituality of their pregnancy and birth.. and I think I am now beginning to imagine how it means (after many years). This has given me a wonderful new way to think about Jesus on the cross.. I have never really owned any of the existing interpretations.
Provocative picture or what!
By the way, Dalaina, where did you get the magnificent image for this post? I am so drawn to it. – K
Isn’t it amazing? I saw it and just loved it. While it’s actually a piece on Mary giving birth to Jesus, it makes me think of a mirror image of Jesus on the cross is a mother giving birth. Fit my thoughts in this post…
Anyway, it’s a photo that a travel photographer took of a part of a mural in Nicaragua. The photo is here if you want to track it down.
I found this bit on it too. I don’t think the artist is known. https://books.google.com/books?id=lSDgTC6JXI0C&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=Part+of+a+Mural+at+the+Ave+Marie,+home+of+Rev.+Grant+Gallup&source=bl&ots=FcE-Um776U&sig=ACfU3U3MVKfmTDse7c4BxPM5n8xiZpnYxg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjVodCkmOPuAhUWpp4KHQSLCKgQ6AEwAnoECAcQAg#v=onepage&q=Part%20of%20a%20Mural%20at%20the%20Ave%20Marie%2C%20home%20of%20Rev.%20Grant%20Gallup&f=false
1. In a random thought about communion I wondered that while it is symbolic that it also rather violent if not cannibalism in equating wine and bread to blood and flesh. Such a violent metaphor runs counter to peace and love of the gospel
2. Does the embracement of the God feminine aspect touch the notion of heiros-gamos sacred marriage concept? https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/hieros_gamos
1. Interesting thought. I wonder if the tradition comes from something else that was current practice in the first century in that area… the bible has so many borrows from ancient cultures and religions that we completely miss because we aren’t familiar with them.
2. I don’t think it necessarily does…the thing about ancient sacred marriages is that they mostly seem to still put women in the inferior position. In fact, it seems like in so many of those stories the female character either plays the part of the noble wife or the harlot. Either way, she is second to the god/husband and his story. I think God as embodying both feminine and divine without the need to split into god and goddess is far more compelling, but that’s me. 🙂
Yes! Well expressed. No Church council in history ever declared any one theory of the atonement to be the one, true, right, or official one. Most progressive Christians reject the substitutionary theory of the atonement. Many instead embrace either the Christus Victor theory or the Moral example theory of the “at-one-me too” instead.
See: “Atoning for bad theology both kinds” https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2018/10/atoning-for-bad-theology-both-kinds/
Author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like Christianity”
Yes! Thank you for pointing that out. PSA is just ONE of many theories surrounding the nature of the cross and what was accomplished by the life and death of Jesus. And it’s certainly not the oldest.
My journey started when I was learning about Christus Victor theory and realized that I had permission to walk away from PSA completely. In my tradition in evangelicalism, there was just no other option. Eventually I read up on liberation theology and a lot of that resonates too.
Ultimately, I think they are ALL metaphors and most of them are like looking into a room from a different window. Angles on the same thing that don’t give a complete picture. And I am okay with that. I don’t think we should be able to fully understand or express what God is like and what Jesus’ life and death meant. If we could, God wouldn’t be God.
This makes so much sense. It also explains to me why the phrase “the wrath of God is saisfied” in the song “In Christ Alone” has always jangled with me. Thank you for this perspective.
Wonderful, fascinating, thought-provoking and insightful.
I’m on my own journey of deconstruction and taking it slowly.
That being said, I love what you wrote even if it makes me uncomfortable and I haven’t fully processed it yet.
The idea of salvation as a spiritual birth seems to tie to “God as mother in sanctification.” As newborn new creations, we are utterly dependent on God and often “hungry” for the things of God. We want to pray, read the Bible etc because we are aware of our hunger and (hopefully) in a healthy bond with God (like well cared for human infants). As we grow, we gain some independence, but we still need food. This food comes from God (maybe I’m drawing too much analogy in Jesus calling his body bread – I’m not sure). If we haven’t grown in a healthy way (or have experienced trauma from church/community) we pull away from God/growth but we don’t have the ability to care for ourselves, just as human toddlers are still very dependent on parents. Nurturing the bond/intimacy between ourselves and God is essential for sanctification because we still feel safe returning to God for what we need. When this is broken, we stagnate and become malnourished.
