Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hiding Behind Jesus

Your Father is light and live, always faithful to His promises. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, He will allow you to return, running to embrace you. His arms always welcome you. You can't go too far or too fast to escape what He offers. Simply turn around, and it's yours.

You wanted to see the world, and so asked for your inheritance. You got more than you bargained for. They always said pigs were smarter than dogs, and actually preferred to be clean. Both are true.

Your Father has always been kind. Even to pigs. Perhaps He'll take you back. Didn't He always say that you don't have to be perfect for Him, that you don't have to be good? You only need to repent, and He'll take you just as you are.

You need that. You need one person who loves you, no matter what you've done. One person who won't reject you, one person who will look at your whole life -- even the mistakes, especially the mistakes -- and say, "It's all right. I'll still take you."

The pigs didn't watch you go. Someone sees you coming, and rushes to the other side. You both pretend that he doesn't watch your reflection in the store windows, dirt staining your robe in haphazard patches. Shoes crumbling off your feet with each step. Even you can smell your self.

It's a long walk, and easier to travel at night. You're like everyone else, then (except for the smell). Night masks imperfections, and assumptions are given free-reign. The smell, at some point, deters most. Except for the drunks. They're too drenched in their haze, and toss out slurred greetings.

Father always kept a light on from sunset to sunrise. Tonight's no exception. You hover at the fencepost. You should care about your appearance, at least try and clean yourself up. But you're so tired.

He won't reject you. Father doesn't do that. Father keeps His word.

One step. Two.

The front door bursts open. Father flies out. His form intersects the light, and all you see is this blog. Then it slams into you -- it's Father.

Father.

His arms cradle you. He's laughing. His child has come home. His child has returned. Why wouldn't this child, when Father leaves the light on?

You slump against Him, releasing those cares. Everything seems like a dream now.

Father asks you a question. You can't hear the words -- you just feel the vibration in his chest. But surely your Father sees that you're too tired to answer ,you're just too overwhelmed that you're home, that you're --

An answer? You gave an answer? How? You didn't even hear the question.

Wait. Why are you pulling --- you want to stare into your Father's eyes? But you weren't ready for that yet, you weren't ready to see --

Your Father's eyes are now mirrors, capturing this shimmering white form. Serene. Peaceful. Untainted. Something you never were, something you never could be.

The form's lips move, still saying those words. Its arms move, and you realize your arms move in time. Father's very happy. He's crying. "My son," He cries. "My son is home. Lost, and now found!"

Found? How am I found? This reflection in my Father's eyes -- how could I be found, when that's not you? Father always knew who you were, always told you ... who is your Father embracing?

Who am I, Father, if You don't see me?

The above italics are probably dramatic, if not overly so. But I'm hoping to explore the potential dark side of seeing Jesus as a sacrifice for sins. Paul says somewhere that it's no longer him that lives, but Christ that lives in him. Other New Testament passages reference being cleansed by Jesus' blood, and I've read on other blogs how Jesus' blood was perfect enough to cover all sins. Other times, I read/hear people pray that the "lost" always see Jesus/God in them.

The blood itself was necessary because God can't look upon sin. So I would see this as logically entailing that God can't look upon any human unless Jesus' blood is first in place.

However, evangelical Christianity also presents God as accepting you, "just as I am." I was involved in a discussion on another blog as to whether that idea is found in the Bible. In that precise wording, no. But the idea I get behind "just as I am" is that it's supposed to contrast Christianity against "work-based" religions. You don't need to try and be good before approaching God, He'll come and meet you no matter where you are (provided you either admit how bad you are, or how much you need God). Hence, "just as I am," entails all the sin was is currently infested with.

I'm not sure these two ideas are compatible. If God requires blood in order to look upon humans, then we aren't accepted just as we are. Especially since under the original sin concept, every iota of us is twisted/tainted with sin. If our parents or spouses tell us that they take us just as we are, the line of thought behind that is that we are accepted in both good and bad parts -- and both parts are acknowledged and seen.

(A possible way around this might be as follows: if going on the Trinitarian concept, then it could be said that God the Son accepts you just as you are, and yet God the Father must have blood in place. However, then you've got the different persons acting in an inconsistent fashion, with one capable of doing something the other can't.)

