Washed in His Blood My Ass

Washed in His Blood My Ass March 9, 2013

We are still about three weeks away from Easter but I’m gonna get a jump on things and offer a little Easter theology to get us warmed up.

Now, I love a good bluegrass gospel song as much as the next middle-aged southern white chick



but while reading through a Lenten liturgy recently I just became flummoxed to the point of silence over the language that has long since ceased to work in the heart and mind of this Christian.  And when I am struck mute, I write.

See, I am the sort of Christian that is not theologically down with the whole substitutionary atonement thing – especially penal.

First is the deeply disturbing (and some would say heretical) idea of a God that would NEED a sacrifice of one innocent to pay for the sins of the rest of our sorry asses.  A blood thirsty God is frankly a warped vision of the Divine cast in our own vengeful image. Second is the more esoteric question of HOW exactly such a sacrifice would pay for “sins”?  There simply has been no answer to this question that I have encountered in my reading, praying, discerning life that satisfactorily answers this big fat how.

But about the Cross – we are not washed clean by his blood, we are convicted as a cruel and blind race that will execute our God when God comes to us as a poor man healing on the sabbath, overturning the worship of mammon in the temple, confronting the religious elite and and challenging the authority of the state.

We are not saved by the crucifixion, we are damned by it – or we could have been. Let us face that shameful dark day and accept our culpability – knowing that if Jesus returned today to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed His blood would likely run in rivulets once again.  And let us move through that desolate Saturday knowing what we have done.  And let us arise on Easter surprised by Grace.

We can look to the empty tomb and know that we are redeemed by the forgiveness of a God who could have at any time saved himself from torture and an excruciating, humiliating death.  We are freed by a God that could have laid waste to a universe of weak and frightened creatures  who would whip, strip and nail their God to a cross to die the death of a criminal.  But that’s not how the story goes eh?  Our God suffers at our hands, allows us to mock and scorn the love offered, falls dead into our arms and goes willing to the tomb that we would seal for all time.  And then the most radical thing that a God can do happens – God emerges from the bonds of death, walks and talks with a woman and reveals the ultimate truth – God is Love. Jesus does not return to punish the world who had rejected him. Jesus emerges with wounded hands outstretched in love and forgiveness.

Here’s how Christian from another tribe says it.

“For me, the suffering of Jesus is a sacrament of the love of God. The story tells us that God willingly soaks up all of our systemic injustice,  personal evil and violence and returns only love.

So, God is no distant deity in some pure heaven far away. God is with us on earth in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims that love is more powerful than hate, compassion triumphs over oppression, and vulnerability overcomes power. Jesus invites us to put our trust in God, even in the face of horror, oppression, cruelty and death. God is with us. God feels and suffers deeply with us. And, what God does best is to bring life out of death.”

The Rev. Lowell E. Grisham
Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

As we work our way closer to the Cross this season I invite you to explore Christian theology that does not begin with a God that needs a blood sacrifice to settle the score.  I invite you to walk with a God that has shown us what true power looks like – love, compassion and forgiveness.

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225 responses to “Washed in His Blood My Ass”

  1. You’ve missed the point like Jesus tried to explain to the Pharisees on numerous occasions that they were so focused on a flaw they so elegantly conjured up in something they could not understand or comprehend that they missed the answer that their soul was searching for. Instead they turned to theology and forgot who God was so if we can’t believe an understand the things jesus did while he walked this earth how then can u expect to know the mind of God. Read john chapter 3. Ill give you a hint God doest think like us. He is perfect and understands all we do not.

  2. Some of the commentary seen here is so common both online and offline. One can use Scripture for many things – I could cite John 8:7 or Matthew 7:5 in reference to this lack of compassion so often seen in the followers of Christ – but the fact that much of it is contradictory is something we must consider when condemning one another for our actions using Scripture. God made people in many ways; who are we to condemn what God has made? We are all called to follow the one true way, but none of us knows what that may be for another, and so none of us may judge another’s actions. Specks and planks and stones…


  3. Kimberley, I stumbled across this page by accident and having read your comments, my heart weeps for you.

    Please read Rom 5:9. We are justified by his blood.

