The Cross Is Not Necessary [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Last week’s question came from Elise, and it’s puts an even finer point on our Lenten #progGOD Challenge (there are already some great responses). Here it is, in a nutshell (read the original post to get the whole context):

I have had an ongoing relationship with Christianity in which I alternately really get it or really don’t. I really dug into this the last time I fell away, and the biggest issue I have is with the Cross

That’s not to say I have a problem with Jesus sacrificing Himself on the Cross; I understand the mercy, the sacrifice, the love that is inherent in that gesture, and that part I think is awesome. The issue that I have is that it was required in the first place. How could a loving God heap death and/or eternal damnation on his children for their sins and call it justice? Why did Jesus have to step up in the first place?…

How is the Cross’s necessity combined with the fact that only about 1/3 of the world’s population identifies as Christian/Believer a demonstration of the justice of a Loving God?

Well, Elise, it’s a great question, and it’s one that’s on my mind a lot lately. I am thinking about writing a book on the death of Jesus on the Cross — its meaning and significance — even as I’m also writing a book on prayer. It’ll be kind of a book sandwich.

You’re not exactly asking Why Jesus died on the Cross. In fact, your question is less about Jesus, and more about the very nature of God. You’re asking if God required Jesus’ death.

The short answer is No.

No, Jesus’ death was not required in order for human beings to be reconciled to God.

The classic conception of God is that God is capable of all things. Indeed, the most classic way conception is this: when people talk about a being that is capable of all things, we call that God. This is how Aristotle and Aquinas write of God, and it’s what I think of when I think of God. If there is a God, this God is capable of all things.

Therefore, it stands to reason that God did not have to allow the death of Jesus to be the mechanism by which humanity and all of creation was reconciled to God.

In other words, if you agree with me that God, by definition, is capable of anything, then you must also agree that God could have chosen another way to achieve reconciliation. Indeed, God could have chosen from an infinite number of ways. Indeed, God could have chosen to never allow the breach in the relationship in the first place — God could have stopped “The Fall” and thereby preempted any need for reconciliation.

Your question betrays that you, like many of us, were raised in the shadow of Reformed theology. In those circles, it’s common to argue that God’s justice “demands” a sacrifice — since we’ve sinned, God “cannot” let us experience eternal life in his bosom. We “must” pay for our sins, and since we cannot, Jesus pays that price for us.

I put certain words in rhetorical quotes in the previous paragraph because I reject them, just as I reject all language that implies that God is ever bound to do anything. I believe the God is one being in the cosmos who has complete and total freedom. God is the only non-contingent entity, anywhere, ever.

These are statements that I reject as non-sensical:

- God was bound to ________.
- God must do ________.
- God’s character requires that he ________.
- God cannot ________.

You get the point. So here’s an internal conflict in Reformed theology. One the one hand, Reformed theology teaches that God is absolutely sovereign and can do whatever God wants (which I agree with). On the other hand, Reformed theology teaches that God’s sense of justice requires propitiation for human sin. As you can see, those two points are incompatible.

As I’ve laid out in other posts — and hopefully in the forthcoming book — I think there are other reasons for the crucifixion that are far more beautiful, life-giving, and intellectually satisfying than the Reformed answer that Jesus death was in any way required.

So I ultimately agree with you: it’s very troubling to think that Jesus’ death was required. In fact, it’s theologically incompatible with a traditional view of God. Therefore I urge you to reject that notion.

  • orton1227

    The inspired Gospel of Luke author seems to contradict you:

    Luke 24:26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

    Acts 17:2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

    And what about Paul saying Christ was chosen to suffer from the foundation of the world? Whether or not God is/was capable of choosing a path that didn’t involve the cross, the fact that it was His will from the beginning means the cross was necessary.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      It was only necessary if you follow Augustine in thinking that God’s fore-knowledge of an event necessarily means God’s fore-causal of that event. I think that God voluntarily abdicated that foreknowledge at the creation of the cosmos.

    • Carl

      Did it ever occur to you that maybe Paul and the others might be wrong?

      • http://287reuse.wordpress.com/ Curts

        You are welcome to propose a way of following Jesus that does not include Paul. But it would not be properly labeled “Christian”, since Paul’s writings are the foundation of most Christian teachings.

        Assuming Paul is “wrong” falls into the fundamentalist trap that assumes there is some absolute “truth” and only one answer to it.

        Paul is right in terms of the Christian church, because Paul’s teachings define the Christian church.

        But is there a larger “truth” defined only by Paul and nothing else? No. There are many ways one could follow Jesus and reject Paul. The fact that those ways exist do not make Paul “wrong”.

  • http://Www.culturemonk.com culturemonk

    Tony, being able to do whatever you want and changing your essence are two different things, aren’t they?

    God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean god has the ability to stop being god.

    I agree with your premise that god could of chose any number of different paths than the ressurection model,

    But I think your taking it one step too far in suggesting that the idiom “god’s character requires that he____” is non-sensical.

    I mean come on, if god can change essence and form and go from being “the truth” to “the liar” then it reduces every element of Christianity into nonsense, doesn’t it?

    So therefore, the reformers were somewhat on track….right?

    Hey, I like your blog so don’t think I’m a hater.

    Kenneth

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Actually, I think that God’s total freedom does mean that God could, hypothetically, cease being God.

      Regarding human bipolar categories like “truth vs. liar,” I think that God subsumes all such categories, thereby rendering them nonsensical when talking about God.

      • http://anonymoustheologian.wordpress.com Anonymous Theologian

        “I think that God’s total freedom does mean that God could, hypothetically, cease being God.”

        How very Radical/Altizerean of you :)

      • http://287reuse.wordpress.com/ Curts

        Jesus being Exhibit A.

        • Jeromesix

          Jesus never “stopped being God”

    • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      It’s hard tellin’ culturemonk, but I think he agrees with you.

      • http://culturemonk.wordpress.com culturemonk

        Lausten,

        Really, you think he was agreeing? I didn’t think so.

        At the risk of being redundant, to believe that god could go from being ‘the truth’ to ‘the liar’ seems rather incongruous to me.

        I mean come on, if god could/would choose to start lying, it would shatter the entire philosophical premises that Christianity is built upon.

        Kenneth

        • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          You could be right and I’m addressing his incongruity below with ‘mixed’ results. I’ve never been able to push Tony into saying he is “shattering” anything, but he uses language that seems equivalent to me sometimes. As in this case, you say, straight out, “nonsense” and he says, “I think that God subsumes all such categories, thereby rendering them nonsensical”. I guess he is saying that God can include our concept of ‘liar’ without being what we consider a liar. But I can’t get that on any deeper level.

          You say “reduces … into nonsense”, he says “rendering them nonsensical”. Maybe that isn’t agreement, maybe it’s prose vs poetry, “it doesn’t make sense” vs “it’s a mystery”, I don’t know.

  • http://gravatar.com/thobie1 toddh

    I generally like where you went with this answer, but I worry that you have substituted philosophy god for bible god.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Yes, I suppose I could be charged with that. I need to reconcile the traditional, classical conception of the non-contingent God with the biblical portrayal of an often arbitrary God. But if Aquinas could reconcile those, I’m in good company. In fact, I think that you can argue that the arbitrariness of the biblical God only reinforces that God is completely free to do whatever God wants.

      • Jose Maria

        St. Thomas Aquinas also only ever argued from within the Church. He accepted Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching of the Magesterium. Not really sure you are in his company. With no foundation, you can truly believe whatever you want about God. Does not make you right.

  • ft

    http://www.gospeltruth.net/recon_walden.htm

    Have you ever heard P.P. Waldenstrom’s take on this? above is a link

  • http://twitter.com/piratechristian Chris Rosebrough (@piratechristian)

    Tony,

    What is your source for these claims of yours? Is it your own mind and your own theological speculations? I don’t see you citing a single Biblical passage that backs up any of your assertions. Therefore, these ideas of yours are not Christian doctrine nor do they represent Christian Theology.

    I remember your more overt postmodern days where you and others in the emergent movement would talk about having a ‘humble hermeneutic’. You’ve apparently moved on from that because what you say here is not at all based in hermeneutics, no Biblical passages are quoted or referenced. I’d argue that you’re now engaging in ‘arrogant assertions’ and have the hubris to think that you’re ideas and speculations are the seat of Christian doctrine and theology. Seriously, when you made these assertions were you speaking ex cathedra?

    I get that you’re sharing your beliefs and your ideas on your blog. But why on earth should I think for a moment that your beliefs and your ideas are true or have any bearing on true Christian doctrine? I can’t think of any. We’re both human beings and have the exact same limitations.

