For Christmas this year, let’s give Jesus a gift. Let’s let him off the bloody hook. Somewhere between the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s letters, “Follow me” turned into “I did it all with blood sacrifice.” Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 – 1109, sealed the deal with his writing on the satisfaction theory of atonement.
And ever since, we’ve been killing him (Jesus) softly but surely by piling on the sins of the world, Sunday after Sunday. Data tells us he’s almost half dead now, under the load. Barna Group relentlessly counts the beans of evangelical angst, documenting the slippage of the “churched” through the door to become the “unchurched”, searching for just the right moves to get’em “churched” again. Their latest book, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, documents that the “unchurched” segment of the US population has grown not just steadily, but at an ever increasing rate from 30% in the 1990’s to 43% in 2014. For Barna and company (A better book title might have been Clueless.), it seems a daunting task to stem that tide, given what they see as the relentless bashing of Christianity by godless unchurched culture. A small first step might be to get rid of those repelling and out of touch churched and unchurched labels.
Let’s let Jesus off the bloody hook. Lots of folks have tried to redeem atonement by turning it into “at-one-ment.” Too little too late, I fear, but the sentiment is useful. I believe with all my heart that Jesus was “at-one” with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source. And I believe “the way” to which he persistently called the people of his small corner of the world in his time is, indeed, the path forward – the very same foundational path forward whispered by the breath of life in all places and all times.
But we – you and I and Aunt Suzie – won’t find that path by continually “casting our burden upon the Lord.” (If you are sufficiently unchurched, that phrase of evangelical atonement might be unfamiliar, and I promise not to use it again.) We will find it, metaphorically, in our own journey from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life. We will find it by changing the way we view ourselves and the world around us.
“Salvation,” another hopelessly abused and by now nearly dead word, is really just our choice to grow up and move along that path. A bloody choice? Well, let’s be honest. Turning from the fear and separation of the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is very threatening to power, at least to the misused power of twisted politics and those that wield religion to mediate your redemption and mine. Taking personal responsibility for growing up to compassion, confidence and responsible relationship – becoming the Adult of God (Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source – not an old man in some heaven) that we become under the Tree of Life – taking that personal responsibility and acting on it generally, at some point, puts us crosswise with the powers of fear. Witness Jesus as the Romans nailed him to a tree, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer and six millions Jews up in smoke in bloody Christian Germany.
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 21-24. God I love my old Revised Standard Version.)
Want to be saved? Stop going to war. Want to be saved? Take care of the planet. Want to be saved? Don’t even think about killing the food stamp program.
Want to be saved from “sin and death?” Stop nailing Jesus to the tree and crying salvation. Grow up and choose it. Forgiveness is not a gift that was given in the bloody slaughter of the Lamb of God. Forgiveness is a state of being. No one can give it to you. You must truly embrace it for yourself. And then move on.
Move on, move on down the road. And consider a gift to Jesus this Christmas. Take him off the bloody tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree of fear and hate and twisted power. Clean him up, like the Good Samaritan would. Clean him up and walk with him, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Walk with him, all the way to the Tree of Life.
© Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.
Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact email@example.com.