    Also read 2 Tim 4:3. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

    It is with sadness that I have to tell you that you are not a Christian.

    I pray that God have mercy on your soul and reveal the truth to you before it is too late.

    Much love,

    • I respectfully and faithfully disagree with you Paul.

      I am a Christian. I do not need to believe in a violent and blood thirsty God, a small and mythical God, to believe in the salvation that Christ wrought.

      And I can quote scripture all day long just like you but I will invite you to read two.

      Romans 8:38-39

      38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

      John 16:12-13

      12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

      I will pray for the veil of fear and loathing to be lifted from your heart so that you may truly know the freedom we have been granted in Christ.

      Peace and grace,

      • The verse you have quoted from Romans is addressed to those who are chosen of God, not all mankind.

        It matters not what God you have made for yourself, as if it is not the God of the Bible, then it is no god at all. There are aspects of His character that can be difficult for some to accept, but that doesn’t stop them from being true. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, so if you choose a God who doesn’t require blood to be shed, it is not the God of the Bible. To disagree with that is not to disagree with me (which I am fine with) but it is disagreeing with God himself.

        The freedom we have in Christ is to follow his law, not to indulge our own pleasures. Your whole site is full of “I this” and “I that”. I do not say these things to be intentionally provocative, but to point out that God is the centre of all. The whole universe and all people exist to bring glory to Him, not to seek what we can obtain for ourselves to go on living how we desire. You have your priorities back to front. When we read the Bible, we need to simply accept that God is exactly as He tells us He is. If some aspect seems distasteful to us, frankly that doesn’t change Him. We need to pray instead for understanding that we will learn to love and understand everything about Him, not pick and choose and remold Him to what best pleases us. That is the opposite of loving the truth.

        It is very clear from other posts you have made that your lifestyle is in defiance of God’s will, therefore you have not made him Lord of your life. I have no fear and I certainly do not loathe you or anyone, but the Bible is very clear on who will inherit eternal life, so it is He who tells you to repent of your sin (you know what sin I speak of) and turn to him for forgiveness.

        Again, I encourage you to take these words to heart.

        • Oh my, sweetie, I have. Have you? Your condescension speaks volumes. Again, your heart that has been twisted by today’s Pharisees will be in my prayers.

          • I desperately wanted to just leave this thread alone, and let the words already spoken do their job, but the Lord keeps prompting me to return one more time to help you, Kimberly.

            Here are a few words that I think we’ll both agree on, since they are in the Bible.

            Matthew 18:15 says “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother”.

            You can hate me all you want, pity me, misunderstand me, that’s fine, but please understand that my sole motivation for saying a word here is based on this verse. There is no pharisaical judgement going on here, nor did I seek out your blog with the intention of being argumentative, but found it by accident (or perhaps divine guidance) and felt it would be unloving of me not to speak out. I prayed at length last night and with tears in my eyes for you. My hands tremble with love as I type these words. So there is my motivation.

            Secondly, Matthew 7:21 says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”.

            So we can hopefully both agree that mere confession of faith is not always true faith. In other words, there will be many who think they are Christians and openly call him Lord, but do not have a saving faith since they do not treat him as Lord. I understand at this point that you do not see yourself in this category, but suspect you do understand enough to agree that such people do exist, and it is the responsibility of those who are Christians to point out to those with a false faith of their mistake.

            Rev 21:8 says “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur”.

            And Rom 1:26-27 makes clear that homosexuality is immoral, so the Bible when taken as a whole leaves us with the undeniable conclusion that unrepentant homosexuals are not Christians.