    Here’s is what the God-Breathed (θεόπνευστος) Word of God says on this matter:

    [EDITOR'S NOTE: Chris, I have deleted all of the Bible verses that you've cut and pasted from elsewhere. You are free to come and troll here on my blog, but you cannot copy-and-paste from elsewhere. We can all read the Bible for ourselves. Also, prepare to be ignored. Those of us to spend time on this blog daily have changed a lot since your last visit. We don't really argue with trolls anymore.]

    Since, God’s Word says that Jesus’ death on the cross was a propitiation for our sins and that without out the shedding of blood there is NO forgiveness of sins and that those who do not trust Christ for the forgiveness of their sins remain under the wrath of God…Ergo, Christ’s death on the cross was absolutely necessary to reconcile us to God as 2 Corinthians 5:18–21 says “[DELETED]”

    IF you’ve got something MORE authoritative than the God-Breathed Word of God then produce it. One thing is certain, your theological musings have ZERO authority when it comes to deciding what is true Christian doctrine and theology. And since your musings are directly contradicted by God’s Word, its clear that you are in deep deep error.

    • http://www.facebook.com/scot.miller.547 Scot Miller

      Do you mean “God-Breathed” literally or figuratively? Because if you mean it figuratively, then you’re guilty of imposing your own interpretation on the clear meaning of scripture.

    • Elise

      I don’t agree that Tony was arguing that nothing was accomplished at the crucifixion (which your response seems to imply that you did), so much as he was digging at the root of my initial question “why would God demand this specific way” … as I read his response, the cross was not necessary, that God could have saved us, reconciled us, however He chose (or didn’t). Not being necessary doesn’t preclude that it was what was divinely elected based on the circumstances created by the actions of the humans involved (we do have free will after all, and humans elected to impose the punishment of crucifixion), and the passages you mention seem to speak to what was accomplished therein. I read nowhere in Tony’s response a rejection of that reconciliatory work, rather that God was bound to the method that ultimately was His choice.

      • Elise

        *rather a rejection that God was bound….

    • http://gravatar.com/kfcarter10 Katie

      Tony, the fact that you felt the need to remove Chris’ biblical references and engage in derogatory name-calling does not reflect Christ in any way. Engaging in thought-provoking discussions about theology and faith is great, but when you simply become defensive and feel the need to insult and slander others then the conversation is at an end, becoming rather a man standing on a soap box arguing for the sake of arguing. I’m sorry that this is the way that you’re approaching the discussion, and I hope you are able to engage in meaningful conversations in the future.

  • Nathan

    Good to see some old faces are back engaging with you, T. I wonder when “he who shall not be named” will show up.

  • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

    The way I approach this is that if the cross was required, it wasn’t required by God, but by humanity. Sure God could have wiped the slate clean with the wave of a hand but atonement was so inextricably tied to blood in those days that people would never have understood reconciliation without some type of sacrifice. You have to admit, the cross made the point in a powerful way.

    • Elise

      I’m very much so with you on this, Jesus stepping up to the cross confronts you boldly with the love and mercy of God. That’s why I found the question so haunting in the first place, because there seemed a contradiction in “God would step up and show us infinite love and mercy” and “Our omnipotent God requires this specific act and He is bound by it.”

  • http://twitter.com/piratechristian Chris Rosebrough (@piratechristian)

    Scott,

    I mean it the way this passage means it “πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος” (2 Timothy 3:16)

    • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

      If you believed that the Bible is the only relevant source of information to this discussion, then you only quote the Bible and not add anything else – including your own explanation (interpretation) of those words. You’re getting close, but you’re still adding your own commentary. Stop interpreting, just read.

      • http://twitter.com/piratechristian Chris Rosebrough (@piratechristian)

        Rob – summarizing what the Biblical texts is not the same thing as adding my own interpretation.

        For instance scripture says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) – Therefore, noting that this passage teaches that Christ’s death on the cross was necessary in order for us to be reconciled to God is NOT an interpretation. That’s exactly this point of this passage and many others like it.

        Now, that being said, I am not aware of a single passage that says that it was necessary for God to reconcile us to Himself. Therefore, its completely possible that God could have said ‘to hell with you all’. But that possibility ≠ Christian theology unless there is a passage in scripture that says it one way or another.

        But one thing is certain for the clear Biblical passages, in order for us to be reconciled to God, Christ’s death on the cross was necessary.

        • Luke Allison

          I’ll agree that it was necessary, but not for the same reasons that PSA puts forth.
          Actually, I agree that substitution is a New Testament idea, but PENAL substitution is not. There’s a big difference between Jesus dying in our place vicariously and God being a feudal lord whose honor has been offended demanding retribution.

          The links you’ve provided to the writings of the Fathers actually affirm my point rather than contradicting it. The fathers speak as differently about the atonement from the Mark Driscolls and John Pipers of the world as the east is from the west.

          • Luke Allison

            Also: Your hero is the greatest heretic of all time.

        • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

          How do you know which texts to emphasize and which to ignore?

        • Tony Jiang

          so Chris since everything God does is right, and worthy of emulation than will you only forgive people that have wronged you if their blood had been shed?

    • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      The Ultimate Heresy by Rodger Cragun examines that phrase, including the Greek translations and translation problems and the cultural problems Greek introduced in general into the perception of what is God. You might find it interesting. And you might find there is more to it than just knowing it is there.

    • http://Jaybakker.com JC

      Chris, and who wrote 2 Timothy?

      • http://Jaybakker.com Jay Bakker

        Was it Paul?

        • Tony Jiang

          yeahh about that Jay….. almost all scholars believe that was a forgery….

    • http://www.facebook.com/scot.miller.547 Scot Miller

      Chris, so I guess you don’t have any idea whether “God-breathed” (πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος) is to be read literally or figuratively or both or neither. Or if you do, why keep it a secret?

      • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

        For Chris, the only “reality” is whatever (his interpretation of) the Bible says. So, he’s a really good fideist.

    • Joey

      I agree with you Rob. Chris, you need to realize that the very moment that you read ANYTHING, you are interpreting its meaning. We can’t get away from interpretation. Even all of your Bblical Greek words contain within themselves various meanings, and as you read them you are interpreting those meanings.

      • http://twitter.com/michaelstofer Michael Stofer (@michaelstofer)

        Do you know what language deconstruction is by chance?

      • Chris

        Joey and Michael, most philosophers that aren’t post-modern will take your statement(s) and quickly point out that at their core they are self-devouring. And I think that most rational people would agree and most people understand intuitively that it is possible for real and true meaning to be extracted from a text. That’s the debate. If you couldn’t derive real and true (objective) meaning then we should all stop writing, or talking.
        You can talk all day about breaking the link between power and language through deconstruction, but ultimately all it leaves you with is a miasma of despair.

  • Elise

    Thank you for answering my question Tony. I found your answer very satisfying, and at least for myself, I look very much so forward to the book on Jesus on the cross (really, to the whole book sandwich).

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      That’s gratifying to hear, Elise. Thanks again for the question.

  • orton1227

    It sounds like you’re viewing/analyzing God strictly from a human perspective, which I think is dangerous. Scripture, if we believe it to be the voice of God breathed into human authors, is a more sound base to start at. You have two authors, Luke and Paul, both saying the cross was necessary; one saying it was necessary from creation, one saying it as necessary post-cross. Seems the bases are covered pretty well. But I enjoy all these articles of yours. Thanks.

    • http://anonymoustheologian.wordpress.com Anonymous Theologian

      Whether or not we believe the Bible is the ‘Word of God’ or not, we have no choice but to view/analyze God strictly from a human perspective. If we DO believe the Bible is the ‘Word,’ we are bound to interpret it from our particular perspectives, with our particular biases. What seems clear to the neo-Reformed may not be so to Anabaptists, atheists, etc. If we DON’T believe it is the ‘Word,’ we are still bound to human perspective. Either way, the danger you speak of still exists.

  • orton1227

    That last comment “it sounds like…” was supposed to be in reply to your response to my first post. Don’t know why IE messed that up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justin.hanvey Justin Hanvey

    I think Orton hits it on the nail, and what I think Tony’s point is is this…there is no outside Law requiring God to propitiate sins by the shedding of blood. God has -planned- it that way. And I think we only hit on the surface when we say that Jesus died on the cross cause God’s plan from the foundation of the world required it to be so (that is true I believe), I think God has a deeper more perfect -reason- and -purpose- for the Story being told this way, and it has a lot more to do with Love than Justice.

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that people are getting hung up on the term “necessary”. I believe in the philosophical sense the cross wasn’t necessary in the sense that there wasn’t some law above God that required that Jesus die. All the people pointing to Scriptures that explain why Jesus died are really answering a different question.

  • orton1227

    @AnonymousTheologian

    Absolutely, but what gets greater weight? That’s my point. I look back at the stupid stuff I thought 10 years ago. As a human, my thoughts evolve, my beliefs evolve, my experience evolves. Here we have the Word of God which does not change (according to Scripture). The human perspective is a supplement and should always take a back seat to Scripture.