I’ve never heard anyone describe sanctification this way, which makes me a little nervous. However, I like that it shows our dependence on God, but still gives us free will to turn away from his nurturing/feeding “breast” and reject growth. Without food, we die/don’t flourish – just like malnourished kids. There is an utter dependence on God while still making sense of our ability to turn from God.
Thank you for sharing and promoting thought!
What if you are already sacred and don’t require salvation? Does a mother look down on her newborn and think “this baby is flawed and sinful” or does she simply look with pure love and see that child as the most beautiful thing ever?
Likewise, I imagine that the Creator would not hold a flawed view of what she birthed. Likewise, Jesus never looked at a so-called sinner (tax collector, leper, centurion, whatever) with anything but love and acceptance. So the logic that we are sinful by nature and require saving is flawed to start with. Then add to that the ancient retributive notion of sacrifice and scapegoat and we compound the problem even further.
Look, bottom line is that, as almighty/all-powerful, God can appear to you exactly as you need God or believe God to be – and that is just perfect! There is no getting it wrong on the path to unitive consciousness. We are all just struggling to make digestible sense of our own experiences of Divine love.
I am so grateful to Dalaina for starting this thread! I don’t get many places to explore such ideas.
I think the metaphor for childhood and sanctification is spot-on. Actually, pretty biblical too. There is so much about moving from milk to solid food. And I think you could draw all sorts of biological parallels… like the anti-bodies in breast milk.
A lot of the mystics who talk about spiritual stages also use this metaphor as growth in the Christian life. I did my undergrad thesis on St. John of the Cross and his work on the dark night of the soul. I think the metaphor fits into his observations too.
I knew I sensed a connection @Dalaina! My thesis for seminary was based on the work of John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul. I turned that thesis into a book called Wrestling the Angel (2015) – which I would love for you to read. I think I have a unique understanding of John’s classification of the elements of the dark night passage that May and others have missed. I would love to continue the dialogue at some point.
Dalaina, You have really “hit the nail on the head” to use yet another violent metaphor. But to say that Jesus “died to take away” our sins as one reader commented is still playing into that masculinist model of the all-powerful fix-it god that is referred to as deus ex machina. The double flaw in that thinking is a. that we are innately sinful and in need of rescue and that b. god has a set of moral constructs that resemble something like an enlightened human.
Your brilliant metaphor of the crucifixion as birthing is much closer to the theology I studied in seminary. The sum total of Jesus’ incarnation is for us to learn that we, too, are divine and we, too, must die figuratively to the will of our ego and physically in order to fully grasp our impermanence. The crucifixion was not a get out of jail free ticket, nor a handy escape hatch to the afterlife. That type of theology requires nothing of us. And I believe our path is to struggle with the truth of not knowing the Divine creative spirit. Unpacking the many layers of the crucifixion would take far more than I have space here or time to do. But I think you are spot on with this piece. Thank you!
“The crucifixion was not a get out of jail free ticket, nor a handy escape hatch to the afterlife.” I LOVE this, and it is exactly where I have come to. Second birth is not somehow gained by “I believe these things and said this prayer so now I am saved.” Second birth is what JESUS did regardless of what I do or do not do. Being able to live in that, to become alive to that fact, is the experience of second birth. It’s why I don’t think sin is the point at all though sin might be “dealt with” as a secondary circumstance. Kind of like how when we deal with our trauma that keeps us from trusting people, our relationships improve. If we just try to fix relationships when they are hindered by unresolved trauma, it doesn’t work. I think sin is dealt with when our identities as beloved become central and we live in that identity, but it’s a side effect.
I am a big fan of Richard Rohr and was reading through his The Universal Christ last night, and this struck me since I was thinking about all of this (pg. 63):
“When we start with a theology of sin management administered by a too often elite clergy, we end up with a schizophrenic religion. We end up with a Jesus who was merciful while on earth, but who punishes in the next world. Who forgives here but not later. God in this picture seems whimsical and untrustworthy even to the casual observer. It may be scary for Christians to admit these outcomes to ourselves, but we must. I believe this is a key reason why people do not so much react against the Christian story like like they used to, instead they simply refuse to take it seriously. To begin climbing out of the hold of original sin, we must start with a positive and generous cosmic vision. Generosity tends to feed on itself. I have never met a truly compassionate or loving human being who did not have a foundational and even deep trust in the inherent goodness of human nature. The Christian story line must start with a positive and overarching vision for humanity and for history, or it will never get beyond the primitive, exclusionary, and fear-based stages of most early human development. We are ready for a major course correction.”
