Why did Jesus have to die? Was Jesus' death a sacrifice to an angry God, or was it something else?
Whether or not Jesus died as a human sacrifice to a God of Wrath all blood boils down to the answer to one question very important to the answer to a single question: If there was no sin, would Jesus have been crucified?
The Orthodox answer is yes. On the Cross, Jesus stood on the threshold to mediate between us and God. Now follow me closely. On the cross, he stands between live and death, faith and doubt, hope and fear, pain and release, God and humanity. In this singular act, he mediates between all these opposites and shows the way to Life. The cross is the gate to the sheepfold.
Christ is the Word of God, nailed up as an edict from the Eternal Father for us to read and therein find the Son of Man and the Son of God pointing us to our true Humanity and the true Divinity.
Christ is the manifest book of Life in which the Mind of God is made know. “This is the book which no one found possible to take, since it was reserved for him who will take it and be slain. No one was able to be manifest from those who believed in salvation as long as that book had not appeared. For this reason, the compassionate, faithful Jesus was patient in his sufferings until he took that book, since he knew that his death meant life for many. Just as in the case of a will which has not yet been opened, for the fortune of the deceased master of the house is hidden, so also in the case of the All which had been hidden as long as the Father of the All was invisible and unique in himself, in whom every space has its source. For this reason Jesus appeared. He took that book as his own. He was nailed to a cross. He affixed the edict of the Father to the cross (The Gospel of Truth).”
This is the glory of God, that in seeing Christ crucified, all of our fears and doubts are brought out of us. We fear death, yet we look upon the one who died and yet lived. We fear pain, yet we look upon one who was nailed to a cross. We fear that God will forsake us, yet we hear God cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" All of our fears become clear at the cross.
In the Round Dance of the Cross, we see Jesus after the last supper signing a hymn of praise and dancing with his disciples. In the Hymn he sings, he declares the pairs of opposites that he mediates between. It is in these paradoxes that we find the mystery of the Cross. From death, many are born.
Jesus on the the cross, returns the Tree of Life to those who will eat its fruit. This is the tree of unity, where the pairs of opposites are knit together.
The idea of Christ sacrificed for moral outrages that offend God is not an idea found in the gospels. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not the sins of the world (John 1:29). The sin of the world is that we forget God.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom 1: 16-21).
These verse are often taken out of their context to make a moralistic argument that Paul was not. The point of the text is that through Christ crucified, the knowledge of God is given through faith to those who believe. Those who do not have darkened their hearts to the light of God.
Behold, Jesus hung on the Tree of Life as its first fruit.
The Crucifixion offends our senses in every way. We like things to make sense. Why did Christ have to die? To show us the way to the Father by demonstrating the way between all of the pairs of opposites that frighten us and distract us from God.
In the Crucifixion, we see our lives and our deaths. We see all of our hopes and fear coexisting as they do in life. Peace, ground luminance, basic goodness, what ever you want to call it exists at the same time as the horror of our life.
Suddenly, we realize that when Christ called out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He was singing the twenty-second Psalm. He was praising the God that would lift him up.
Once we see the way through the pairs of opposites, we sing:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (Gal 2:20-21).
On the cross he unfurled the edict of the Eternal Father, so the invisible, unknown God may now be known.
Now, none can say that they have found God, for it is through Christ that God is made manifest to us all. None can boast that they have found the truth, and they agree with the apostle:
God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal 6:14).
We have followed the star to the new born Christ, and behold the one in whom God is made manifest to the world. We stand by the river Jordan and watch the skies open as the dove descends upon our Lord. We drink the wine at the wedding at Cana and marvel at the one who produced it. We celebrate the revelation of the Lord.
This is the day when we remember the revelation of God to humankind, but how can we celebrate the revelation the one who:
Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne (PS 97:2).
This is the God of whom Solomon says:
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter (Pr 25:2).
While I do not believe that anyone can every describe or define God in any great detail, I believe that God can be found be those who seek him out. All religion is an attempt for us to put these experiences in words. God is hidden from us by the minutia of our lives. Anyone can find God by relaxing, and coming to the present moment fully aware. This is the glory of mindfulness.
Creation Spirituality talks about the four paths to encountering God. As Matthew Fox answers the question, "Where can God be found?"
In the Via Positiva. In awe, wonder, and mystery of nature and all beings, each of whom is a ‘word of God,’ a ‘mirror of God that glistens and glitters,’ as Hildegard of Bingen put it. This is Path One (Creation Spirituality 18)
This is the path most people find to God. Sitting in the awe of nature, we feel our interconnectedness with all things. This interbeing is the purest connection we have with the Divine.
We can find God in music, art, or anything that instills within us a deep sense of Awe.
Where else can God be found?
“In the Via Negativa. In darkness and nothingness, in the silence and emptying, in the letting go and letting be, and in the pain and suffering that constitute an equally real part of our spiritual journey. This is Path Two (Creation Spirituality 18).”
This is the path of the Buddha- the path of silence meditation. Most of us what to reject this aspect of life, but it is an equal part of existence, and the most universal.
The Buddha himself reminds us of the only things we can ever know for sure, that we exist and that we are interconnected with all things. There is not an atom in our body that did not come from another creature, plant, or long lost star. It is in this lack of separate self that we find the Ground of All Being.
Where else can God be found?
“In the Via Creativa. In our generativity we co-create with God; in our imaginative output, we trust our images enough to birth them and ride them into existence. This is Path Three (Creation Spirituality 18).”