    • http://anonymoustheologian.wordpress.com Anonymous Theologian

      The point is, there is nothing to give “greater weight” to. Either way, 10 years ago or today, we are bound by human perspective. It may be that our thinking “evolves” on a particular subject, but considering that it is still a human perspective regardless of its historical placement, there should be no “greater weight” given to either, objectively speaking. For example, one person may talk about their thinking about God to have “evolved” from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism, while another may talk about it “evolving” from atheism to Mormonism, or what have you.

      We can talk all day long about our biases and perspectives “taking a back seat to Scripture,” but every single time we approach what we assume is an objective source of knowledge, our interpretation of that information will be colored by the biases that we hold.

      • Orton1227

        But we keep going back to Scripture. Because it is a deserved, worthy foundation. It is inspired and Jesus calls it the Word of God. Our thoughts and beliefs constantly evolve and are deceived easily. But we can go back to the rock of scripture. It doesn’t change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justin.hanvey Justin Hanvey

    truth (the Bible) is absolute, knowledge (human understanding of that truth), is relative.

  • http://twitter.com/piratechristian Chris Rosebrough (@piratechristian)

    Tony,

    Since when did posting Biblical passages in your meta become a practice that was banned and forbidden and equated with trolling? I posted them in order that the conversation would be able to continue without requiring people to leave conversation and go look up what the passages say. I find that practice to be rude and inconsiderate.

    That being said, I think you’ve made my point by deleting the Bible verses. It’s clear that you don’t what God’s Word to get in the way of your theological assertions. Forgive me for confusing you with facts and not recognizing that your mind is already made up and you’re not going to allow YOUR theology to be corrected by God’s Word.

    I do not recognize your authority to craft and create Christian theology and dogma.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      It’s not the Bible that gets deleted. It’s the copy-paste technique.

      No one asked for your recognition. In fact, your endorsement would be an embarrassment.

      • http://twitter.com/piratechristian Chris Rosebrough (@piratechristian)

        Tony,

        I assure you that I will never embarrass you by recognizing your authority to craft and create Christian Theology and dogma.

        But, what should embarrass you is that you actually believe that you possess that authority. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

        • Nathan

          Who, in your opinion, has that authority?

        • Tony Jiang

          according to him i would guess that the bible does…yes the bible interpreting the bible, sort of like a car driving its self….

    • http://Jaybakker.com Jay Bakker

      Chris, Have you ever studied the history of the canon? Would you agree that the Bible is a flawed collection of writings?

      • http://jpserrano.com jpserrano

        Jay, come on man. Let’s not let little things like textual variants, historical criticism, and canonization history muddle up the fact that the Bible is inerrant, infallible WORD of God.

        • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          I really appreciate this coming from the two of you (assuming I’m hearing jp’s sarcasm correctly). When it comes from an outsider like myself it sounds mean. I comment on the canonization process often because it says so much about what Christianity is. I honestly want to be in partnership with those who are willing to admit the mistakes of the past and consider their impact today.

          • http://jpserrano.com jpserrano

            You have read my sarcasm correctly =) I am sure that some will jump ship with me on this, but I will say it anyway.

            Everything I noted above does not take away from the Bible as the guiding narrative of my life and it’s influence over my faith.

      • http://gravatar.com/mrprmiller P.R.

        Jay, was the “flawed collection” comment sarcasm, or really your feelings?

  • orton1227

    Wow. An embarrassment? What happened to brotherhood?

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      His brotherhood in Christ doesn’t embarrass me. His theological endorsement would.

    • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

      I thought it was kind of harsh, too. Until I realized who he was talking to.

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    Did not see that one coming. Although you’ve responded several times with “X is not necessary”, I didn’t think you would say it this time. I’m all for the title, but when you get into the details, I think you’re ignoring potential pitfalls. You are as complex as the writings of Thomas Jefferson when it comes to Jesus. He cut out the miracles from the New Testament and said we should look to the wisdom of our ancestors but not the superstitions. He also said many things about God and Heaven that left plenty of room for people today to claim we are a Christian nation. I’m afraid the Emergent movement will leave us no better off than we were 240 years ago, with great visions of a better world, but no way to keep the nonsense at bay. I’ll leave “nonsense” undefined and assume that anyone who reads this blog agrees that some people who claim to be Christians are acting in ways that don’t fit the definition.

    If God exists, and can do anything, including abdicate his own knowledge, subsume truth and liar and have arbitrariness be considered God-like, how do we know what to follow?

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Dude, this post is not about the teachings of Jesus. It’s about the nature of God, and the assumed “requirement” that Jesus die for our sin.

      • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        Riiiiiight. I’m sticking to the topic of you dismissing another theological question by saying, “just reject that notion”. Surely you aren’t saying that you are in the mainstream with this answer, are you? When you reject a notion that is troubling for Christianity, like ‘why the bloody mess at the end’, but then leave in things like ‘its okay for God to be arbitrary’, there are consequences to that. You ignore them at your own peril.

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          If you’re being aggressive here, Lausten, I don’t like it.

          I’m not dismissing her question. In fact, if you look above, Elise wrote in to say that she appreciates my answer.

          Nowhere have I claimed to be in the “mainstream,” whatever that is. I have, however, claimed to be articulating a classic, Aristotelean view of God.

          • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

            This is a genuine question, Tony:

            Why do you think you should articulate a “classic, Aristotelean view of God”? Have you explained this elsewhere?

            • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

              Yes, several times. But, basically, because I think it is the most rational view of God. If there is a God, God is most likely like this.

              It’s why when Aquinas wrote his “5 Ways,” it wasn’t a proof of God’s existence, as so many misperceive it. Instead, he writes, “When men speak of God, this is what they mean.”

              • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

                Been reading and listening to a lot more process stuff lately. Those speculations are making a lot more sense to me than any of the “classic” defenses I’ve been exposed to for most of my life. I will try to go back and read what you’ve written about this.

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            Who said you are being dismissive? I’m quoting from the last sentence of your answer and paraphrasing the title of the answer. I also am agreeing with your answer to a point. I am suggesting there are problems with trying to have this answer, and have God have all the other attributes that you discuss on this page as well as in other contexts.

            Mainstream theology attempts to address the cross by creating internally consistent pictures of God that fit a sacrificial story. I just read ‘Atonement’ and understand you reject those. I don’t understand what you are replacing them with.

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            By “dismissing another theological question” I did not mean you were dismissing Elise, or failing to address the question. You addressed it, but you concluded that the notion should be rejected. If the question were, “why the virgin birth?”, I could understand. That has been addressed on historical, mythological and political terms. The cross however, one of the few events of Jesus’ life that has high historical probability and is central to the narrative, I can’t figure out how you “reject the notion” that was necessary AND maintain the rest of your theology.

  • http://www.climbingoutblog.com Tracey

    my2cents, for what that’s worth :) i believe that god has shown a pattern of observing us and then acting/communicating directly and specifically……for instance, i don’t think that it is a coincidence that while the israelites were worshipping their golden calf that god sent moses with the ten commandments and THE FIRST TWO were 1)no other gods, 2) no idols….can you imagine standing there golden calf gleaming in the firelight while moses read those two?? i tell you that to explain my overall view….specifically as it relates to this issue……the israelites had a religious tradition of sacrificing to earn forgiveness, it was their normal, a part of their everyday life and behavior……god met them there…..here ya go, ultimate sacrifice, you can stop slaughtering your flock, i took care of it, all sin is forgiven, go, LIVE FREE……no god did not need the cross……his chidlren did…..but even so they missed the point as we so often still do today

  • orton1227

    @Tony re: embarrassment (since I can’t reply for some reason),

    You can separate the two in the words you choose to use? (Same goes for Chris)

  • http://twitter.com/Urbane_Gorilla Urbane_Gorilla (@Urbane_Gorilla)

    To me, the cross and the saints all run contrary to the 1st and 2nd Commandments. They’re all graven images. But that isn’t surprising for a religion that rapidly abandoned its simple roots and builds multi-million dollar cathedrals. I think Jesus would be appalled at the whole money-grubbing mess Christianity has become.

  • orton1227

    @Lauren, I agree with you. I’ll add that the reason picking and choosing (and isolating argument) has become so popular is that it allows the thinker/author/pastor to take credit for the “brilliant” or revolutionary thought/teaching. It’s a pride thing. Sticking with Scripture forces you to remain humble and give credit only to our Creator and Savior.

    p.s. if Christ is part of the Trinity, can you divorce the nature of God with Jesus’ teachings, even if you take into account his humanity? “Before Abraham was, I AM”

  • orton1227

    @Urbane_Gorilla

    When we speak of the cross, our primary focus is not an image, but what the image represents. When we celebrate a baptism, we’re not celebrating the pool/river/hottub and the water, we’re celebrating what the ritual represents – death to old life and a re-birth. The cross is not a graven image, but it can be made one.