            Lastly, if you truly understand what it was that the blood of Jesus achieves for us, it would make your heart leap with joy, and respond in obedience to Him. That you despise so openly the most precious thing that God ever did for us, and that with your willful life of sin you act in disobedience is what makes it clear from the scriptures that your faith is not real.

            I urge you to look to Jesus, to his precious blood shed for us, without which there is no remission of sins, and to leave your life of sin, cry out to him for mercy and become truly saved. I doubt we’ll ever meet in real life (it feels so weird and unnatural for me to communicate in this way as you cannot see my heart over the internet) but I sincerely hope that you’ll listen to God’s word (not mine) so that on that great day when we both stand before His throne that we will be both welcomed in and be able to embrace each other.

            • You words have no power to do any job here because they are misguided. I do not hate you, quite the opposite, I love you as a brother who is lost in a forest of condescending certitude so fearful of the mystery of God’s radical love, a God that is far bigger than the savage heart of man. I will continue to pray for you but I will no longer reply to you. If your posts continue to call me unChristian they will henceforth be deleted and you will be uninvited from this table – banned.

        • Prayers to you and for you Paul on your quest to see God in the world. I hope your heart may be broken open and deepened in love like a Paul I once knew from the the good Book who felt God had called him to persecute and found that he had called him to Love.


        • Paul,

          You are, of course, entitled to your belief systems and to your presumption that your approach to faith is the only valid one. However, you do not sit in judgment of Kimberly or anyone else. You can believe that Kimberly is not a Christian, but you do not determine that for her. You speak of her saying, “I this” and “I that” (which, I might point out, is kind of the point of a blog), yet you have the audacity to say, “I have to tell you that you are not a Christian” as though you had the final word on the state of her soul and not our Lord. The relationship Kimberly has with God, and the journey of faith she is on, is between her and God. No matter what you believe, it is not your responsibility to save her…as if you had that power anyway. You can continue to quote Scripture to a woman who has a seminary degree (I have one as well) if you would like, but please rest assured that we know the Bible well. You’d just be wasting your time.

          Peace and Love,
          The Rev. Rachel Frank

    • Kimberly ended her beautiful and difficult reflection on crucifixion and resurrection with the crux of it all–death, resurrection, and faith. The words are “love, compassion, and forgiveness.” If we spent a lifetime aspiring to nothing more we would embody all that Christt ever asked of us … and we would spend a lifetime botching it more than we get it right, even when we try with all our might.

      We have no power to de-christianize someone. It is earthly spite and fear and misunderstanding that lead us to condemnation rather than “love, compassion, and forgiveness.”

      I pray for these things for you, Paul, to the depths of your soul where God cries out, in all of us, to be heard more than we care to listen.

      I pray for these things for me, Paul, that I may find that for you in my heart in an authentic way.

      I pray for us both at the same time, and I ask that the Lord sort out the rest.


    • 2
      Tim 4:3 could be taken many ways – who’s to say you and yours are not
      the ones turning away from sound doctrine (the main message of the Big J
      was “love each other, be nice to each other, take care of each other”
      and “don’t judge each other”). Step outside the little box you have stuck yourself in and look at the world from another perspective- you might learn something.

      And you wonder why so many are leaving the church?

  4. Kimberly, having just come across your blog, I hope you’ll forgive me for replying to two less-than-recent-posts at once. 🙂 A few comments on this post: the notion of being washed in the blood of Christ is in *no* way indisolubly linked with a Penal-substitution model of the atonement, nor has it as its orgin, as your entire article seems to presume; since, as you also seem to recognize above, the main ways of describing Christ’s redemptive work on the cross before the Reformation were not conceived (at least primarily) in a penal-substitionary way. And yet the notion of being “washed in the blood of the Lamb” goes back to the 1st century. I would propose that in a more accurate and biblical view, it is about being purified by the very life(blood) of the incarnate Son of God, not about a placating a blood-thirsty vengeful God (how could the blood of a victim judged “guilty” cleanse us anyway?). Thus, I submit to you that a more biblical, and historical, rather than strictly penal-juridcal (& Protestant) view would alleviate your concern. See, for example, F.X. Durrwell’s marvelous work on the Resurrection (1950). Lastly, if you read the lyrics to the hymn you’ve linked above, you’ll notice there is nothing in it necessarily smacking of penal-substitution atonement (even IF its author adhered to such an idea). Because, again, being washed in Christ’s blood is a thoroughly biblical, and Christian idea that need not have anything to do with the rather tyrannical view of God you rightly abhor. Christ’s blood is a gift of love unto death for us (Lk 22:20), not one of enduring God’s hatred so we don’t have to.

