No, Jesus Didn’t Die on the Cross to Take Away My Sins

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.

 

30 thoughts on “No, Jesus Didn’t Die on the Cross to Take Away My Sins

  1. 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?

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      Thoughts?

      1. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. “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.

  4. 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!

    1. HI Liz
      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.

    2. Liz,
      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.

      1. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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”

    1. 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.

  7. 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. Hey Joe,
      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. 🙂

    1. 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.

      https://www.pbase.com/image/108635277

      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

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

    1. Hi Christy,
      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.

      1. Dalaina,
        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.

        1. 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

  10. 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!

    1. Torrence,
      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.

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