    I agree with you on the last couple sentences.

  • Ed

    The source of our understanding is personal and communal heart and mind. The scriptures are an important witness from our spiritual ancestors. It is not intellectually sustainable to see them as authoritative and final regarding matters of faith and practice. Human speculations occurred before, during, and after the writing of the scriptures. In fact one can observe the changes and re-working of scriptures as one traces them through history.

    The cross was necessary in this way. In the mythical decent of the incarnation Jesus became one with us. He was a living zone of liberation bringing health and wholeness to broken and excluded people. He valued the outcasts and treasured the poor. Inevitably he got into conflict with the evil powers who appear like angels of light, but are in fact just legitimizers and beneficiaries of unjust political and religious systems. Jesus could not use the power of lying, or violence to overcome evil with evil. He had to use good to bring good. So of course he was betrayed, abandoned, and tortured to death in public as a warning to the powerless to stay in their place. But God vindicated Jesus, and he lives on today, in many possible ways. The church, the cross the jordan river again, open meal sharing, intentional community of his disciples are the living body of Christ. And the mission of Jesus Christ continues.

    We are saved by the love and grace of God. And we spread salvation by walking the path, the truth, and the life, of Jesus. We are to join him in his life of sacrificial love.

    Open your hearts and minds my scribe and pharisee sisters and brothers. See where you have read things into and out of the scriptures from church history. Do not judge others for what you also are doing. The scriptures point to God. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.

    God is light. God is Spirit. God is love. The Cross is the path every deeply spiritual person winds up on sooner or later. It is an irony that the gift of Jesus for the healing of the world should become the instument of further oppression.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Maybe I could concede this: If God was ever going to find out what it was really like to be human, some kind of incarnation was necessary.

  • orton1227

    @Ed…even Jesus called the tanahk the Word of God. He conducted His ministry and prophecy as if He considered it the authoritative Word of God. Whether or not that’s intellectually sustainable, if it’s good enough for the God who died in my place, it’s good enough for me.

  • Rhett

    Genuinely interested here… you reject the idea of God “requiring” the death of Jesus as a sacrifice/payment for sin, and I think you’re argument there is compelling.

    But what if you changed the word “require” to the word “desire”? What if God, in his sovereignty, desired a payment for sin. I’ve heard Barthian scholars talk of God’s “great and terrible NO to sin”, and I’m also thinking of Miroslav Volf’s statement that, “if God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make the final end to violence God would not be worthy of our worship.”

    So, while I’m with you on it being self-defeating (especially in Reformed theology) to speak of God “requiring” something as if he were bound in some way, would you reject the idea that God CHOOSES to show his anger and evil, sin and injustice – his great and terrible “No” to these things having a place in his eternal Kingdom – and desires that these be dealt with on the cross? And also that we are complicit in much of the sin and evil and so Substitution has some merit?

    • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

      How is a God that “desires” blood any better than one that “requires” it? In fact, a God bound by nature to require a terrible sacrifice is, to my mind, preferable. I can think of no situation when PSA has any merit.

      • http://rhett.wordpress.com Rhett

        Sure, emotional reactions are interesting, but that’s not really what I’m getting at.

        Tony wrote, “it’s very troubling to think that Jesus’ death was required. In fact, it’s theologically incompatible with a traditional view of God. Therefore I urge you to reject that notion.”

        I’m interested in whether he would still feel this way – that it was worthy of rejection – if it were framed as something God “desired” not “required”, thus removing the logical inconsistency.

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          Rhett, I think that’s a big step in the right direction. If God real is personal — that is, if God has things like “desires” — then I find this much more palatable than thinking that God is required to do anything by God’s nature. In fact, it reminds me of the Process Theology tenet that God “beckons” and “cajoles” human beings, but doesn’t force anything.

  • http://287reuse.wordpress.com/ Curts

    Define “necessary”.

    Is the cross “necessary” in terms of there being no other possible way to reconcile humans to God? No.

    Is the cross “necessary” in terms of, according to Christian teaching, the cross worked when everything else that had been done prior did not? Yes.

    Is the cross “necessary” in terms of defining the Christian religion? Yes.

    Is the cross “necessary” in terms of everyone must know and acknowledge the cross in order to avoid damnation? No.

    A parallel question would be: Are humans “necessary”? On the one hand, No, because there are many ways God could have figured out to exist with out humans. On the other hand, Yes, because the question would not even be possible without humans!

    The thing that bothers me about these type of questions is they get hung up on details of the mechanics of the relationship between us and God, when the important thing is acknowledging, and living, the relationship itself. Sort of like me getting hung up on what my wife gave me for valentine’s day, rather than experiencing her when we are together.

    The valentines gift is a way of telling a story about my relationship with my wife, but it is not the relationship. Similarly, the cross is a way of telling a story about our relationship with God, but the cross is not the relationship. What we experience with God now is the relationship. The cross is one of many stories about that relationship.

    If a story does not describe the relationship with God that you know, then tell us your story! Don’t get hung up on the fact that you don’t like a detail about a story that someone else told.

  • orton1227

    An Aristotelian view of God? You know he argued that God is to be given thought, but not worthy of worship? Do you align to that? Because Scripture says otherwise on every page I think. (By the way, not attacking, really trying to gain an understanding of your position).

  • orton1227

    @ Joel (I can think of no situation when PSA has any merit.)

    The Bible calls it ‘mercy’ and ‘love’. And we have Jesus saying there is no greater love than laying down your life for your friends. Jesus willingly was crushed for our sins (Isaiah 53) in submission to the Father because of love and mercy. That’s what PSA is about. The degree of brutality executed on the cross has a direct correlation to His love for us.

    You should be excited about that, not disgusted.

    • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

      orton1227, what is disgusting to me is not that atonement was required, it’s the idea that God would require any of God’s children to be “crushed” for their sins. PSA doesn’t fit with the description of loving parent so prevalent in the NT. I am a loving parent and I can think of nothing they could do that would require death, gruesome or not, before I could forgive them. And, there is no way I’m a better parent than God

  • http://wideopenground.com Lana

    Love this. No, God doesn’t *have* to have a sacrifice. Why would blood shed help a holy God embrace us? That doesn’t make sense. But what it was: Jesus coming in flesh to live among us, and Jesus loving us enough even when it meant death. It was God in flesh. God face to face.

  • MarkL

    Sorry for a thought from an admitted non-theologian…I’m just a manager at a manufacturing firm. But it seems to me that when Jesus pleads with the Father at Gethsemane saying (according to Mark), “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” that God the Father wasn’t thinking, “Well there are a number of other ways, but this torture seems good to me.” It seems to my mind that the atonement, the sacrifice of the Lamb for sinners, was the only possible way the Father could have responded.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Mark, anyone can comment here! :-)

      There are other ways to understand the tortuous event of the Cross than that it was the only possible way.

  • Tony Bourque

    Based off of God’s middle knowledge He knows all possibilities. We do not. In this post it seems to me that Tony is just reminding us that God is God & it’s completely His story. He was not in my mind denying the importance of the cross. In fact he has said the it is the single most important event in cosmic history.

    And i agree “to not be popular with the reformed community” is a very good thing!!

  • http://nickruiz.blogspot.com Nick Ruiz

    Maybe the missing piece is this: Tony, correct me if I’m taking your conclusion in a different direction than what you intended. You’re making the claim that nobody can place any sort of obligation on God. For example, justice is God’s alone and it’s defined however God wants it to be defined, because he’s the supreme authority.

    In that light, no one can say it was necessary for God to put Jesus on the cross, because God wasn’t obligated to. Essentially, this seems like one of your primary arguments against the classical sense of Penal Substitution.

    However, if God were to impose this requirement himself, then the sense of “necessity” is restored. In essence, it’s “Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary because God said it was necessary.” So if you think of Penal Substitution Theory in this mindset, the substitution was necessary because God established it. Nobody can put God on trial (cf. Job) because of God’s authority.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Yes to your first two paragraphs, but you’re third becomes circular. If God put an obligation on Godself, then God could remove that obligation. Thus, it’s not really an obligation.

      • http://nickruiz.blogspot.com Nick Ruiz

        Certainly, but that’s not what I was trying to communicate. Maybe it’s easier to explain in the context of the Trinity. God set up his own framework for justice (again, using the lens of penal substitution, but penal substitution isn’t necessary) and he followed through with it by not “taking the cup away from Jesus.” Of course, he could have changed his mind anytime he wanted, but for some reason he chose not to. This is what I deem as “necessary” – not because God restricted himself, but because God chose to do it this way. It was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross because God said it was necessary.

        (Note that I’m not trying to get philosophical, otherwise I’d have to write a mountain of background to cover all of my assumptions.)

  • Jake L.

