Monday, April 9, 2007

Thoughts on Holy Week

Warning: You are about to jump into the middle of crude theological musings of an amateur. Read on at your own risk.

I had intended to post about Good Friday, and again about Resurrection. Well….I suppose I’m a little late for that. In an attempt to remain at least slightly current, here are snapshots of some musings on Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday – I was powerfully reminded this week of a time when, as a teenager, I met with 3 other boys for Bible study with Joe Coughlin, a local pastor. In the middle of one session, he stood up and walked out of the room with short instructions for us to remove our shoes and socks. We all looked at each other wondering if he was serious. He walked back in with a towel and basin, and reminded us agin to take off our shoes. He then knelt down and proceeded to wash our feet. We were…I’m not sure quite how to describe our feelings. Horrified seems too strong, but it just seemed so wrong for Him to be doing something so humbling. Pastor Joe was one of the most powerful mentors of my youth and we all had the greatest respect for him. I can easily identify with the response of the disciples when Jesus did the same for them. It was a powerful lesson that I have never forgotten.

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I
am. If I then, the Lord and the teacher, washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also
should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not
greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent
him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Good Friday – I have never really understood the concept of substitutionary atonement. Actually, I grasp the concept. I have never really understood the mechanics. How is it exactly that someone else can pay for my sin. If I commit murder, how is it that someone can serve my prison sentence, or even be executed in my place? There is no such thing as substitution in any law that I’m familiar with – except for that whole Kingdom of God thing. In theology classes, I was told that it’s possible because a) Jesus is perfect and b) Jesus is infinite by nature of his divinity. This never really seemed to me to solve the problem. How does Jesus’ suffering and death justify me?
The closest I’ve been able to come to getting this is the Deep Magic and the Deeper Magic referred by Aslan in Narnia. I know that Narnia is not a theological treatise or a book of biblical exposition. And, it doesn’t really EXPLAIN it, so much as it puts a label on it. Interesting label too. Magic. Hmmmm.
There is that about the atonement that is magical. The blood. The sacrifice. The words of power. I guess though, when YAHWEH sets it up, that’s how it is. I don’t really have to understand something to believe in it or even take advantage of it. I could list a whole bunch of stuff the inner workings of which I remain largely ignorant (automobiles, televisions, refrigerators) but that doesn’t stop me from pressing the button and watching the pretty pictures.
So I believe in the atoning work of Christ. Absolutely. It just remains a mystery. My overwhelming thoughts and emotions this week were simply a deep sense of gratefulness for it. Deep gratefulness. I need it.

Enough for now. I’ll rant on the Resurrection in a few days.


kokomo said...

Risk accepted.

The question of substition / redemption / atonement can be answered by Paul's statement of likening Adam's children to first-century slaves (Romans 5:12; 6:16,17) - because of inherited sin they (WE) were all inescapably born destined to die, "slaves to sin." This would continue to be so had God not provided the legal basis for solution in the form of Jesus' ransom sacrifice. Giving his perfect earthly life bought back what Adam lost - perfection and everlasting life. This also includes redemption from sin (Romans 5:18,19). This, in fact, is why the scriptures refer to it as the ransom. Equal payment.

Since one of God's main qualities is justice, it's reasonable to conclude that He would not hold himself exempt in this matter because of inconvenience or personal cost.

What would the angels think? What would we think? What would Satan think? Holding true to his own standards of righteousness and justice was a great sacrifice, as was Jesus' own willingness to suffer and offer himself as that ransom.

Truly reasons to be thankful every day and appreciate the tremendous gift of life we've been given.

Dubbahdee said...

Sorry. That really doesn’t clarify it much for me.

I see where you are coming from, and I am familiar with the line of reasoning and the biblical basis for it. It still leaves me with huge blank areas on my theological map. Your answer, while technically correct, simply reiterates a lot of bible words and fails to get to the heart of my quandry.

What it boils down to is that God just decided that certain people are justified before Him and declared innocent. You say, NO, He didn’t just declare it. The sacrifice was required to **allow ** Him to declare it. My questions is WHY WAS THE SACRIFICE REQUIRED?

It is as if there is some Law higher than YAHWEH to which He must adhere. If He doesn’t fulfill the requirements of this Law than we cannot be justified. But where did this Law come from? There is no power greater than or preceding YAHWEH.

If this is true, that YAHWEH is the ultimate authority in all things relating to righteousness and sin, why could He not simply bypass this Law altogether and simply declare us justified? Why was all the other rigmarole required? Why was the uniquely begotten Son of the Father “required” to become incarnate, suffer, die, descend into Hades and rise again on the third day? What is it about that sequence of events that imputes righteousness to me that could not have been done by YAHWEH simply saying, “You are declared innocent.”

Yet the scripture makes it plain that there is a Law that must be satisfied. So apparently God established this Law for reasons known only to Him, and holds Himself to it. All well and good. I accept that as an article of faith. I accept that His mechanism for salvation works. I’m not even sure why I believe it except He seems to have marked me for His purposes. It seems that I cannot not believe. So in spite of my inability to grasp the nature of His gift I accept it with joy and gratefulness. I'm like the prisoner who is woken up and released from jail. When I ask why, I'm told that some anonymous guy paid my bail money. I walk out of jail with no idea of why I am free, but glad to be breathing the clear cool air of the good outdoors.

Sanctus Sanctu Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caelie et terra gloria tua.

kokomo said...

This is a legal issue. God himself, as universal Judge determined the Law, which Moses codified, saying "soul for soul, eye for eye." Under that Law, sacrifices were required, showing that unless blood is poured out, no forgiveness takes place. To uphold his word and maintain His status as God and Sovereign, God absolutely cannot ignore His own inviolable law.

Only another perfect life could provide a legal basis for redemption of the human race. Again, by the principle of the Mosaic Law this had to be an equal cost. This is why Jesus came to earth as a perfect human and willingly offered that life, becoming the "last Adam."

No one is justified before God without Jesus' sacrifice. We can never redeem ourselves thru acts of goodness or holiness because we're ultimately sinful and deserving of death. Adam forfeited our right to life. To satisfy the God's own perfect standards of JUSTICE, we needed a price paid to ransom us from sin and death and restore our birthright.

Even Peter had difficulty grasping why Jesus had to die, so this is not necessarily an easy concept to understand. When all is said, if God simply granted mercy without a LEGAL basis, justice would be perverted and it would simply be a matter of "do as I say and not as I do." By holding Himself to His own laws, He shows that He truly is perfect in justice and continues to command the respect and obedience of the entire universe.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Lewis noted that this doctrine was one that Christian traditions differed on in their explanation, and he found none of them fully explanatory. The important thing is that the thing happens, not how it happens.

The original sacrifice was of animals killed to make clothing for Adam and Eve. These were animals they knew, had named, had lived close to, and had never seen killed before. The sacrificial lamb in Egypt was not a sheep from the far fields, but one that lived close by with each family. Perhaps part of the necessity of sacrifice is not so much a totting up of balances, but the brutal object lesson to us that sin really is that important.

I admit that does not fully satisfy either. It does not explain to my heart why sin would be so important. If we're going to show up before God impossibly inferior to him to begin with, how do a few smudges - or even many smudges - make that so horribly worse that we need to see it dramatically for ourselves?

Or perhaps it is simply God's lesson in generosity. However small our fault, he will spend all to make us perfect, for our own happiness. It would be our tendency, coming from a fallen world, to say "Aw, shucks; You don't have to go that far to make me perfect. I'm happy enough right now."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Did you notice, BTW, that Copithorne used to be a neighbor of yours? I won't mention it to him.