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Category Archives: Wrath

Satan and Christus Victor in the 21st Century

First, I must apologize for the past couple months of absence from blogging.  Life has been busy through the holidays.  I have found a moment to catch my breath and as such now have time to write a bit more.  I currently sit overlooking an ice covered lake with a backdrop of snow blanketed mountains.  Perhaps this post will find a somewhat more positive tone then the previous…although we should start there to address this topic.

If you haven’t had a chance to read my last post please take a second to do so: An Abusive Relationship with G-d.

This last post was a reaction to a particular doctrine that I formerly affirmed, namely Penal Substitutionary Atonement (I’ll refer to it as PSA for convenience throughout the remainder of this piece).  I felt it necessary to express my frustration with this commonly espoused atonement theory to perhaps point out some of its short comings and the damage that it can do to us personally and our relationship with G-d.  However, it certainly isn’t enough to tear something down and walk away with the dust of the rubble falling off my boots.  So then, I offer an alternative for consideration.  Please keep in mind that what I will present is just another theory.  I am not advocating that this is the final and true atonement theory…only that it is perhaps a better alternative to the popular PSA.  I wouldn’t suggest anybody simply take this explanation and build a rigid doctrine around it, but rather use it as inspiration to continue the journey of finding new ways to experience G-d, love, and life with each other.

Let’s start by taking a step back in history, considering where PSA came from and why it emerged.  Throughout most of the first millenium of Christianity the atonement was understood by a vast majority of followers through either of 2 metaphors.  The first would be the Ransom theory. It teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom, paid to Satan, in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. The second is closely related and is known as Christus Victor.  This theory sees Jesus not used as a ransom but rather defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved mankind by defeating the captor.  In the 11th Century the established western church officially rejected both of these theories in favor of the Satisfaction theory at the direction of Anselm, then Archbishop of Canterbury.  Satisfaction theory eventually emerged into PSA under the Reformers 500+ years later.  As a reminder, PSA argues that Christ  was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so G-d can justly forgive the sins.  So here we are in present day…dealing the the Mark Driscolls of the world telling us that G-d hates us and that we need to feel guilty because we aren’t holy enough for him, that G-d demanded a human sacrifice to appease his wrath against us.  If such an assertion came from any other religion we would immediately be able to identify how dangerous such an understanding of G-d would be…but since it comes from our own tradition we seem to be generally quite blind to it.

I’d like to pose this question:  Why did Anselm send us down this path?  Why did he see it necessary to change the path of a millenium of Christians before him.  It is reported that Anselm rejected the ransom theory because he had discerned that Satan, an actual spiritual being, could not have possibly had any just claim to G-d’s creation, thus eliminating the legal requirement for a ransom to be paid.  For Anselm a similar dilema was posed by Christus Victor in that it portrayed Satan as such a powerful being so as to be able to enslave G-d’s creation against His will.  Anselm contended it was much preferable to see us (humanity) as enemies of G-d, through our sin, then to assert godlike power to the spiritual being of Satan.  I wouldn’t argue with Anselm on his identification of a problem, but I would obviously have some contention with his resolution (again, see my previous post).

In the tradition of this blog I would approach the resolution of the criticisms of Christus Victor by exploring the metaphorical interpretation.  We have already established that it is fairly unattractive to view our condition as a subjection of humanity to the literal spiritual power and authority of a being that is not G-d, namely Satan.  If we do this we effectively create another god who is just as powerful as, well maybe just a little less powerful than, the main G-d, in so doing we become polytheists.  So what if Satan is a metaphor for something?  Is there some problem, power, set of issues that humanity faces from which we would need a savior, a hero?  If there were, then perhaps the analogy of the spiritual battle of Christus Victor could still be maintained, albeit slightly modified.

In searching for the villain, our Satan, in the narrative of Christus Victor I would introduce us to, or for some remind us of,  another atonement theory that has seemed to exist in some form or another throughout the history of Christianity.  This atonement theory is known as “moral influence“.  It teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection.  If we let moral influence inform our decision on choosing a metaphorical definition of “Satan”, then it would appear that immorality, as defined by Jesus, would be the villain in our narrative.  If we review Jesus’ teachings it appears that our Satan, the one he came to defeat, is/are the systems and individual interactions that are unloving, those that cause alienation and oppression, those that ignore or perpetuate poverty and need, etc.

This way of approaching the question gives us something real and tangible to work with.  We are no longer fearing and struggling against some lower diety who is manipulating our life events (I hate it when Satan hides my keys on Sunday mornings to keep me from getting to church, but Jesus usually overcomes the attempts of the Devil by helping me find them! PTL!).  Rather we move into addressing real world problems by practicing “The Way” (for those who don’t already know, early Christians identified themselves not as “christians” but rather as followers of “The Way”…that way of course being the one Jesus taught and demonstrated).  We are trying to solve issues like poverty (locally and globally) with generosity and compassion, we try to find ways to create and maintain peace by rejecting the cycles of violence and retribution, we seek to have relationships that are healthy, beneficial, and that demonstrate authentic love regardless of race, class, religion, or sexuality, etc.

