Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some thoughts about the doctrine of substitution

Some one on an email list started off with:

> What I do not accept is the doctrine of substitution; I do not believe
> God has a 'plan' which is going to be worked out according to details
> which he has decided ahead of time. This would turn us all into
> puppets or worse.

I believe I addressed this very issue yesterday when I wrote about we
humans think linearly while God is outside of time as we know it. So
it is not a question of God deciding ahead of time, He doesn't
experience time. It is only we humans that do.

God sees all possible outcomes, all possible futures. We are still
left with free choice. What looks like cause and effect to us looks to
God as one of a myriad of possible outcomes as a result of our
choices. This is why prayer is effective.

> Have you ever considered what would have happened if the human Jesus
> had turned away from Abba?

How could God turn away from God? I don't believe there is a divine
Jesus and a human Jesus. There is only Jesus: 100% human, 100% divine
at one and the same time. Jesus is God incarnate and that from the
moment of conception.

> So, yes, Jesus died that I might be forgiven/know forgiveness, that I
> might be 'born again'. Yes, Jesus died for me. Yes, I am joined to
> Christ through Baptism and brought into the Christian family. Yes, the
> Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism. But none of this 'needs' a
> doctrine of substitution.

Everything you write I agree with except this. The detail in all this
that nags at me is the history of sacrifice on behalf of sin that runs
through the Hebrew Scriptures and was practiced in Jesus' very
lifetime on Earth.

I too find the whole idea of sacrifice repugnant and yet it is there
in Scripture and so it must be dealt with. One way I deal with it is
to reflect on whether there is something within me that results in
this feeling. For instance, except in moments of extreme crisis, I am
very self-sufficient and independent. Too much so, actually.

The doctrine of substitution, aside from the disgusting bloody bits,
even more offends my sense of
I-can-do-it-on-my-own-I-don't-need-you-nor-do-I-want-to-need-you. As
you can see I am somewhat Pelagian. The doctrine of substitution
challenges me on a deep level, that deepest level of my identity and
dysfunctional core beliefs about who I am and my place in the world.
I don't want to look at that. My core beliefs have been with me a
long time, I don't know who I'd be without them. But my core beliefs
are dysfunctional and don't really serve me any longer. I developed
them as a child as a way to survive, but it is so very painful to let
them go and risk walking into the unknown.

Although I can't think of any of them right off the top of my head, I
know there are other parts of the Bible that affect me as viscerally,
challenging the deepest held secrets of my life. My initial reaction
is to reject what I read in the Bible and come up with a terrific
rationalization of what it is doing there. I'm in good company. We
Christians have been doing that since forever. But I have come to see
that I was mistaken when I joined them. I've come to believe that
even what I find most heinous is there for a reason and perhaps that
reason is that it challenges us at that deepest darkest place within
us. A place that needs healing which cannot take place until the
light pierces the darkness.


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