  5. P. S. I thank you for the music. I recommend a book for you: Blood Done Signed My Name., Tyson. Grace and Peace.

  6. As I remember this, Jesus is said to have died on a cross for me. This offended the Greeks. I have a hard time separating my thinking from the Greek way of thinking. The Hebrews of Jesus’ day who converted were trying to make sense out of a hoped for Messiah and Jesus fit their bill. The longer I reflect on the silly, stupid , self-centered, ugly sins that have left me unwilling to accept any need for washing….the more I attempt, brilliantly…to explain how I don’t need THAT kind of forgiveness….The more I see I might also be scandalized by such assertions. But if that powerful a love was in the life of that young Hebrew Jesus trying to understand his calling by accepting a public execution by the Roman State, maybe even overeducated, under-sacrificing and serving me can get a glimmer of how vulnerable the Almighty is willing to be. This fish might just be landed THIS Easter, or the first Easter…or in one of all those everlasting Easter’s to come. My ass might already be covered. On to the foot of the Paschal lamb.

  7. As I remember this, the idea that Jesus dying on the cross for me scandalized the Greeks. I have a tough time separating my thinking from Greek thinking. Hebrews in the days of Jesus had witnessed miraculous power in his words and deeds. The longer I reflect on the power of God to forgive me, the less difficult it is for me to connect this young Hebrew’s effort to follow the way of his people and to act in a way that confirmed for him…and maybe even me, that his execution by the Roman State has power NOW to reveal to me….as well as too many who have loved me too well, for me to stay so brilliantly, newly informedly…that it doesn’t make since that He could be a Paschal Lamb slaughted for my ugly, stupid, self-centered, overeducated, under-experienced in sacrifice and service, self. Maybe Jesus was…and still is…and still ever shall be…vulnerable enough to risk clarifying who and in that sense what TRUTH I need, to be brought into HIS kingdom here and hopefully everywhere. My ass has been covered.

  8. So the whole Deuteronomy thing… where God told them to kill things in a very specific way to atone for the nations sins. God was just kidding?

    • Nope, that was men writing down what they projected onto God to justify their ancient rituals established as a way for humans to try to understand and at times control the actions of gods they believed would only be appeased by blood.

      Invite you to take a little time to read more of the comments here on this post to see how others have talked about the practice of OT sacrifices.

      • I ask this question in all seriousness:
        If there are problematic and disconcerting passages in the bible that are to be considered ‘simply a sign of the times’ so to speak…why not simply create a new bible without those passages that do not apply as god’s message? What’s the purpose of leaving these ‘not from god’ passages and stories? Why not make a ‘New Holy Bible’ that doesn’t require a reader to attempt to differentiate between ‘passages written by men to justify their actions’ and ‘passages intended as the inspired word of god’?

        It’s just…there *are* people out there that utilize things like the passages in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Judges, Timothy, etc. to justify divine precedent for things many other people consider immoral or atrocious. I mean, it’s not like there are any disclaimers in any part of the bible that say ‘the following are strictly the viewpoints of human beings of their time and not representative of god’ or ‘the following are divinely inspired and thusly should be interpreted as such’.

        Or has this new revision of the bible been compiled already?

