My mother had rocks in her head. She said so herself. She was referring to certain faith puzzles she couldn’t seem to penetrate. Like a rock on a shelf she would occasionally take one down, look at it, then put it back. Turns out I have a couple of rocks in my head too. Take for instance the concept of “magic blood.” There was a time when people thought blood has magical properties. So when the authors of the New Testament were trying to describe the restorative experience which came when they trusted the spirit they found in Jesus, they took up the idea that his blood had the power to make them right with God. But we don’t think blood has magical properties anymore, yet still those concepts remain in our traditional language. Preacher’s Problem: How are we to make sense of their experience without pretending to believe that blood has magical properties? Curiously it was when I took another rock off the shelf, (that is the doctrine of the Trinity of all things), that I began to make some sense of magic blood. (Scholars call it the doctrine of atonement.) When I think about atonement, I think of a “father” who has his “son” tortured and killed to make up for the fact we do rotten stuff. Yuck; is that sick or what? But in the tradition, are the “father” and the “son” separate entities? This brings me to the Trinity. As the early church developed the language they would use to describe their experience of God, they agreed that they experienced God in 3 ways or “persons” – “father,” “son,” and “holy spirit.” Here’s the catch. They insisted each of those “persons” was really a complete expression of the one God. (I know it doesn’t make sense, but really, would you trust a description of God that made complete sense?) In any case if the “father” and the “son” are the same entity, we no longer have a metaphor wherein one “person” seeks the torture and death of another. Instead it is something more like God giving God’s own life to renew, restore, and from my point of view, evolve creation. Granted this might seem ridiculous, but let’s face it, the world isn’t exactly a perfect place. It occurs to me that a model which points the way towards participation in the renewing work of creation, the unfolding of the very life of God, might be useful. For 13.7 billion years this creative act has unfolded through death to new life. This I suspect is what those ancient writers were getting at when they talked about magic blood. They knew that life is hard. But they also knew a still more glorious Dawn awaits each passing day. I may decide tomorrow that I don’t like this idea. But for now it seems those rocks aren’t as impenetrable as they used to be. Thanks for listening
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Sam Alexander works as a Preaching Coach and as a Persistent Pain Coach - and yes, I sometimes wonder if the two are integrally related :-). He is the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His website, www.gracecomesfirst.net describes the breadth of the work he does. Sam is the author of Evolving Christianity; Life After Faith Crisis which is available on Amazon or through his website.