    I don’t think this question can’t be answered until we clarify what our epistemological authority is in basing our answers. Chris, I’m assuming the buck stops at the “inerrant” bible. For Tony and others authority rests in something close to the Wesleyan Quadlilateral (Bible, Tradition, Reason, Experience). Until someone can argue from the same epistemological foundation as the other, I don’t see this as being a fruitful conversation. I have this problem with my uncle. I ask a question, he consults the book, and alakazam! In my opinion that is such a lazy cop out (disclaimer: I’m not a sola-scripturist). So if people could mention by what authority they are basing their answers on then we could get this train rolling. If you are using the bible alone, then you and I and others here will be as ships in the night.

  • Jake L.

    Can*

  • Steven Fuller

    Even necessity is limited by perspective when it shows up in human language and scripture. At one point, sacrificing Isaac was necessary for Abraham to be reconciled to God. Then, apparently God changed God’s mind and an angel came and told him it wasn’t necessary, which is good b/c it would have ended Israel before it began. It seems that the writer of Hebrews lived faithfully within the sacrificial system and that Jesus’ sacrificial death was necessary in order for him to be reconciled to God. For me, I wouldn’t describe Jesus’ crucifixion as necessary for reconciliation. Jesus forgave others before he died. God did too. One thing that does seem necessary is Jesus’ faithfulness. However, according to my Bible, God already worked through several cycles of covenant-sin-reconciliation with God’s creation before Jesus walked the earth. So, it seems to me that God would and does continue to work toward reconciling God’s creation to Godself in new ways forever and ever because God is faithful.
    (But, of course, I believe in historical contingencies, so my Reformed bros and sis’s would probably disagree. And lastly, I wonder, why do Reformed theologians play the “what if” game if “if’s” never were or will be possibilities?)

  • Rev. Mathew Andersen

    Wow – the editor cut Bible verses out of replies?

    I think that pretty much answers my question about how Christian this blogger and editor are.

    done reading – won’t return

    Can’t be bothered to waste my time on crap

    • Phil Miller

      These are my favorite types of comments… You can’t be bothered to waste your time on this crap, but yet you let yourself be bothered enough to write a comment. Make up you mind, man!

      • http://twitter.com/iamstillrob Rob Davis

        For realz.

      • Chris

        Huge diff.

  • Luke Hendricks

    We have freedom of religion in this country, so you have every right to believe and teach whatever you want. The author just isn’t teaching Christianity. When you deny the central teaching of Christianity, that being the Cross (“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” I Corinthians 2:2), then it is no longer Christianity.

    The author misses the entire point of the commandment “You must not eat from the tree” (Genesis 2:17). The author is correct that God could have prevented the fall by making automatons; instead, the love of God created beautiful, sentient, free-thinking humans that could make a willful decision to love and trust Him. Therefore, He gave them the opportunity to display that love and trust, for true love and trust must involve action. By not eating from the tree, they could show they loved God and they could show they trusted that God had their best in mind, even though their senses tell them “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). Adam and Eve, however, chose to love themselves more than their love for God and trust their own thoughts more than the Word of God. Thus, the rest of the commandment applied, “you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And die they did. First, spiritually, losing the ability to choose good and being dead in their transgression. Later, they would die physically. And they have passed this death on from generation to generation.

    Since the commandment put the punishment as death and to look at God’s declaration in Genesis 3:22, death seems to be the REQUIRED result. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that God could have chosen a different path of salvation. Okay. So what? That is irrelevant, since God is the one in charge, it would only matter what plan of Salvation did HE choose. He tells us in Genesis 3:15 the plan is—and continued throughout Scripture as—to send a Savior to suffer the punishment we deserve. For “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). According to the commandment, that punishment is death, not just the temporary physical death, but eternal death.

    And it doesn’t limit God’s omnipotence (power) to say He cannot lie, rather that is defining His nature (as He has revealed it). The author goes on to say, “Actually, I think that God’s total freedom does mean that God could, hypothetically, cease being God. Regarding human bipolar categories like “truth vs. liar,” I think that God subsumes all such categories, thereby rendering them nonsensical when talking about God.” Well, yes, the First Amendment gives everyone the freedom of conscience to define his or her god(s) or not. However, that definition of a god just isn’t anywhere close to the God of Christianity. The God of Christianity has revealed His nature as Truth, Love, and Good. This author’s definition of god says that god can do evil. If he wants to follow a god who can be evil…hey, First Amendment right, but that cannot be the God of Christianity.

    But what am I doing pointing to an objective source for my definition of God. This author obviously does not believe the Holy Scripture to be God’s Word about Himself and could care less what God has to say in it.

    You call this definition of god freeing? St. John’s recording of Jesus’ words to the Jewish leaders is pertinent: Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8).

    I have peace because I know that God is Good and that God is Love and it was this Goodness and Love that sent the Jesus to the Cross to be the Savior of all. And if Jesus died for everybody, then he must have died for me. I know this because God in His Goodness and Love has given me this trust and love in Him. And I know when I die, I will rise again. This is my hope and my peace. It isn’t my own invention. I don’t “feel” it is correct. Rather, it rests on testimony outside of myself.

    I don’t know how this theology can do the same for you or your hearers.

    “Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:“So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge” (Romans 3:4).

    (I apologize for speaking in the third person, I wrote this originally in response to someone else sharing this blog post.)

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Luke, Firstly, this comment is way too long. Post it elsewhere and give us a link. Secondly, who is “the author”? Me? For godsake, man, if you’re going to copy and paste a comment from elsewhere, at least have the good sense to edit it. And finally, you have a very selective reading of the Bible, as does every PSA advocate.

      • Luke Hendricks

        I apologize for the length. I do not have a blog/website at which to post it. I apologize, again, for speaking in the third person and I will put in the effort in the future to be more proper.

        What is PSA? And How am I advocating it? Also, it is very easy to just say I have a selective reading of the Bible. I would appreciate some evidence for that statement to which could respond. Perhaps my faux pas deem my post unworthy of full reading and response.

  • Chris

    I have never seen more selective reading of the Bible than from “progressive” Christians.

    God is all love. God hath not wrath.

    I wish I had one of those magic Sharpies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/allan.timmins Allan Timmins

    You all should read “Jesus and the Undoing of Adam” by Dr. C. Baxter Kruger. It certainly helped me understand that the Incarnation isn’t taken seriously enough by most evangelicals and it and the non-penal Atonement accomplished an ontological change in humanity.

    ftp://ftp.compuconference.com/Christian_Material/e-text/Perichoresis/Jesus%20And%20the%20Undoing%20of%20Adam.pdf

  • T.S.Gay

    There is a consistent human reaction to any person who exhibits a high degree of individual relatedness to the universal. To claim God and I are one is what Jesus was crucified for. Roger Shutz-Marsauche would be a recent example of a person who has a unversalizing faith.
    I’m placing the necessariness of the cross on humans, not the absolute. I look at the violence against those who are about oneness as the reaction of us all who are consciously and sub-consciously about separateness. There are all levels of this phenomenon. From the violence caused by mimetic desire, which Rene Girard realized was the theme of all the great literature(and consistently hidden)…… to the ideas of races as separate in origin, which the violence of that perspective shook many a liberal in the last century. Even the highly intelligent are unaware- an example would be the summation of the Humainist Manifesto III, which states what happens here is our responsibility and ours alone. That is highly reactionary in its perspective of the absolute and significant in its non consideration of a non-dual perspective.

  • Luke Allison

    That’s a huge overstatement. It obviously leaves some people feeling much more satisfied than others. Clearly, it leaves YOU with a “miasma of despair.” It makes sense of the way life works for me. One of the unhealthy aspects of modernist ways of “knowing” is that they assume objective standards for things that are obviously subjective; case in point, your assertion that deconstruction of language leaves everyone everywhere with a miasma of despair.

    Now, I happen to think that language and words are powerful; I’m essentially a Tolkienite at heart. But I find that different mental and personality wirings lead to different reactions to language and words.

    I’m very interested in the fact that heresy hunters like Chris Rosebrough, Ken Silva (is he even a real person?), Todd Friel, etc. all seem to be very similarly wired types of people. These people conclude that anyone who doesn’t have the same wiring that leads to the same conclusions is inherently dangerous and should be refuted at all costs.

    Hearing Rosebrough “refute” Tony Jones is like watching a native English-speaker try to communicate with a non-English speaker by speaking more slowly and more loudly. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, with different starting points. So debate is pointless.

  • Luke Allison

    What the heck…apparently I can’t reply directly to comments anymore.That last comment was in response to Chris way up at the top of the thread. Now it just sounds nonsensical. Story of my life!

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Don’t sweat it, Luke. Lots of people are having problems leaving threaded comments. Supposedly Disqus is just a couple months away…

    • Chris

      Don’t worry Luke, I actually got it (by happenstance) and I actually appreciate your response.