        • Kind of. Thomas Jefferson came up with a version that suited him. Nowadays things are a bit more subtle. We obfuscate and lose disagreeable statements (such as those about Christ’s blood, and redemption, and atonement for our sins…) in the jungle of theological convenience.

      • I would have to say I disagree. I believe that blood is clearly needed to absolve humanity of their sins. The need of blood is found throughout the OT, and if this part in inaccurate for what God wanted, then the rest of the Bible should be thoroughly questioned as well.

        I don’t believe it was just a view of mankind that gods could only be appeased by blood. God gave clear instructions against pagan rituals, even giving them laws that would prohibit them from engaging in such practices. For a God so against pagan rituals it seems strange He would not take a stand against this.

        Sin is so destructive that the penalty for even one sin is death. One sin separates us from God and blood is needed in order to clear the debt. That’s why the penalty is death. Sin is a huge problem and was solved through Jesus. Only God could sway the wrath of God and thus Jesus was the final sacrifice. The final Passover Lamb. His blood covered our debt and makes us right in the eyes of God.

        I fear that anything less of this will simply make light our sin and how devastating it really is.

  9. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22
    Jesus was under the law until he fulfilled it by shedding his blood for those who would believe..all that the Father gave Him.

  10. God did not need a blood sacrifice, Satan did. What ever happened between Satan and God is the reason Jesus had to do what He did. Satan thought he was as important as God because Satan had the keys to eternity. When he was cast out he took the keys with him. The only way to get them back was for God Himself to become human, die a sinners death, and then go to Satan and get the keys back. Satan saw Jesus as the most sinful man ever. This allowed Jesus to just walk right up to Satan and claim the keys to the kingdom for eternity.

    God did not want blood, Satan did, and he got it in the form of Jesus because Jesus was willing to die for you and I.

    • Yep, he was talking to Peter who would not let him wash his feet – with water – as an active of radical hospitaltiy and love. This act of the rabbi that Peter recognized as God seemed to Peter to be beneath his Lord. By Jesus insisting he wash Peter’s feet he was demonstrating the servant-leader paradigm and asking that Peter submit to this act of love and radical hospitality.

      This has absolutely nothing to do with the notion of being washed in Jesus’ blood or God needing a blood sacrifice.

      • Yes it was a radical hospitality and love. It also encompasses the symbolic washing of the blood, unless we all receive, we will never be clean. Jesus’ acts of love and humanity are demonstrations of God’s love for each of us. Within each act, there is symbolism represented that speaks for the moment the acts were done and represents eternal love.

        • That really is humanly constructed theology layered over the actual words and act which were of themselves symbolic of course but not about blood atonement. There is nothing in that actual act that speaks of blood and for one (of millions) who reject the archaic theology of PSA I do not now or ever read that text to have anything to do whatsoever with being washed in blood. The symbolism points to the subversive act of servant leadership not the desire of a loving God to sacrifice an innocent to somehow magically right the wrongs of humanity.

      • I agree with your rejection of penal substitution but am uncomfortable with the “Moral Exemplar” theory of atonement you seem to be using as I think it’s far to reductive of Christ’s activity in our lives . My interpretation of that passage is that Christ “washes” us with His Grace in that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit enables us to obey God. Radical obedience of the sort that washes the feat of another like that is how one partakes in the washing of Grace.

        My interpretation of what it means to be bought by Christ’s blood involves the whole of the Incarnation including the Cross. When Christ became one of us, He united to us as a species. Not only that but Creation itself became a part of God. Christ lived a perfect life, died a perfect death, and then destroyed the bonds of death as no human being ever did before, thus creating a new paradigm. All of a sudden, it is possible to break the bonds of death and ascend to the perfection of the Father, not because He was previously shutting us out, but because there was simply no way to do so yet. Christ was only occasionally in some people in a very limited capacity (such as when David became full of the Spirit of God and dancing before the Ark). When God became one of us and thus sanctified everything we are, culminating in Him conquering death by pouring Himself out to it, then at that moment all of humanity was saved. The only work left to do is to embrace His washing and learn to enjoy our “part” in Him.

