What do you think of sin, grace and Jesus dying for our sins?
These are great questions.
I think ultimately they are unanswerable questions, and that 'salvation' or soul-making takes place in the process of wrestling with them, not by getting them 'right'. Most of our puny human brains can't even understand how a computer works, let alone these immense psycho-spiritual conundrums. You may recall that in the book of Genesis, Jacob's name was changed to Israel. The name Jacob means to deceive and manipulate. The name Israel means 'wrestling with God.' The name change took place as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the LORD and his soul experienced a shift in consciousness. Jacob was transformed from being a secretive manipulator to an honest wrestler and open seeker.
When I was part of the Evangelical movement, I was a manipulator like Jacob, using my Bible and theology to control ideas and people. I would use my 'inspired' Bible to justify getting other people to see it and do it 'God's' (my) way. All dogmatic theologies and ideologies, whether conservative or liberal, are active or passive attempts at manipulation.
With regard to your questions, here is where I am today as guided by the Spirit of Truth that resides in us all:
Sin simply means to miss the mark, an archery term for missing the center of the target. Sin is always being redefined by people and societies, and be warned, you risk your life when you challenge the social and religious definitions of sin. Jesus redefined sin when he ate on the Sabbath and touched lepers. Jesus redefined sin when he defended the woman caught in adultery; Moses' God would have stoned her. People today are following Jesus' example by questioning homosexuality as sin, and by questioning other moral and ethical behaviors as sinful, like stem cell research and abortion. It doesn't mean a person is right when they question these things, but it does show that 'sin' is always being questioned by teachers like Jesus.
I personally believe that I sin when I do not live up to my inner call and internal sense of destiny. Spirit has called each of us to a place in life, and when we get still, we know that place. Just as the Spirit led Jesus to touch lepers and eat on the Sabbath, each of us is guided to follow our call even if it violates the boundaries of religious and social institutions. Sin is not primarily violating a list of rules, but violating your own inner knowing of your call to serve others with the gifts, desires and talents you were born with. The 'real' sinner is not so much the drunk or hooker, but the man or woman working in the prison of a cubicle to pay the mortgage as his/her soul withers away.
Grace is a way of seeing anew, not religious dogma. Grace is a radical spiritual hypothesis Jesus used to move people from the righteous Rule-God to the gracious Father-God. Grace is not a law, doctrine or teaching we apply. It is a realization, an awareness, an awakening to a Higher view of Reality - namely that Eternity (God) does not hate us, never has hated us and that God is not against us in this adventure called life. Grace bypasses justice and releases debts with no requirement for payment or remuneration. Jesus told many parables about this scandalous notion of grace taking precedence over legal Mosaic justice:
1. The 'unfair' practice of laborers working various amounts of time and all receiving the same wage.
2. A prodigal son squandering his inheritance and being welcomed home with no need for repayment or sacrifice; the fatted calf was slaughtered for a love feast, not a sin offering.
3. The unjust steward releasing men from debts to ingratiate himself to their favor.
Grace is the shift away from the metaphor of God as Judge and Executioner, to the metaphor of God as Father and Shepherd. Grace is the day we wake up and realize that human beings filled with self loathing constructed a God-Image and theological systems that required a Divine Judge and Executioner to kill something or someone to appease His anger. Grace is awakening to the realization that the pollution of Jesus' message came through humans, especially the Apostle Paul, who constructed a retributive theology.
DID GOD HAVE TO SLAUGHTER HIS SON FOR US?
People like the Apostle Paul and Mel Gibson, filled with self loathing and unresolved demons, require a gruesome crucifixion to atone for their dark internal rage and their secret sinful fantasies which they simultaneously love and despise. When you hear stories of ministers like Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggert and Ted Haggard having secret sex lives, you understand the conflict in many Christians – filling them with a need to somehow kill that part of them that haunts their otherwise moralistic godliness. Carl Jung said that in the conscious Christian resides a Pagan unconscious buried beneath the surface. All humans are filled with divine chaotic darkness. It must either emerge into the light and be channeled into creativity, or it will erupt somewhere violently.
The horrific image of Jesus being arrested, violently abused and butchered by a loving Father was invented by humans with hearts filled with repressed fear, anxiety, internalized rage and self loathing. These were people hiding demons in the basements of their souls which they despised and want exoricised. This gospel story of a God who tortured, humiliated and murdered his son in cold blood was constructed by humans who hated what they found inside of themselves, feeling that they and the whole ugly human race deserved to be tortured for their lies and deceptions.
They live in secrecy. Rather than come clean and admit their disgraceful secret, they prefer to project their shame and rage outward onto the horrific image of a Divine Father killing his innocent son drenched with their unrelenting sins and the sins of the whole despicable world. This way, they can simultaneously hate and crucify God for making them so sinfully weak, and then love Him for dying for their sinful weaknesses!
The universal appeal and success of this gospel of crucifixion reveals that many humans need this story to introduce them to a spiritual awakening. Through identification with this murderous image they can unburden themselves by letting their surrogate parent punish and kill the bad and disappointing child that they are. In Christ, they see an angry Parent punishing them for being such a bad little boy or girl. These people really see themselves as bad before daddy or mommy, deserving a whipping, humiliation and extermination. At this point, the gospel story is neither fact nor fiction, but a necessary psycho-spiritual drama for a very real and beneficial affect in the psyche.
Many alienated and distraught people are often moved to deep feelings of remorse and hope as they identify with the crucified Christ who embodies all of their failures, self loathing and internalized rage. By putting their face and sins on Christ, they experience a removal of guilt, a release from failure and a sense of satisfaction by being vicariously punished for their obsessive secrets and chronic sins. There is often a 'born again' experience. Something shifts in them, resulting in a change of heart that can last an hour or a lifetime.
FROM LAW TO GRACE
But there comes a day, hopefully, when the gracious Father-God of Jesus dawns on them, and they can move beyond the bloody sacrificial cross developed by the New Testament Jewish legal theologian, Paul, to the debt cancelling God of Jesus. Jesus presented a radical new God Who loved people simply because they existed as humans, with their failures and successes, warts and blemishes.
But until that awakening, they must continue to vent their hatred via a God-Image that necessitates wrath, justice, slaughter and divine retribution. However, keep your eye on these folks, for they are furtive Jacobs filled with manipulation and deceit, hidden addictions and secret demons that will one day pop out like a jack-in-the-box. They are typically filled with gossip, hatred of those who are different and a need to control the world around them. You can bank on the fact that when a person requires his/her God to slaughter His son in cold blood, he/she is harboring some dark secrets and contains a locked vault packed with self contempt. They may speak of living grace, but they know only bloody justice.