      I thought my post didn’t appear either. Weird.

  • http://www.theologyforum.wordpress.com Steve Duby

    Tony,

    It is worth noting that the Reformed tradition exhibits some diversity on the question of whether the cross was necessary. In the British milieu, theologians like William Twisse and Samuel Rutherford believed that God was not required by his own character to punish sin in order to forgive it, whereas John Owen, for example, composed a lengthy refutation of that view. Of course, that does not mean any of them (or Aquinas, for that matter) would have endorsed a nominalist doctrine of God’s absolute freedom as you do here.

    -Steve Duby

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      You think that my advocacy for God’s freedom, sovereignty, and non-contingency makes me a nominalist? Wrong, my friend. It makes me just the opposite.

    • Christian Schmemann

      Reformed “Christianity” is heresy, “pure” heresy. Christianity would be well-served if it completely disowned, repudiated and anathematized Calvinism in a future 8th Ecumenical Council, and further declared that anybody who continued to adhere to Calvinism is NOT a Christian and cannot possibly be a Christian.

  • 2 Timothy 4:2

    Where is the Bible in your answer Tony?. This is not an unreasonable question, as the Bible is our authority and we need to constantly go back to what does the Bible say about the death of Jesus. Hebrews 9:22 Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, and also He is the propitiation for out sin. 1 John 4:10 Also when Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane. Father if you are willing let this cup pass by me in, But not my will but yours be done. Luke 22:42 So with these few scriptures it is proof that the cross was necessary. Please I urge you Tony to come back to the Word of God Because it is true because our God is true. 2 Timothy 4:2 should be what preachers should be doing. There is power when you preach the Word and not in what we want to think, not man’s wisdom but God’s

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Yes, Hebrews. Hebrews is very problematic. I’ll tackle your question in the forthcoming book on this topic.

  • http://www.schooleyfiles.com Keith Schooley

    So when Jesus begged for a way out, the Father refused unnecessarily? How much more cruel is that?

    On God’s freedom, sovereignty, and non-contingency, CS Lewis writes that “nonsense cannot be made sense by the addition of the phrase, ‘God can’.” I take it you disagree?

  • Robin

    With respect to Tony’s generosity in allowing comments…

    There is one glaring piece of evidence pointing to the fact that yes, God does require death to pay for the treason committed against him as Creator-King. Death is that evidence, (for those requiring proof).

    The death-rate is still one per person. We all die.

    Why? Why is there death in the world?

    Please don’t say it’s natural – because that doesn’t explain why it exists.

    The bible does explain that death is the curse of God. It is the “last enemy”.

    So, those who imagine God is only love, miss something important. He is also a judge.

    Death is a curse. It is real – and it is a foretaste of God’s final judgment to come.

    For those covered by the blood of Jesus (trusting in His work) physical death is evidence that though they are saved from God’s wrath, the power of sin was/is so great in marring the splendor of man, our bodies suffer the final degradation in this “present evil age”. For those trusting in their own righteousness (rejecting Christ’s sacrifice), physical death, indeed is a foretaste of the “second death” to come.

    Christianity is a bloody religion. Make no mistake.

    I don’t like it. If it were up to me, I’d avoid all those messy, offensive, scary statements in the Bible, and allow progressive notions.

    However, in seeing death regularly I am forced to grapple with Scripture because it is the only content on the planet that explains a rational, testable reason death exists and holds out hope in the face of it.

    Let’s get practical. What do we say to parents who just lost their infant to cancer?

    Those in grief-counseling know it’s rude to offer bereaved families glib opinions.

    God’s love, for it to be true, can never be separated from the cross and the blood of Christ.

    This is part of the narrative laid out in God’s Story.

    Faith seeking understanding . . .

  • jbo

    1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    • 2 Timothy 4:2

      that is absolutely true jbo the cross is central to our faith.

  • Pete

    Matthew 11:25 certainly springs to mind after reading this…

  • 2 Timothy 4:2

    in what way pete?

  • 2 Timothy 4:2

    I know what you mean by it now Pete after thinking about it again lol

  • Jason Cagle

    Wait, why is this a “Question that Haunt”?

    • Robin

      Jason, about your question as to “why is this a Question that Haunts”. I don’t know Tony personally and can only go with his publications. And I certainly mean no disrespect or imply his motives.

      In fairness, I don’t know what Tony means precisely by “haunts”.

      But I will frankly point out the bottom line.

      Big money can be made, selling all sorts of products and services, that have to do with doubting God’s word, posing it as unreliable and/or something other than it is. Those who engage in this, get power, fame, fortune, TV and movie gigs.

      The words “God” “Jesus” “Christianity” are powerful marketing icons.

      Contrary to presenting Christianity accurately, will get you hated and killed.

      Remember what happened to Jesus and those faithful to His teachings?

      • http://about.me/iamrobdavis Rob Davis

        Robin, couldn’t a similar argument be made from the opposite perspective? I would say there’s more “money to be made” by (as you say) “presenting Christianity accurately,” and doing what Tony and others are doing “will get you hated.”

        In conclusion, neither of our arguments work.

        • Robin

          Rob, yes, of course. Recall, the New Testament has tons of places where it warns of false teachers (within the church) exploiting the God’s word, for power, sex and money. This problem began in Genesis and continues through history to our own day. It isn’t going away until the Lord returns, btw.

          Read Timothy, Titus, Jude, 1 Peter. (Never just read a bible verse. Read whole paragraphs/chapters). http://about.esvbible.org

          Do we test false teaching ONLY by measuring a persons’ success? No.

          Christians are to “test everything” by God’s Word. Paul says “if anyone comes to you with “another Gospel” than what I have given you, let him be cursed to hell.”

          Mankind is in peril if it ignores Scriptures’ warnings. Critics, skeptics would do well (not that they care?) to understand, the Bible not only can survive man’s destructive acts upon it, it invites the hardest skeptic to “come” “test” and be satisfied.

          What Tony and others are doing is nothing “new”. (That phrase, I assume means those formerly wounded by teachers of Christianity were alienated and lost). A right-handling of Scripture explains everything and is the remedy.

          Meanwhile, I’m afraid man’s hatred will be with us all until the Second Advent.

          Excuse me, I didn’t think it was OK to get off topic in the blog.

          Email me if you have further questions.

          Blessings

  • Brenda

    Actually, God DID require Jesus’ Death on The Cross in order to reconcile mankind (and all things) to Himself. “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the Fulness [of Deity] to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through The Blood of His Cross…” (Col 1:19,20)

    What we don’t know is WHY God required Christ’s death for our reconciliation, although I think Col 1:22 provides a clue: “…He has now reconciled you in His Fleshly Body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…” Christ was The Perfect Sacrifice; through Him we are presented to God holy, blameless, and beyond reproach — I think that’s the “why” of Christ’s death, but we can’t know God’s Mind.

    So it was God’s good pleasure to use The Cross as the how of our reconciliation. Just as He is well-pleased to save those who believe the foolishness of The Cross (1 Cor 1:21). Thank You Jesus for dying for me! Blessings to all you Truth-seekers, Brenda

  • Brenda

    PS you might want to remove the last stmt in your list of non-sensical items (“God cannot”). Titus 1:2 tells us that God cannot lie. (: Such a great & glorious Truth! He Alone is Faithful & True, Brenda

    • Nick Gotts

      1 Kings 22:23
      Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.

      2 Chronicles 18:22
      Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.

      Jeremiah 4:10
      Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.

      Jeremiah 20:7
      O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.

      Ezekiel 14:9
      And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.

      2 Thessalonians 2:11
      For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.

  • robrob

    Tony, I’m just curious… Are you afraid of what the Word of God actually says? You actually deleted Scripture. Are you hiding behind your ability to edit other people’s remarks? If you’re going to be a heretic at least be honest about it. You won’t hesitate to tell the world what you THINK the Word of God says, but you HESITATE to tell them what it really says. I agree when you say people can read what it says for themselves. But you won’t give an argument to refute when someone is using the word of God to rebuke you.

  • Steve Lewis

    The Word of God is bogus authority. No thinking Christian can put their faith in the myths of origin of ancient Hebrews who fabricated a whole 1000 year “history” of themselves embellished with fantastic events and personages, i.e. the usual fare of ancient ethnic groups bringing in gods and whatever to establish authority over the people. The Jewish myths just happened to be taken over by Gentile Christians who ran with them to Rome and that’s all that was needed to launch Jewish mythology as “real history” into the world big time where it continues to mess with modern civilization, e.g.the whole Zionist Israeli aggression against Palestinians that uses these Jewish myths of origin as political mandates for acting out a quite fascist political agenda of take-over of another people’s land and destruction of their society. We Americans, including Progressive Christians are allowing America to do this because Progressive Christianity is also tied to the Bible mythologies, it just has scholars voicing their doubts about this or that nuance of the basic Roman Catholic Church established Pauline Christian religious belief system. There’s no real radical agenda to change anything substantial in Pauline Christian belief which of course means Progressive Christianity too will eventually fade away riding the Abrahamic train into the sunset of dead religions.