This is the path of Rumi- the path of art and co-creation. The Via Creativa is the very beating heart of the sacrament of Art as Meditation. In trusting our own creativity, we come closer to God. We learn how to be bearers of Christ into the world like those who came before us.
"My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you (Gal 4:19)," as the apostle said, we find God through trusting our generatively.
Where else can God be found?
“In the Via Transformativa. In the relief of suffering, in the combating of injustice, in the struggle for homeostasis, for balance in society and history, and in the celebration that happens when persons struggling for justice and trying to live in mutuality come together to praise and give thanks for the gift of being and being together. This is Path Four (Creation Spirituality 18).”
This is the path of Gandhi and Dr King, the path of satyagraha. In community and common cause, when find God. As David prayed, “Yours, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all (1Chr 29:11).” Wherever we see greatness, we see God. Wherever we see glory, power, victory, or majesty, we see God. When ever we see love, charity, grace, mercy or any of the Divine attributes, we see God.
These are the paths to God we have learned, the paths that we walk every day. They are as natural as breathing. There is nothing more simple than our experiences of God and learning to trust them.
I have been reading Brian D. McLaren's, a Generous Orthodoxy, and it has really been making me think a lot about my faith. At the end of each chapter, he asks numerous questions, and I have been learning a lot about the faith I actually believe.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing with you my answers to his questions. I invite and encourage you to read the book and share your answers too. We discern the voice of the Spirit in the witness of the faithful.
McLaren begins by talking about the Many Jesuses he has known in his life. I thought I should use his labels (and one of mine) and share my own story.
The Conservative Protestant Jesus
I grew up in a Baptist home. My grandfather and great grandfather were both Baptist ministers. I used to go up to talk about the Bible with my great grandmother all the time. I would read the story and we would talk about the text. In many ways, some of my happiest and most disturbing memories of religion come from this period of my life.
The happy memories are all with my family and Brother John. The disturbing ones are memories I don't like to dwell on for very long. I attended a Baptist school... the teachers prided themselves on scaring the children. They constantly threatened us with corporal punishment, and gruesome stories about the tortures of hell that awaited us if we did not behave exactly as we were told... The other more despicable things they did, I will not go into.
The Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus
The next phase of my life started after we moved to Maryland and I saw Pat Robertson on the TV for the first time. I was young, and the God he talked about was God of Magic and Might. It was easy to how this cosmic Super Savior would appeal to a young kid. This Jesus is not only superheroic, but he will include you in his circle of super friends. It was like magic, and I wanted that magic so bad. There was only one problem: I am gay.
I have known this since I was about 7 or 8, but I never new what the word for it was until Pat Robertson defined the word and said that all people like that were going to hell... Imagine my horror. The Baptist school I used to go to had burned images of hell into my mind.
This initiated what was for me the worst period of self-loathing, an act I was assured made me pious. I often thought about killing myself. If God hated people like me, maybe God would reward me if I took myself out. It all seemed so natural.
One night, I decided to do it. I went into the kitchen to get a knife to do the deed, but luckily I met:
The Roman Catholic Jesus
Over the silverware drawer, I found a copy of a book my cousin gave me, The Secret of the Rosary, by St Louis de Montfort. The preface of the Black Rose promised that even the darkest sorcerer with one foot in hell could be saved if they said the Rosary faithfully. So instead of killing myself, I prayed the Rosary for the first time in my life.
It was amazing. I began to pray it everyday and read the other works by St Louis de Montfort. Soon I was asked to leave the small nondenominational church that I attended for wearing a crucifix. I started taking classes and walking to church every Sunday for Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
I would often go up to the Shrine of St Elizabeth Anne Seton to pray.
The Charismatic Catholic Jesus
One summer, I went to live with my sister in Pennsylvania to watch my niece. While I was there I encountered the Charismatic Catholic movement. It was amazing. I will never forget the profound experiences I had that summer.
Imagine the ritualism of Catholicism and the exuberance of Pentecostalism mixed together into a single thing. This summer changed my life.
The Eastern Orthodox Jesus
By the end of the Summer I found the Philokalia and the Way of the Pilgrim. I began saying the Jesus Prayer in addition to the Rosary, and hunting down more books on the Eastern Orthodox faith.
What impressed me the most was with the way one book answered the question: if Adam and Eve had never tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, would Jesus have still been crucified?
The answer was amazing to me. Yes, it is in the crucifixion that Christ was hung on the border of faith and doubt, hope and fear, life and death- at the very transit of every pair of opposites and points the way to God through it all. Wow! The Crucifixion as a love letter to humankind. How refreshing.
The Liberal Protestant Jesus
As was almost inevitable I began my own quest for the historical Jesus. I read everything I could get my hands on. The numerous gospels and works of the early church. I began studying the various expressions of the early church as it struggled to express their encounter with the Risen Christ.
I was amazed that doctrine was regional. Creeds varied so much from place to place as did the books that were considered Scripture. I began to see these expressions as a mosaic. The more disillusioned I became with the church, the more attracted I was to the God of Paul Tillich, Bishop Spong, and Marcus Borg.
The Jesus of the Oppressed
Then I discovered Matthew Fox. His writings about the Cosmic Christ and Creation Spiritually completely transformed me and my faith. In his call for a new reformation, I found my spiritual home. This Jesus speaks with the same voice as the one I meet in the gospels, and helps me to Live God into the world every day.
These are the Seven Jesuses I have known in my life. They are different from the ones McLaren met in his life, but the lessons that I took away are very similar. It left me looking for a relational Divinity who is truly present with me in my life.