If we see the reason for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of this collision of Christus Victor and Moral Influence then we effectively resolve Anselm’s problem with these traditional atonement theories while simultaneously avoiding the afore mentioned pitfalls and abuse of penal substitutionary atonement.  I see this approach as much more beneficial, hopeful, and as calling Jesus’ followers to a higher responsibility in the narrative of life and existence in the universe.

 

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An Abusive Relationship With G-d

This weekend Mark Driscoll, pastor of the NW mega-church Mars Hill, came right out and said exactly what he thinks that g-d thinks about you…”G-d hates you“.  Watch here (quote starts @ 4:25)…

Those who know me might be surprised by this, but I have a slight problem with that.  It isn’t just that I find his approach rough or his words lacking in tact, even though I certainly do.  My criticism goes beyond the shocking phrases he spews with such malice in this video.  If you have an hour, man he loves to hear himself talk, you can watch the full sermon here.

In the full sermon, Mark goes to great lengths to explain to us how evil we are.  He thinks it is incredibly important that we all realize just how sh*tty we really are and how much his g-d righteously despises everything about us.  We must come to the realization that g-d’s wrath is boiling over and his “justice” eagerly calls out for our blood.  Mark thinks saying all that is okay because it highlights just how great g-d’s “love” is when he finds a way to redirect his wrath onto a substitutionary scapegoat.  The only way we could possibly understand the love of g-d is if it comes in contrast to wrath-filled hatred and the threat of eternal torture performed by our beloved.

Forgive me for being as blunt as Driscoll usually is, but Mark’s gospel is bullsh*t.  I usually wouldn’t be so forceful in this venue, but this kind of theology is severely psychologically and spiritually dangerous.  His message, given with authority to an audience of over 10K, paints g-d with the following characteristics:

  • Jealous & Possessive
  • Controlling
  • Sets Unattainable Standards
  • Manipulative
  • Prone to Mood Swings
  • Conflicting Actions and Words – Like saying he loves the world then eternally tortures most of it
  • Punishes For Not Meeting Unreasonable Expectations
  • Disrespectful – devalues who you are
  • Historically Violent

The real problem here is that these are the warning signs psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors have identified of abusive relationships.  The analogy of a husband and wife are often used by Christians to symbolize our relationship with g-d.   If Mark Driscoll’s g-d is like our husband, then we are the victims of domestic abuse.  His g-d tells us that we are worthless according to his standards.  We weren’t able to live up to the rules that he made for us, as a result his anger is boiling over. Every time we fail to reach perfection seething words escape through our holy spouse’s clenched teeth promising, “One of these days…one of these days my wrath will reign down on you with unrelenting fury.”

Maybe one day we might work up the courage to respond to such threats by saying, “Remember when I did that thing you asked me to do yesterday, did that not mean anything to you?”.  He, of course, would respond with an open hand raised and impatience in his tone, “Unless you do everything perfectly, whatever good you think you do is complete and utter garbage!”.

After such an interaction we might cower before him and ask “I really do try to be a good person.  You wouldn’t really hurt me just because I fail sometimes, would y…”.  A booming growl cuts off our words, “I AM THE DESTROYER OF SODOM, OF GOMORRAH, OF UZZAH, OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, OF THE WORLD IN THE FLOOD! DO YOU THINK FOR A MOMENT I WOULD TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY?”  His voice lowers a few decibels as he continues, “I’ll tell you what, because I am such a merciful and generous g-d I might spare you from my righteous punishment…I could torture and kill somebody who is innocent instead.  You should feel like crap, you made me do it.  You made me torture Jesus, you made me kill him…his blood is on your hands. Live with that guilt for the rest of your existence. Now get down on your knees!  Tell me how horrible and sinful you are.  Acknowledge before me and everybody else that you are nothing without me…a complete waste of human existence.  Say that you deserve my unending torment as retribution for your inability to be perfect, then beg for forgiveness.  Vow to change your disgusting ways.  Admit that it was all your fault that a righteous man died.  SAY IT OR BURN!”

As his voice crescendos, we find ourselves instinctively whimpering the confessions we were instructed to say. As we do, he continues, “Good…now realize what has happened here.  I must love you incredibly to even accept trash like you into my presence.  I ferociously despise you, but my love is greater than my hate…which is saying a lot.  Can you see that?”

“Yes sir” we murmur without making eye contact.

“Very well.  Then perhaps I might be able to do something useful with you.  Go and tell others that they too are worthless sinners.  My wrath burns against them as well, but perhaps they might be able to work out a deal like I graciously extended to you…because if I can forgive and love a P.O.S. like you surely I can do it for anybody.”

The last dig hurt.  For a moment we think to ourselves, “maybe we could just leave, find somebody who didn’t make such threats, find somebody who didn’t set unreasonable expectations, who loved us for us and not despite of us”  As quickly as the thought occurred, fear pulls it back.  If we run he will catch us and we will surely be punished.  If there is one thing we know about g-d, he will follow through with his violent threats…Mark Driscoll told us he would.

UPDATE

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Bad Theology, Christianity, Hate, Love, Theology, Wrath

 
 
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