    Only the Gnostic Christian pathway had any real spiritual validity as it was not based on Bible beliefs, which now we know was the mark of God upon Gnosis vs. blind faith in doctrines of ancient men now exposes as tremendous liars using God for personal ambition and establishing positions of social and economic power.

    Modern Gnosis has produced the real New Christianity that is established the old fashioned way, by Jewish Christian revelation, not by the intellectual efforts of men with their false authority emblems, e.g. “Bishop”, or a string of degrees after their names but who failed to recognize or understand the spiritual truth of Jesus’ wisdom: “without Signs and wonders, no one will believe.” It’s a two-edged sword that spiritual authority is only derived directly from God. It cannot be manufactured from scholarship. It cannot be derived from ancient liars. It must come from modern revelation. And such revelation has come but judging from the hold of traditional Pauline Christianity on Progressive Christians I wonder if any here will take notice.

  • Steve Lewis

    Will any notice for example that when one learns the hidden astrological coding within Bible stories, especially so in the Gospels, that a natural question arises about what “cross” Jesus was referring to that his disciples must carry in order to follow him. No one but professional or amateur strongmen can carry a Roman crucifixion cross but Egyptian hieroglyphs all show pharaohs and even gods carrying their Egyptian crosses. One cross represents death and the other Life. As a Gnostic Christian whose religious beliefs are more rooted in ancient Egypt where Gnosticism and very likely the Gospels came out of Alexandria, Egypt where Jewish exiles had access to the ancient Library of Alexandria there, where Mark is honored as the founder of Christianity’s first church. Christianity is really a Jewish Egyptian Mystery Religion that thinks and speaks in Greek.

  • http://akaharrypoppins.blogspot.com aka Harry Poppins

    So — Tony. I Like your blog a lot. I have only read bits and pieces here but I’m certainly glad to find that I’m not the only person who thinks this way.

    The thing I’ve come to in my own understanding (and admittedly, I’m pretty new at this) is that the fact of the crucifixion is in itself a show of God’s love in and only in the fact that he allowed Jesus to go ahead and assume that he (Jesus) *was* atoning for everyone’s sins, when in fact that was completely unnecessary *and* incorrect. The only way it works out in my head is this:

    If one believes Jesus to *actually* be “The ‘only’ Son of God” — then Jesus made a mistake, didn’t *listen* when God said “Hey, dude. RUN!” and therefore was the biggest f**kup of all time.

    If one believes (as I do) that Jesus was “one of the children of God of which I and you and everyone else is too” then Jesus *still* screwed up, and was forgiven — and in doing so — just like you and me — showed us that *all sins are forgiven* — so that *sort of* equates to his being a perfect example of just how messed up one can get and still be forgiven.

    If one believes that Jesus was not messiah but just a dude, then he was patently insane and none of it counts, I guess. Except the fact that if there *is* a God (and I believe there to be) then the mere fact that God allowed us all to be fooled by the crucifixion into believing that our sins were forgiven — heck, the entire *invention* of the religion of Christianity around that concept — is one big sin that is — as all sins are — forgiven by God… and that in the process of coming to know the *real* God, the one that is big enough to allow that many people into being duped — then one comes to where you and I seem to be (forgive my hubris in thinking us to be near the same page) … and that is the place where we see that if there indeed *is* a God at all, then Christianity in itself contains many contradictions which point to the fact that it is — in itself — not necessary.

    Also, forgive my placing Bible Verse here — I have never read the whole thing and I am not sure I plan to — but *if indeed* the bible is inerrantly the word of God, it contains *one hint* as to the true nature of the crucifixion — this line:

    “Why have you forsaken me?”

    Notice he didn’t say “Have you forsaken me?” or “Why do I feel like you’ve forsaken me?” but instead … in his moment of doubt … literally proved himself to be unsure as to his own divinity, letting us *all* know that this entire time, he only believed himself to be the son of God and he didn’t actually KNOW for sure. If he KNEW for sure, he would have never thought that God had forsaken him — he would have KNOWN all along what was going to happen, and he would have been all chill about it, kind of tapping his watch to wait for the death and resurrection part.

    Does that make any sense?

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    • Robin

      It’s probably not the place (this thread?) to point this out…but here is something very important. Many here think to be God means, he can do anything. But actually that isn’t correct.

      There are certain things God cannot do and cannot be.

      Example: God is not evil. He cannot lie. He cannot go back on His oath.

      God cannot commune with evil.

      God is not capricious. He is not bound by emotional irregularity.

      He is not punitive without his royal function as lawgiver and judge.

      God is not confused. He cannot contradict His statements, edicts or words.

      God is not limited in power or knowledge. He is not learning.

      God is not silent. He speaks words, sentences, paragraphs in logical ideas that correlate to reality and that can be tested by the same grammar and language rules humans use every day in regular life.

      God is not guilty of negligence, ineptitude or failure to accomplish what he intends.

      God is not needy. He does not need humans or anything he has created.

      God is not lonely.

      God is/was not created.

      God is not part of his creation. He is thoroughly outside of and separate from time and nature.

      God is not afraid nor functions from fear factors.

      God is not impersonal or indifferent.

      God cannot deny Himself; he cannot betray his honor.

      There is much more to list . . .but for now, try to imagine how this list impacts who you think God is; then based on that, what he can or cannot do or say.

      Just a thought . . .

      • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis

        It seems like God can have disagreements with God.

        For Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to. Rather, he became nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. Therefore, God exulted Jesus to the highest places, giving him the name reserved for God. – Philippians 2

        God can disagree with God. God have have a spat with God. God can change, going from exulted, to slave, to exulted again.

        It seems this God is not a simple character!

        • Nick Gotts

          In fact, a completely self-contradictory character – from which it’s a trivial deduction that he’s a fictional character.

  • Steve Lewis

    “Will any notice for example that when one learns the hidden astrological coding within Bible stories, especially so in the Gospels, that a natural question arises about what “cross” Jesus was referring to that his disciples must carry in order to follow him?”

    Probably not. It’s too difficult to think outside the given New Testament interpretation box and questions will go on and on about interpreting the Gospels as they are written with no attempt really to find the esoteric meanings that are embedded within them. Mark wrote the first Gospel. Mark is considered the founder of the Egyptian Coptic Church which they claim is the oldest Christian church anywhere. Any Jewish writer living in Alexandria, Egypt during the formative 2nd century of the Gospels would have been quite familiar with the Egyptian ankh as its hieroglyph was plastered upon every wall practically. So again, what cross is Jesus really referring to that each of us must carry to follow him? It’s isn’t so obviously a metaphoric meaning when one learns about the strong Egyptian religion connections to Gospel stories, to the whole Jewish epic actually. I’m in the process of updating my website that gives much more information about this astrological/Egyptian connection to Christian symbolism.

  • Nick Gotts

    In other words, if you agree with me that God, by definition, is capable of anything, then you must also agree that God could have chosen another way to achieve reconciliation.

    This implies that God could have created a cosmos in which all sentient beings experience nothing but bliss throughout their existence. Since he didn’t, he’s clearly an utter shit.

    • Steve Lewis

      You can’t learn anything if everything is perfect. It’s problems that create the necessity to find answers. So if the overall goal is increasing intelligence and capacity for processing increasing complexity in knowledge of the world, having things shitty is actually the best method of learning anything new.

      • Nick Gotts

        An omnipotent god already has infinite intelligence and perfect knowledge, and could simply have created the desired endpoint, without all the suffering involved in getting there. Moreover, your “answer” implies that no degree of shittiness in the world would be allowed to count against the alleged goodness and omnipotence of God – in fact, the shittier the better, because more opportunities for learning! Evidently, the belief in such a God is a “reinforced dogmatism” (Popper’s phrase), under which any and all evidence against the belief is reinterpreted as supporting it.

        • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis

          Is it possible that suffering and conflict are part of God’s very nature?

          • http://www.facebook.com/twwilcox Tim Wilcox

            I believe we are all born to create just as God is The Creator and we are His children, created in His image. We are also Creators. The big difference is that we do not have the same level of awareness that God has so we create out of ignorance for the consequences. We can choose to either create harmony/good, or disharmony/evil. The end result may be known by God, but that is not the point. Life is to be experienced. It is a Journey of learning and discovery. The theoretical end result in which we all experience bliss at all times must come through a true experience of all possible choices so that the “right” choices are freely chosen all of the time and not just programmed into our being like we are robots. The purpose for doing all of this in the first place (Life) is to give us an opportunity to create and choose to love while simultaneously being given the opportunity to create and choose fear. We must be given this experience to know it as Truth. Truth desires to be experienced and expressed, not just simply known in concept. However, the one thing that God will never do is to block your free will. This is because you must be free to choose love. Love can never be forced, it is always a choice. God can only love you enough to give you that free choice. Jesus set an example for how this all works through the way he lived his life. He chose to live with complete trust in God and all of his choices and actions followed that mindset. Jesus had every opportunity to create disharmony and fear, and was free to do so, but he chose not to because when you put your trust in God to the level that he did, you would not ever choose fearful/negative actions because they would be literally counterintuitive. If you want to go east, but you turn toward the west this Is nonsensical. If all people put the same level of trust in God as Jesus did there would be no evil left in the world. Trust and faith are choices, though. You cannot force someone to trust you or believe in you.

