Friday, December 21, 2007

How Does a Person Get Right With God?

Christopher asked: How, in your view, is a man made right with God? (If he does need to be made right).

Michael's Response:

I follow the post-Mosaic biblical method for getting right with God. In Moses day, Sabbath breakers, murders and adulterers got right with God by being executed (sacrificed) for their unjust violations of the 'Law of God.' Lesser offenses required animal sacrifices for a man to get right with God as prescribed by Moses in Leviticus.

However, that all changed several hundred years later with Kind David. He presented it beautifully from a broken heart after committing murder and adultery. According to 'justice', David should have been stoned to death for his mortal sins. But instead we find this:

Psalm 51:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;

build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices,

whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

David got right with God by offering the sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart. Notice here that the blood sacrifice is a thanksgiving sacrifice AFTER David got right through a broken, repentant, humble, amended heart. You cannot argue with the 'text.' Righteousness came from an internal spiritual shift or sacrifice of heart, not through some slaughtered animal offered for retribution to an angry God.

This is the way Jesus taught in the synoptic gospels, in contradistinction to the Pharisees and other Jews who slaughtered animals to establish righteousness. That is one of the reasons Jesus chased the poor stupid animals from the Temple. The 'forgive and love your enemies' God-consciousness of Jesus transcended the old 'eye for an eye' wrathful retributive justice of Elohim the Judge. Jesus brought pure, scandalous, legally unfounded grace – the same kind he often spoke of in his parables. Recall the story Jesus told of the workmen who worked different hours but were all paid the same! When the employee who worked 10 hours complained that the laborer who worked 2 hours got the same amount, Jesus said that the vineyard owner (God) said, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:1-16)

Grace is not grace if it requires any kind of payment. Synonyms for grace are leniency, clemency, charity, benevolence and mercy. Antonyms for grace are severity, ruthlessness, exacting, legalistic preciseness. Grace is illogical, irrational, unjust and unreasonable. Real grace is shocking and scandalous when presented to a logical, exacting, legalistic religious community which requires their God to operate out of resentment and retribution like humans do.

The human understanding of God in the Old Testament was based on law, resentment, retribution and wrathful justice – just as modern day Islam operates. Jesus presented a newer and clearer understanding of God as a compassionate father who required only broken sorrow for sins. God does not change, but human understanding does, slowly. Jesus tried to change people's understanding of God from an exacting judge to a gracious father. Many Christians try to mix justice with grace and get justice. It is like trying to mix white paint with black paint – you will never get white. Grace is white paint.

If Christians spent as much time reading about and memorizing the words and acts of Jesus as they did Paul's interpretation of Jesus, they would return to grace. Go to the three synoptic gospels, the earliest gospels, and show me the conditions Jesus set forth for healing, forgiveness or acts of compassion. He never once set a condition that there had to be an animal or human slaughtered for the recipient to benefit. One reference is made to Jesus being a 'ransom' for the sins of many, but the context makes it clear that he is teaching his selfish disciples to be servants to other human beings rather than masters. In the ancient world it was common for a number of servants to be traded for a valuable member of a tribe or city. This common practice is still done today in the Middle East.

Jesus made it clear that a higher understanding of God had arrived. Moses brought the law of an eye for an eye, Jesus brought the grace of forgive your enemies without any form of remuneration. To require slaughter, blood and the literal gutting of Jesus is a legal notion based on 'eye for eye' theology

How is your child made right with you? Do you have to slaughter innocent animals, or another living human being if your child lies, steals, gossips, has pre-marital sex, or any number of 'sins'? What loving parent, besides Moses, Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, would think in terms of blood justice? Even the Old Testament prophets began to see that God required obedience rather than sacrifice. Do you actually believe that God's 'wrath' is such that He cannot do as do as the owner of the vineyard, exactly what he wants, even if it violates human standards of just remuneration?

The Christian theology of sacrificial slaughter and blood atonement was developed by Paul, understandably, since he was a Jewish theologian. I respect Paul as a brilliant man. He had a cosmic KONK on the head when he met the Living Christ who told him to go proclaim grace to the Gentiles. Of course he had to find a way to square it with his prior life training, as we all try to do. But Paul was wrestling with his understanding of that life changing experience, and hardly inspired as so many Paulinists (I won't call them Christians) have done. Why do you think the people in I Corinthians were arguing over interpretations, where we read from Paul, "What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Paul proclaimed the gospel of free grace and acceptance, as did many others, and each had a different way of explaining the details of 'how' it happened and 'what' it meant. The basic gospel is that God's Power is available to ALL who humbly, contritely surrender their swollen egos and enter into the Living Presence.


Christopher said...

Hey, you started a line of postings from our discussion. I like...

Anyway, Paul did not develop Jesus sacrificial atonement. The Old Testament did...

Before Paul was even a Christian we have John the Baptist saying to his own disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the World (John 1:29). Then we have Jesus saying to Nicodemus that God sent His Son to save the World (3:16-17). For the sake of argument, let's say that we do not know how Jesus was going to do this yet.

We can then go to John 10:11 where Jesus says the Good Shepherd (Himself) lays down His life for the sheep. Let us again assume, though, we do not know quite what He means yet. 10:17 fills it in a little more when Jesus says He lays down His life and takes it up again.

Sorry for the bouncing around, but let's go back to Luke for a second and hear some more of Jesus' testimony post-resurrection: Luke 24:25-27. Jesus calls the two disciples foolish who did not understand, from the Prophets and Moses, that the Christ had to suffer and die and enter into His glory.

Or we can go back to Matthew where Jesus, after Peter understands He is the Christ, states that He must go to Jerusalem and accomplish all these different things. Then, when Peter "forbids" Him, Jesus rebukes him, saying that he is being influenced by Satan himself.

Now, the reason I only quoted from Jesus was because I did not want you to think that I was being a Paulite. I do not, however, pit the two against one another. You seem, however, to give more credence to Jesus' words than the rest of the Scripture.

Christopher said...

Sorry, I have not noticed that you asked me for e-mail address. Sometimes I read too quickly...