However, in referencing my parable above -- the Father wasn't accepting the prodigal child. He was accepting another creature in the prodigal's place. When he looked at the child, He saw Someone else. Isn't that how Jesus is used? God must see Jesus' blood in order to look upon you, for if you were actually seen, then you'd get thrown into hell? Can it even be said, then, that God loves you? Or is Jesus loved in your place, and you're just an afterthought?

If a parent only accepted a child after slaughtering a lamb and dumping the blood on top of the child, what would we say about that parent? What would that do to the child?

Does evangelical Christianity truly follow the story of the prodigal son? I'm not sure it does. It says that a sacrifice must be in place, so that one can be welcomed into heaven. In the parable, the son was simply welcomed, as he was. No mediator was necessary.

15 comments:

SocietyVs said...

I think this is a really good thing to look into with more depth - I feel a little excited to see what comes out of this. I will participate when I get a chance to do so.

cipher said...

Heather,

I don't know that you can reconcile the two ideas rationally. Conservative evangelical Christianity is a haven for those whose self-esteem is even more battered than the norm. Even mainstream Christian doctrine has been formed and sustained by people like Augustine and Luther - classic self-loathers. They then project these feelings onto the rest of us - these are people who accept, as an axiom, that humans are so inherently depraved that we are born into this world deserving nothing better than eternal damnation. Subsequently, they've worked out a way to alleviate these feelings. The rationalizations will always change, moment to moment, as need dictates, in order to protect the belief system. One moment it will be black, the next, white. This is the nature of denial.

Fred Scharf said...

(A possible way around this might be as follows: if going on the Trinitarian concept, then it could be said that God the Son accepts you just as you are, and yet God the Father must have blood in place. However, then you've got the different persons acting in an inconsistent fashion, with one capable of doing something the other can't.)

Creation and Redemption are the act of the Truine God (The Holy Trinity). There are some night and day contrasts, but that is because God made man for Himself. Therefore He made man pure and united with Him, leaving man with the choice to become COMPLETELY united with God and make irrevocably holy.

Of course, we know what happened with that situation! Man, when faced with the choice, went with a lack of faith and disobeyed the one (just one!) command God gave him. Man chose for himself and against God under the temptation of the serpent. Separation the likes of which no mere man can overcome was the result.

BUT, and it is a BIG but, God never stopped loving us. A sacrifice involving the shedding of blood, and death was required to bring life. This does not make for a contradiction in God. The Father, wanting to see us restored to Him looked to the Son, Who offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father for our sake. The Spirit, always present with the Father and the Son, conceived the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary and dwelt with (and even in) the Son in order to help Him in His mission to save us.

Yes, a great evil was done in killing Christ. But He made Himself vulnerable to save us from (1) our sins, (2) anyone who might try to keep us from God, and (3) from the devil, who sought to bring us to the separation from God which he himself chose in his wishing to be equated with God - the very temptation into which he lured Adam and Eve. Tricky, eh?

Because Christ is the person of God, with the nature of both God and man, he was able to take upon Himself our sins, suffer the punishment of death, descend to the dead, and then rise again. His human nature could experience suffering, death and separation. It was, however, forever united to His Divine Nature, which could never be held prisoner by these things. The bonding of Christ's Divine and human natures is called the hypostatic union. His purpose was to bring us back to life IN THE SPIRIT. Damnation, eternal death, is separation from God. We experience separate from God in this life, and would have been condemned to experience it in the next (eternal damnation) had Christ not shown His Divine Love and did in order to prevent us from having to suffer this. Eternal damnation is not an unjust punishment, but rather the natural result of knowing what it is to be separated from God in this life and failing to remedy it through Christ, experience being reunited with God here and now in a limited way, and experiencing the reunification to the full in the life hereafter. This is Salvation.

The joy of Christmas is the dawning realization that the very salvation that was promised (in the garden, right after the fall!) is beginning to take place through the very birth of the Savior who will offer Himself as sacrifice, and has even begund the sacrifice by emptying Himself to take on our nature. We celebrate the event yearly to remember Christ's entry into our world, and to enter more deeply into His love and salvation.

