*Although this was published separately, it is not entirely a stand alone piece. Ideas and support are built from Sections 1 and 2 in The Shuvah Project #6 — Sin, Sacrifice, and the Cross.
Section Three (missing the mark):
If the reality of the Cross and the risen Jesus are deeply connected to the stories in our parsha, including a story about a father who God stops from killing his son… why are some church leaders so enamored by ideas like:
“If we view our sin as a minor infringement we will view God’s forgiveness with equal mediocrity. We can’t appreciate the great cost of forgiveness if we think our sin barely needed it in the first place.“
I think there is a better narrative.
Not to mention, this narrative of the greater the cost, the more powerful the salvation was being told long before Jesus ever walked onto the scene. In fact, that very narrative led to the advent of child sacrifice in the first place.
In The Source, James Michener illuminates the point.
“When a community like Makor dedicated itself to a god of death like Melak and to a goddess of life like Astarte, the believers entered unknowingly upon a pair of spirals which spun them upward and downward.
[Yet,] when the god Melak was imported from the coastal cities of the north the citizens of Makor were eager to adopt him, partly because his demands upon them were severe, as if this proved his power, and partly because they had grown somewhat contemptuous of their local gods precisely because they were not demanding. Melak, with his fiery celebrations, had not been forced upon the town; the town had sought him out as the fulfillment of a felt need, and the more demanding he became, the more they respected him… Melak’s appetite had expanded from the blood of a pigeon to the burning of a dead sheep to the immolation of living children, for with each extension of his appetite he became more powerful and therefore more pleasing to the people he tyrannized.”
–The Source, James Michener; pp.112-113 (footnote #1)
Is God a tyrant? Then why do some Christian leaders need Him to have killed His son. Is God loving, or is God a father who kills His son? Sounds like an upward and downward spiral.
These ideas do great damage to the mission of God and the narrative God is telling.
To be fair, Jesus did present the idea of much forgiveness, much love in Luke 7:36-50. In it, a women in town who was a sinner washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. The Text is pretty explicit in telling us “She’s a sinner” (Luke 7:39)! So, Jesus tells a parable about a creditor and debtors. To which He asks Simon, which of them (debtors) will love him (creditor) more? Simon answered, “the one he (creditor) forgave more.” Correct.
I think Jesus’ next words are striking (Luke 7:44-48). Jesus lists all the acts of loving-kindness the woman showed Him. At the same time, He lists all the ways the pharisees missed the opportunity to be hospitable. At the end of that list… Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven: that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Before ever proclaiming her sins forgiven (which Jesus does in the very next verse) He says her sins have been forgiven. Almost as if her acts of loving-kindness atoned for her many sins. If you read on, Jesus says to the woman “your faith has saved you.” This week in Romans 4, Paul reminds us that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. But, faith isn’t just believing. Abram laid down his legacy for another. This woman gave Jesus everything she had, her whole self, because she trusted that He (God) wasn’t holding out on her.
God the Father, didn’t have to kill His son for this woman’s sins to be forgiven. Based on Jesus’ words, it doesn’t seem like she views God’s forgiveness as mediocre either.
I didn’t just land on this randomly. Rabbi’s, like Haim Sabato, talk about the hospitable women in the Elijah and Elisha stories. To which, God resurrects their dead sons. In the book of Ruth, we see the same idea play out. Rabbi Sabato says, the Text teaches us that loving-kindness resurrects the dead.
Now, maybe, the most unfortunate outcome of church leadership preserving ideas like Jesus’ Crucifixion as atonement for our sin, is the distorted worldview it ingrains in our youth.
If you ask 6th grade boys what breaks God’s heart (which I did), almost instantaneously, almost all of them will tell you sin. Which isn’t entirely false; especially, when we think back to the stories of obsession we’ve discussed and how they broke God’s heart.
But, do you think these are the story-lines 6th grade boys have been told about sin?
The answer is no (again, I asked). Sixth grade boys’ reference to sin isn’t about mistrusting God. They’ve been told that they are broken. That they are sinners. That Jesus died for their sin.
When I asked for an example of God’s heart being broken by sin; again, almost unanimously and instantaneously they said the Ten Commandments.
But, it seems to me (as depicted in our parsha Text) what breaks God’s heart more so than anything else is those being sinned on. God hears the cry of the oppressed in Sodom. God hears Ishmael’s cry. God’s heart breaks for the suffering and the oppressed. God’s heart breaks for those pushed to the margins.
God’s heart does break because of sin, the kind of sin that oppresses others — the sin of pride and greed.
Here’s the deal, God told Abraham he’d have a great name and nation. If there’s one person in the whole world who rightfully should be prideful, its Abraham. But, as we discussed, we notice throughout his journey he’s consistently trying to balance trusting God and taking control of his own destiny.
I’ve yet to hear a teacher talk about how sinful Abraham was. Yet, he gave up his wife not once, but twice. The guy has moments of scarcity mentality. He has moments of mistrust. But, look at how God responds! It’s not with condemnation. God doesn’t declare Abraham broken and a sinner. In fact, on the other side of these moments, God continues to walk with Abraham and blesses him.
God seems to be endlessly patient with those trying to walk the path well.
- Full disclosure: The Source is a historical fiction. Makor is a representation of a real place and the story-line is heavily supported by archaeology and historical evidence.