        At least, I think that makes sense. It’s still a work in progress.

    • Jesus Christ did not fare well in the Age of Pisces. For Christianity, the whole Age of Pisces was warped with anti-materialism mixed with the shedding of blood as a sort of badge of honor, a show of willingness to forgo the bodily existence in order to “prove” the loyalty of the believer to a God that demanded it, at least from someone who according to Piscean Christian doctrine was Jesus standing in for all humanity while still somehow beyond logic, remaining a God-Man.

      A Son of God who by definition would be eternal could never experience the fears of a mortal man facing extinction of life. What? Would Jesus cross his fingers behind his back and pretend to be mortal? The whole Pauline vicarious sin-atonement Mystery Religion idea that a god-man’s agonizing death, usually by crucifixion as this is actually a major astrological symbol in the yearly procession of the planets around the sun against the stellar background that is coupled with a dying sun and dying vegetation in the winter and rebirth in the spring symbolizing Life annual recovery was a model for the human soul that can resurrect to an afterlife. An ancient idea and another one taken out of Egypt by ancient Hebrews and reworked into the Hebrew religious system. Compared to Osiris for example, Jesus gets off lightly with crucifixion. But both are “saved” after their astrological three day descent into the Abyss by Divine Intervention, God Most High in the Jewish case, and Isis in the Egyptian one. Ishtar saved Tammuz in the Babylonian version of the astrological mythology.

      But Pauline Christianity really did get hung up on that Old Testament idea that only by sacrificial bloodshed is anyone “redeemed”. This idea is denounced in the Old Testament actually and yet Pauline Christianity latched onto it with all claws and teeth not letting go even today in the face of the irrationality of the whole idea that a god who lives for ever and has god-like powers, could ever suffer the same as a human being. It’s blatantly make-believe theology without a lick of sense to it. Maybe that’s why it lasts so long with fundamentalist believers who wouldn’t be called that if they believed sensibly since Bible inerrancy belief is itself completely irrational.

      Anyway, glorifying bloodshed of Christ is so coupled to “Christians” voting their proxy blood-letters who go off to kill whatever enemies are pointed at, Israel’s enemies in our case here in America because we are Israel’s puppets, that it becomes a shadow war cry of blood-thirsty “Christians” eager to shed somebody’s blood somewhere because their God did it so it must OK. But it’s not OK..
      Blood is meant to be kept inside its vessels where it keeps Life alive. Let’s glorify Life alive and not death, hideous death at that. My cross is an ankh, a cross one can easily carry that Jesus demanded for those who would follow Him, unlike a 250 lb. Roman crucifixion cross no normally muscled person could possibly carry. But then my Christianity is Gnostic and has read the esoteric astrological coding within the Gospels that makes sense of the extreme symbolism used to rely God’s love through the Spirit of Christ that suffered in the Age of Pisces. As you can see I follow a radical modern Gnostic Christian path and one that will not experience the demolition of all Abrahamic religions based on the Bible including Pauline Christianity.

  11. I agree with this piece and its tone. Maybe i will post a piece I wrote on the subject. Penal substitution is only one model of the atonement and one I have found personally damaging. I refer you to Rob Bell, James Allison, Steve Chalk and philosopher Gierard for such alternative views. One is that Jesus acted as a scapegoat and in so doing allowed us to kill him and revealed the extent of God’s love and how it does not require sacrifice. In this way it links to Old Testament themes.

  12. As someone raised in an Eastern Christian Church, I’ve always found the blood-lust associated with redemption in Reform Christianity to be, at best, curious and often times nothing less than repulsive. While it’s something I contend with serving as clergy in a denomination rooted in the Reform tradition, concepts like the doctrine of depravity and substitutionary atonement seem to me to be fundamentally divergent with the roots of Christianity.