In that spirit . . . Merry Christmas to come!

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

**Even mainstream Christian doctrine has been formed and sustained by people like Augustine and Luther - classic self-loathers.**

I try very hard not to bring a person's personality into their argument. With Augustine and Luther, that's difficult, because so much of their life seems to dicate their viewpoints. If Augustine hadn't been so disguisted with his youth, would he have believed what he did?

Fred,

**BUT, and it is a BIG but, God never stopped loving us. A sacrifice involving the shedding of blood, and death was required to bring life. **

I may have missed this, but I don't see how your response addresses what I wrote: are we accepted just as we are, if we are required to be covered in the blood of Jesus? If God can only truly love us by seeing Jesus in our place, then God is loving the substitute, not us.

cipher said...

If Augustine hadn't been so disguisted with his youth, would he have believed what he did?

Probably not - and that's my point. The so-called "doctors of the church" are, in my opinion, the ones who've done Christianity the most damage.

societyvs said...

"Does evangelical Christianity truly follow the story of the prodigal son? I'm not sure it does" (OSS)

The prodigal is on parable but then again it must be consistent with Lukan theology - or why would it be there in the 1st place.

I think I basically agree with you here - again you propose a counter to a very ingrained idea in the current Evangelical realm. If God needs to see Jesus and not us - then what are we - mincemeat? I actually have thought about this idea and how I read Jesus is pointing us to God and his life exemplified that. It's going to require a lot on our part - but we are loved so there will be grace to allow us those mistakes (while we learn).

The blood atonement idea, even if true, was to fulfill something I am not clearly a part of (Jewish idea and theology). But maybe it was to show us that Jesus was important - he lived a sacrificial life and maybe we are to be 'like this lamb also'?

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

**The so-called "doctors of the church" are, in my opinion, the ones who've done Christianity the most damage.**

Not only that, but it seems that their viewpoints have become the new Bible. The Bible no longer stands on its own, but it's Augustine's interpretation, or Luther's interpretation, rather than the Bible itself. They very much dominate.

Donald Donato said...

I appreciate the thoughtful post.

The Bible is nothing more (in my admittedly heretical view) than a collection of writings from the various Christian communities whose literature made the mark 300 or more years AFTER the Twelve and Jesus had left this earth. How could one possibly place the importance of the message of Christ in the hands of editors? (And as one, I can tell you that we're a dodgy bunch)

The cross and the blood represent what they must to those who interpret them. To me, they are not sacrifices, because sacrifice is the Law; not Love (agape). And it was, after all, agape, that Jesus said (according to Matthew's people anyway) was the First Commandment, and the Second is the one that really makes things difficult. Not only to love God and your enemy, but to love yourself. The Law and the Prophets, even according to orthodox gospels, "hang" on this strange and powerful Love.

To quote a very good priest: "Of course, I could be wrong."

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**The prodigal is on parable but then again it must be consistent with Lukan theology - or why would it be there in the 1st place. **

Yes. It's often amazing how an interpretation can change, just by focusing on one book itself, instead of using the letters of Peter to interpret Luke. So what we would probably want to ask ourselves is how would Luke understand Christ in the context of people? Does he see the cross and a sacrifice as the only way for God to fully look on someone?

**I actually have thought about this idea and how I read Jesus is pointing us to God and his life exemplified that. It's going to require a lot on our part - but we are loved so there will be grace to allow us those mistakes (while we learn). **

Yes. I think it's why I cringe when I see people say that anything good they do, it was because God/Jesus did it through them. As you said, what does that make the person? Doesn't that reduce the person to nothing more than a puppet of God? Why wouldn't God instead help the person use the goodness already there, already an intrinsic part of the person?

Donald,

**To me, they are not sacrifices, because sacrifice is the Law; not Love (agape).**

Would you say they are not sacrifices to fulfill a requirement? Or not sacrifices in any sense? Because I do think they were a sacrifice in a sense, in that agape love is just one big sacrifice. Such as a parent for a child.

Pastor Bob said...

The best interpretation I've seen of this parable is by Kenneth Bailey who used to teach in Lebanon and applies the habits of Middle Eastern village life to his interpretations of the Bible.

