Christ’s path to being lifted up (quite literally on the cross and from the grave) was through the means of being made less—taking on the form of a servant, becoming human, and humbling himself by becoming obedient to death by crucifixion.
Likewise, our glorification necessitates we experience humiliation. The story of our freedom and salvation is not the story of our strength or greatness. It is the story of grace; a free and unmerited gift. Therefore, if it is not by our strength or merit then we have no control over it. Pride and ego thus experience humiliation. If it is not by our by force or might, but through a crucified God, then human wisdom experiences humiliation.
“The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone!” Psalm 118:22
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
“…by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” Romans 8:3
“Here is a point that must be noted most carefully. Paul does not say that God punished Jesus. He declares that God punished Sin in the flesh of Jesus. Now, to be sure, the crucifixion was no less terrible an event because, with theological hindsight, the apostle could see that what was being punished was Sin itself rather than Jesus himself. The physical, mental, and spiritual agony that Jesus went through on that terrible day was not alleviated in any way. But theologically speaking—and with regard to the implications that run through many aspects of church life, teaching, and practice—it makes all the difference.
The death of Jesus, seen in this light, is certainly penal. It has to do with the punishment on Sin—not, to say it again, on Jesus—but it is punishment nonetheless. Equally, it is certainly substitutionary: God condemned Sin (in the flesh of the Messiah), and therefore sinners who are ‘in the Messiah’ are not condemned. The one dies, and the many do not. All those narrative fragments we saw in Luke and John come into their own.”
N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began
Retributive punishment might be a deterrent, as punishment is by nature punitive. It might also make a victim feel better to know that the offender was punished. Yet, punishment seldom equals the actual loss occurred by a crime. Seizing a thefts assets might help replay his victims, but in the case of capital offense, the punishment of one person does not repay or restore heath and lost life.
Thus, when we are tempted to say or believe, “God needs to punish and kill” in order to forgive or provide us life, it’s like suggesting that killing an innocent person will bring your murdered family member back to life.
Real justice—true and greater justice—cannot be answered with death. It can only be answered with life. Real justice is not focused on ending the life of the violent, but with ending the cycle of violence and death. Retribution is not the path to life, redemption is.
So…Does God need to punish? No. Not to provide life.
*Related post: FORGIVENESS AS JUSTICE
The problem with much atonement theology is that the conversation begins and is twisted around ‘God’s need’ (e.g. payment, punishment, blood sacrifice) and not about what God provides (e.g. cleansing, forgiveness, healing, redemption).
Starting with what God needs renders him passive. He is not passive. He is active in the story of history. He sends. He provides. He saves.
From the opening pages of Scripture when the first humans sinned, God acted. When the humans felt for the first time naked and ashamed, God came to them and provided for their need. When he looked upon the dark power they had unleashed into the world he promised one would be sent to crush it.
Sin may hold us back from God, but it does not hold God back from us. From the Garden to the incarnation and beyond God is a seeking, sending, and saving God.
…and our need is not to escape God, but Sin, Satan, and Death.
Although many of the Psalms were written early in ancient Israel’s life, the composition of the book we know as Psalms was Post-Exilic (539BCE). This means it is a book compiled BY and FOR a people living and returning from exile.
…a people estranged from their homes
…defeated by unjust powers
…a people who have lost everything
…cut-off from their God, identity, and purpose
Psalms are the songs and prayers of the people. It’s worship book for the formation and nourishment of hope and faith in desperate times. But not hope in some general sense… storied hope. Hope rooted in the storied promise of the representative sent by God to rescue his people from exile… one to deal with the evil and injustice in the world and restore creation: The Messiah. Thus, the Psalms were seen as ABOUT or BY the Messiah (Savior/King).
Jesus himself taught that all Scripture was about him (Luke 24:44-45), and quoted from the Psalms most frequently.
When you read a psalm, where do you imagine Jesus signing and praying that psalm?
Entertainment is big business, but it is not the business of the church.
One of the lines that defined the youthful angst of my consumer generation came from Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit where Kurt Cobain sings with that raw and guttural voice, “Here we are now, entertain us.” It is a confession that still gives voice to the antagonism of authentic faith.
In a culture that is overexposed and addicted to consumption, faith has suffered. The few have become responsible for feeding the many. The gathering place has become less of a place to share our gifts, and rather a place to devour the talents of others. It was intended to be a place meant to develop faith, however, it has become in many parts, a place to live off the faith of others.
Every commercial or point of advertising constantly reminds me what they have is newer, faster, and cooler than what I have. At almost every point of culture, I’m being sold something. The way we live and think is being transformed often without notice by the advertising around us. At times, our lives have no greater purpose or meaning than to make that next purchase. Our identity is no longer what we consume, but that we consume. This mentality is then transferred and projected into our view of faith and spirituality. The conversation concerning church has been reduced beyond ‘what am I being fed?’ to simply ‘am I being fed?’
We want to welcome you. Come be a part of something greater.
Faith is more than entertainment. Faith is about being connected to something greater than yourself. It’s about being connected to God, and those around you, and those that came before you. Faith is about living for something greater than trends. It’s about having a purpose greater than to consume. It is to create, to serve, and to love. Maturity is displayed in greater contribution, not in greater consumption.
“Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. Resurrection is happening inside them. The wrong done to them is not permitted to twist their lives out of shape. Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It was and is a great strength. Resurrection and forgiveness together are vital for understanding the extraordinary and large-scale result of the victory won on the cross. The nations of the world were now set free to worship the one true God.”
― from “The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion”
Doing whatever feels right is not freedom, it is slavery to one’s own feelings. Yet, spiritual formation and spiritual maturity are not developed by the rejection of feelings for thinking. Nor are they developed by the rejection of thought for action.
A life formed by the spirit must encompass the practice of thinking, feeling, and acting like Christ.
“Telling the truth of America today is as unsettling as it was to tell the truth of Israel then. Over thirty-six million Americans live in poverty. One in four children in the United States is poor, and infant mortality rates in our inner cities rival those developing countries. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women: Three million women are being each year and every day for women or murdered by their partners or husbands. Homicide is the leading cause of death among young African-American men, and more or in prison or on parole than in college. AIDS, drugs addiction, and suicide lay claim to more and more citizens, including an alarming number of youth. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are homeless and unemployed as affordable housing evaporates and corporations ship jobs to foreign countries that pay workers pennies a day.
Rampant patriotic fervor and shouts of “God bless America” can’t drown out the cries behind the reality of our nation. For those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ—the one who came to open eyes—looking away is not an option. Jesus invites us to participate in the coming of God’s kingdom.”
Joyce Hollyday, Then Shall Your Light Rise: Spiritual Formation and Social Witness