    I was raised with the understanding the that the incarnation (divinity taking on humanity) was the heart of salvation. The letter to the Phillipians presents the ancient hymn: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God as something to be clung to. Rather, he emptied self…” This self-emptying, kenosis in Greek, is the act through with the Divine restores union and communion with humanity that brings Jesus into the human condition at birth and leads him through death to new life. The kenosis of the incarnation leads to the theosis of the resurrection, in which we are all called to share.

    In this process, there’s no miserly deity counting up sins and demanding blood-atonement for every time I take the Lord’s name in vain while driving on a local freeway. Instead, the invitation to experience the love of the Holy One through the process of both kenosis and theosis restores us to union with the Divine, i.e. salvation.

    Bottom line: I find Kimberly’s reflection to be a post-modernist critique of theology that, while held dear by some, fails to adequately convey the wonder of grace and God’s goodness. Yes, while in sin, God sent the Christ – not as a debt-collector gone bad but to bring life.

  13. It occurred to me as I was watching The Bible last night (I’m a week behind b/c I don’t really want to watch it) in the Abraham-Isaac story that we miss the point entirely. In an era when human sacrifice was common, this God made a point of rejecting human sacrifice. Then we privilege an atonement theory that is human sacrifice? Yahweh: rejecting human sacrifice since Isaac.

  14. So after much thought, prayer and conversation with my online community I have decided to leave the title as it is. I know this is problematic for me but the voices of my peers who have encouraged me to leave it alone, that the “voice of a prophet” must sometimes afflict the comfortable (though great googly moogly, I am hardly a prophet), that sometimes we need to grap people’s attention to snap them out complacent and “dangerous” theology – these voices ring far truer in my ears and heart than the voices who invite me to censor myself.

    I do take seriously the words I choose to use – if you’ve read a single other post of mine I sure hope you know that. It does concern me that some may experience my language as unloving – but using the phrase I did to title this blog was in no way meant to be unloving – quite the contrary in fact. And the truth is, this is how I speak, this is how I write so I will go with being true to my inner voice and not be ashamed to share it out loud.

    And yes, I risk losing some readers, I do know that. I am sorry if that is the case but ultimately I am not writing to gain a fan base. I am writing to speak the truth as I know it. Thanks be to God for my voice and the often faltering courage to use it. And than you to all my friends and readers who support me in so many ways. Thank you for the folks who made the choice – even a pastor or two – who have told me that they sent this post, as is, to their whole congregation. And thank you to the friends and readers who DO challenge me to keep thinking about the words I use and how they impact others.

    Thank you all for being on this journey with me as I fumble through this radical thing called Grace.

    Much love,

    • I find it interesting that so many progressives, even those who tout themselves as Believers, have no qualms using (what most people would find to be) offensive language in their writings. They somehow feel that doing so empowers them – makes them “edgy” or “hip” in a way that can not be realized if they didn’t do so. I at first found myself puzzled by this dismissal of Christian morays, but then realized that it fits perfectly with the progressive’s penchant to ignore traditional (accepted) Scripture interpretation, preferring rather to seek their version of things. (What is mind blowing is that these theological neophytes can’t see that they are ignoring centuries of study and prayer of some of the greatest theologians in history, just so they can have their own interpretation of things. The Scripture says that a blood sacrifice was needed? Why, just say that that’s not what the Bible says … or that the Bible is just using the blood sacrifice thing as a picture of what God has done, not to be taken literally … or that the Bible is flawed and that we shouldn’t take that language seriously.) But I digress. The two – using offensive language and discarding traditional/Biblical interpretation – go hand in hand with each other. The importance of self is more important than accepted and settled tradition.