Bailey suggests that there are a couple of dynamics that we don't usually see. The first is from the Torah. The younger son has insulted the father. The penalty for such insult is death. They other dynamic is the place of a rich man in a village community. While there is public respect there is also covert jealousy. So when the son comes home there would be quick action to stone the rich man's son.

The real point of the story is that the rich man runs to his son. In that time and place rich men didn't run. They had other people to run for them. But the only way for the rich man to protect his son from stoning is to run to his son, throw his arms around his son and protect him from the stones of the villagers. Then he gives the son the visible images of sonship, the robe and the ring, which prevents the stoning. If he accepts his son back then the stoning cannot happen.

The other two keys in the story are that the son doesn't get his confession of sin out. His father accepts him before confession. The other is that the older son doesn't accept his brother. He stays outside and won't come into the party.

The father goes out to his older son and appeals for him to come in. There is a curious reversal. The obedient son is the one on the outside because he cannot forgive his brother. The sinful son is on the inside because his father loves him and has forgiven him.

There may be a message about Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity here too.

None of this deals with the question of sacrifice, unless the father's willingness to die to protect his son counts as sacrifice.

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

**The first is from the Torah. The younger son has insulted the father. The penalty for such insult is death.**

I've also read that by asking for his inheritence early, the younger son was essentially expressing a wish that his father was dead, since death was the only "right" way to receive that. I haven't heard the stoning aspect, so thank you. The running part was familiar, but I like it in that it says a lot about how important image is, in the long run. And how image is often society-imposed.

The interesting thing, though, is that there's an obedient son here. Doesn't this mean that someone can follow all the rules? After all, the father told that son that the older son was always with the father, and all that the father had was the older son's.

Pastor Bob said...

onesmallstep

re the older son: Is he really obedient? He did stay home, he worked the land. He never asked for a party for himself. But he gets angry when his brother comes home and gets a party. Bailey's point is that the father loves both the sons. But the older son excludes himself from the party because of his anger at his brother and his judgment of his brother.

If we take the party to be the Kingdom of God then the older brother excludes himself from the Kingdom by refusing to forgive his brother. Curiously he sins because he sees his obedience as better than his brother's repentance and return.

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

It might depend on how we define obedient. He does tell the father that he never disobeyed him, and did what he was supposed to. I don't think he's angry that his brother came home. He's angry about the party, because the party is all about the younger brother's return. The only part the elder brother has to play is in welcoming the younger brother back.

What the elder brother might really be asking is why he doesn't have the same display of love from the father that the younger brother gets. He could be saying that he did what he was supposed to, he honored his father, and yet his father has never done this -- loved him -- in the same fashion as the brother who essentially wished the father dead. Is this pride, or is the elder brother hurt by this? He's doesn't seem angry that the brother gets the same treatment, but almost that the younger brother gets better treatment.

In a way, I can understand the brother's anger. I've seen it in families, where the child who behaved was overlooked in a way, because the child didn't require as much effort. The child was exactly what the parents wished for, and yet the parents praised the other child when that child did something right, since the child always messed up.

Pastor Bob said...

Exactly. He's angry about the celebration that his brother came back. You hear in what he says that he has nursed anger at his brother for what the brother did. The anger seems to be about what the younger son did to his Father.

Further he feels unloved by his father. The father never gave him a party even though he had been faithful all along.

Note that he doesn't acknowledge the younger son as his brother. He says, "when this son of yours came back."

But to get into the party he has to love his brother, the sinner.

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

**But to get into the party he has to love his brother, the sinner.**

We may be saying the same thing here, but I would say he also needs an assurance that his father loves him, as well. What if the elder brother's only definition of love is a big party? And so he's taking his life, looking at what he did, and wondering if it had any value, since all his brother had to do was come back. The elder brother may not have realized he was always in the kingdom.

I just think, in a way, the elder brother is asking for clarification in his position. He's saying that he did do everything right, and has never seen this type of love displayed towards him that was displayed towards the brother who did nothing right. The elder brother isn't necessarily prideful, but lost. And hurt.

And, yes, angry. :)