            • http://supervidoqo.blogspot.com/ Eli

              I don’t believe free will exists. I believe we have will, and make decisions. But our awareness of those decisions is very limited. We can think about the thoughts we have, but know little about where the thoughts came from, the impulses that gave rise to them. Neuroscience, psychology, human development theory and social statistics all describe how this plays out at the physiological and behavioral level. Our understanding of will and consciousness is still incredibly primitive, but all sign point to there being no such thing as “free” will.

              If this is true, the idea of a God that we must “choose” seems a silly sort of game. There is much suffering in the world. Most of it is in the animal kingdom, for whom the concept of “learning from suffering” is especially silly. Seeing as it is from a sort of cognitive ignorance that the illusion of free will comes to us, our vain conception of us as more important than animals is understandable, as is our myriad religious explanations of things we don’t yet understand.

        • http://www.butnotyet.com Joel Rieves

          An omnipotent God would be all-powerful. An omniscient God would have infinite intelligence and perfect knowledge. I’m not sure about the omnipotent part, but an omniscient God would negate free will since the outcome would be foreordained and I very much believe in free will. As to Curtis’ question about suffering and conflict, I don’t think they’re a part of God’s nature. But, they are a part of human nature. And, terrible as they are, they may be a necessary part of life. As Malcolm Muggeridge said “If it were possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo-jumbo, the results would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable.”

          • Nick Gotts

            Omnipotence implies omniscience, since an omnipotent being would by definition have the power to know anything it wanted.

            If it were possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo-jumbo, the results would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable.

            Tell it to the child being raped and tortured preparatory to being murdered, or to the victim of smallpox. Oh, you can’t do the latter any more, because “medical mumbo-jumbo” has eliminated that particular affliction. Malcolm Muggeridge was too banal and trivial to be endurable: a libertine in his youth, who decided in late middle age that no-one else should have the same fun he did. A rich and famous media star who spent his last decades moaning about the pernicious influence of television.

  • CASteve

    Let me see if I’ve got it, Dr. Jones. You reject the idea that God can be bound by anything – even His own nature and character – because He is non-contingent. By nature. So… you say that it’s nonsensical to say “God can’t ______,” or “God must_____,” or “God’s character requires_____” – and then prove it by appealing to God’s character, which requires … lol …
    You turn around and say, “God’s character is (non-contingent) and therefore…” – binding Him by that character. Defining what He can’t do (demand a sacrifice) by what He is. Talk about an internal conflict!

    There is no internal conflict, as you have claimed, within Reformed Theology in this area. Reformed theologians accept that God is non-contingent and unbound – by anything and everything outside of Himself. But He is who and what He is, and unchangeably so. He is bound by His own nature. He cannot lie, nor sin, nor tempt anyone to sin, scripture clearly says. The fact that it’s nonsensical to you says something about your sense of what’s sensible – not about what God defines as sensible in His Word. He’s bound by His righteousness and Holiness. And also by His justice. He cannot look on sin with approval, as He says through the prophet Habakkuk. He must judge it, because He is just. It cannot go unanswered. All wrong must be made right because He is righteous. The wages of sin is death because of who and what God is by definition and immutable nature. Either we die as sinners – or someone else dies in our stead.

  • Christian Schmemann

    Tony, you are right to reject the borderline-heathen dogma of substitutionary atonement. If the Cross is not necessary, why then did St Paul proclaim, “We proclaim Christ crucified?” Being that you are a Western Christian and especially a a Protestant of Calvinist ideology Tony, I think that you conflate the Cross with heathen concepts like blood atonement. The Cross is absolutely essential in Christianity. Also, being a Western Christian Tony, you forget to think about the flipside of Crucifixion, and this is Resurrection. There can be no Resurrection without death.

    You also forget, that while Christianity is open-ended in terms of the problem of theodicy, it offers a supreme comfort in that the God, who for whatever reason allows us to live in such a broken world, experienced in His own Person the sorrow, betrayal, frustrations, heartbreak, poverty and injustice of this broken world, especially in His sham trial and illegitimate execution. The Cross also tells us that God play by His own rules.

    For the first thousand years of Christianity, the borderline-heathen dogma of substitutionary atonement was not taught, and did not even teach original sin. Sin was originally understood to be a sickness and a tyranny- a slavery to Satan, but not as a debt to God. In this context, the Cross is about God in Human Flesh, suffering death, so that He could in Human form go into the Tomb and make war on Satan to free humanity.

    To this day yet, both substitutionary atonement and original sin are rejected and even preached against in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. The original message of Christianity is that it was out of LOVE that Christ God was willing to ascend the Cross. Tony, you would do well to read up on Byzantine theology. :)

  • A. W. Thules

    Umm, I don’t agree with you that “… by definition, [God] is capable
    of anything, then you must also agree that God could have chosen
    another way to achieve reconciliation.”

    By definition, God cannot be irrational, illogical, or go against his very own nature, (or even his own word) .. Biblically, God’s use of his own word, or swearing by his own name is the only means by which God validated something as true [Ps 89:35].

    Theologians and logicians have long concluded that Jesus’ death was unavoidable given certain premises and simply logic (conjunction, modus ponens, etc) . Traditionally, the simple logic went.

    1. God exists. [Gen 1:1]
    2. God is infinite. [Psa 90:2][Psa 147:5][Jer 23:24]
    3. God is Holy. [Isa 6:3][Rev 4:8]
    4. God is righteous [Neh 9:32-33][2 Thess 1:6]
    5. Therefore God is infinitely Holy and Just

    6. God speaks out of the character of what He is. [Matt 12:34]
    7. God spoke the law. [Exo 20:1-17]
    8. Therefore the Law is in the heart of God and reflects his infinite Holiness and Justice

    9. To break God’s Law offends God. [Ps 51:4][Ps 89:31]
    10. God is just to punish those who offend Him. [Amos 2:4][Rom 4:15]
    11. Therefore God is just to punish those who break God’s Law.

    12. God’s law requires that the person who sins must atone for sin [Rom 8:3]
    13. Only by the shedding of blood can sin be atoned for [Exo 30:10][Heb 9:22]
    14. Therefore to atone for sin, blood needs to be shed.

    15. Again from the Law, the sinner either dies or atones for God’s wrath (escaping judgement through the shedding blood) for his sin [Rom 1:18][Matt 25:46]
    16. The atonement for infinite offense to God is the infinite shedding of
    sinful blood or the finite shedding of sinless blood [2 Cor 3:5]
    17. No flesh can shed sinful blood infinitely [Gal 2:16][Gal 2:21]
    18. Therefore the sinner cannot fulfil the law because he is sinful [Rom 8:3]

    19. The sinner must therefore die [Eze 18:4][Rom 6:23]
    20. God does not wish the sinner to die [2 Peter 3:9]
    21. Therefore only the sufficient sacrifice (atonement) is a sacrifice of perfect blood.
    20. Since the sinner cannot fulfil the law and satisfy God, it follows that only God can do this.

    21. Jesus is God in the flesh. [John 1:1,14]
    22. Jesus was also a man under the Law. [1 Tim 2:5][Gal 4:4-5]
    23. Therefore only Jesus could atone for our sins [2 Cor 5:21][1 Peter 2:24][Rom 8:3-4]
    24. Therefore only Jesus’ death could meet the requirements of the Law by dying in our place [Eph 2:8-9][Gal 3:13][Eph 5:2]

    Therefore only the Cross could have reconciled us to God.

    This logically follows. The only way this could be false would be if the premises were false or if the logic unsound. People of looked at the logic from at least the first century, and it has been proven valid, so only by denying the premises then, is the logic false.

    The premises are all in the bible which should be sufficient to prove them true, but for the sake of argument lets assume that’s not good enough. WHich premise do you hold as false?

    Do you deny God’s requirement to atone for sin by blood is a consequence of his Holy nature? Perhaps you deny that sin is infinitely offensive to God, or that he would accept as atonement something less perfect than sinless blood?

    I have to agree with a previous comment; if you’re going to deny some premise long accepted as true by Christian orthodoxy, at last don’t pass yourself off (dishonestly) as being a believing Christian.


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