I completely agree with him. I am so ready for this course correction.
Richard Rohr is my spiritual teacher! He has so enlightened my understanding of things. Have you done the Living School yet?
No. It’s a dream but not a practical one at the moment.
Wow, what a beautiful image of God. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this. I found it very helpful and puts words to dissonance I’ve felt before.
Oooh, this was one that I couldn’t ignore in my mailbox. You know how much I admire your writing, and I still think the post you did a while back on the cross as childbirth is amazing. I’m also totally with you that PSA is a deeply flawed and problematic theology insofar as it says Jesus’s death deflected God’s wrath, or was him taking the punishment for our sins. However, I *do* absolutely believe that Jesus died to *take away* our sins — I just don’t believe that this was via vicarious punishment. I think this is a really important distinction we need to make. Taking away does not mean taking punishment for. At the end of the day, I believe the problem of sin is too awful for God to simply wave away. Instead, I believe that *dealing* with sin, taking it away — healing its effects, stopping it from perpetuating further — comes at a cost to *someone*, it’s just a case of who. I believe Jesus bore that cost and that he bore it in solidarity with everyone who suffers.
I like the nuance you bring up. What do we mean by “take away”? To me, that phrase is “Christianese” synonymous with the idea of forgiveness given because punishment has taken place.
It was waaay too much to get into in this post, but I think there is a connection point here with original sin. In my religious tradition, I was told that I was born an evil sinner from my first breath. That there were the sins that I do (sometimes unknowingly) and also the sins that I basically am because it is my “sin nature.” The cross, in my tradition, was as much taking away the punishment of my sins in the first category as somehow undoing the original sin nature I had – though apparently it doesn’t actually take because we always will still sin and need forgiveness. If this is the “taking away” of sin that Jesus does, I don’t agree.
I don’t think that we are created into original sin. I think we are created into original blessing. I don’t think someone needs to be punished for our sins, and I believe that we are forgiven before the sins ever happened in human time. We were loved, forgiven, and chosen before the foundation of the world. I do think the Jesus dealt with our sins by making it possible to forgive ourselves and others and by showing us how to live as fully human as he did. But I am not sure if they were “taken away.” That implies that they are stuck on me somehow. I think Jesus carries them for us from the very beginning, and it’s more like we detach ourselves from the shame of what we have done than offload them on to Jesus.
Yeah so, I think Christianese is flat wrong to equate “take away” sin with “bear punishment for” sin. They’re just two completely different things in my mind and the latter has next to no support in the Bible.
Obviously, the language of “take away” is rooted in the Jewish tradition, but it’s also the language that Mary and Hannah used — that God had “taken away” their disgrace. I don’t have issue with the image of God removing something from us that doesn’t belong there and ultimately is harmful. Whether that “something” is sin that we do, or sin that we are born with, or sin that we can’t help but do, is less of an issue for me. Whichever way, it needs dealing with — and the effects of it need dealing with too. Hence the necessity of the cross — but not for removing punishment, for removing *sin*.
I don’t think I believe we were born into original blessing, but I do believe in prevenient grace, and that we are good — there is great worth in us, however “fallen” we may be at birth. And I think the teaching that we’re born terribly sinful is very destructive and largely unnecessary.
I don’t believe that the full impact of the cross has yet been fully realised on earth. The work is complete, but we’re still experiencing it coming into effect. That’s how I resolve the issue that we still sin, even though our sin is dealt with. I see the work of transforming our nature as a gradual one; but now we’re getting into justification vs sanctification, and the arc of soteriology in space-time.
I have never understood penal subtitutionary atonement. It implies that there are rules and conditions imposed on God that must be followed. Really? There is something greater than God that God must obey? Doesn’t that conflict essentially with God as the prime mover?
Totally. There is so much cognitive dissonance required to believe in penal substitutionary atonement. Sadly, the answer a lot of people give to these questions is “God works in mysterious ways.” It’s just a lazy cop-out.