      • WOB,

        You know, I thought a lot about your comment off and on today. What you (and certainly others) find offensive in my occasional use of coarse language is not a gimmick to make me seem edgy or trendy. As a 44 year old mamma I can tell you for sure (just ask my teenager) that I am about as far from trendy or edgy as can be in the world today. No, the language that seems to bother a few folks who are reading my blog is raw, unfiltered thoughts and emotions that percolate up when I encounter what I (and many people would find to be) offensive – such as the willful ignorance of the masses, such as people calling themselves Christian and whipping up hate and fear based on willful ignorance, such as the blasphemy of claiming that a collection of books written by men could be interpreted at the literal and final word of God, such as obsessing over SOME biblical laws while discarding others, such as holding a death grip on the laws such that compassion is strangled, such as fixation on church law that alienates (and even kills some) – the very things Jesus preached against and liberated us from. If you are more offended by my passionately raw language than the twisting of scripture to provide justification for oppression then I promise me I find your way of talking and thinking as deeply offensive as you do mine. And I can promise you that I find penal substitutionary atonement to be about the most sickeningly offensive theology of all so my words barely begin to convey the repulsion at claiming that our God would need or require such. I am real, I am transparent, I am holding up a light for the world to see, and sometimes when this little light of mine falls just right it reveals some pure ugliness in the world.


  15. I think the direction you take misses other things that the Bible brings to the table. The connections with Passover, Romans 5, Jesus’ words at supper and so forth. I wouldn’t say that PSA is the only thing going on, but it is the means by which we can speak of salvation in other forms.

  16. Hi Kimberly, What is the purpose of the old testament sacrificial system, which was said to be necessary to atone for the sin(s) of ancient Israel? (this isn’t a trick question :). I’m interested in your take on it.


    • Wayne, I invite you to read the comments below to see what I and others have said about this.

  17. Keep the title or leave the title. This should be your choice. You need to decide for whom you’re writing this blog. Edgy titles will drive some folks away. You need to decide how much that bothers you.

    • That is a good and fair question Mike – I am writing to express truth as I understand it but I am also writing with and for the community around me. The question then is how to balance honoring my own voice and the hearts and ears of my community…

  18. Kimberly-I disagreed so strongly with your main point, although not your whole posting that I wrote a posting myself and included Dr. Aymer’s comment since I felt it was over the top. I understand if you wish to delete since I am adding a link. But I think it is important to tell you what I wrote. I put a video at the end because I also felt your video was making fun and of the subject of the posting as well as the posting. I became a Christian when as a teenager I went forward to join the church. It was when the pastor of the church took my hand and asked did I believe the blood of Christ cleansed us from all sin that the Holy Spirit opened the truth of the Scripture to me. I had been praying a few months before that God would help me understand the Bible. I became a Christian that night-I was 15; today I am 72 and Jesus has walked beside me ever since. http://www.naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2013/03/kimberley-knight-margaret-aymer-on.html

    • Nah, I think it is great that you posted your response and I truly appreciate the respect you showed by not posting your whole response here in the comments. When folks have that much to say it really is more respectful to blog it on your own site rather than hijack this blog.

      That being said, I disagree with you as strongly as you disagree with me 🙂

      I am not making fun of the theology, I am faithfully calling it what it is, dangerous. I hope you will explore some of the comments here on this post that speak to the fact that PSA theology is not only rejected by a whole historical segment of CHristianity but is inconsistent with the the theology of a God who is all loving.

      • Kimberly I have read most of the comments here and disagree with most. I believe God’s loving kindness and justice are completed in Jesus’s death on the cross; after all He is God as well as human. One would have to tear away most of the scripture to reject the sacrificial death of Christ. Yes there have been others throughout church history who disagreed–but the church generally has not accepted their ideas. As for the Orthodox, Greek, etc., while they believe that God’s (read Trinity-Father, Son and Holy Spirit) wrath at the cross was aimed clearly at sin and death, functioning not so much as a substitution but as a death dealing ending-they nonetheless would not disdain the blood of Christ (his death) as the means of the action. In fact, as I write this it dawns on me that in some ways your posting has slipped from being about “being washed in the blood” to being about the penal substitution theory of atonement. They are not exactly the same thing. There are several theories that all work together including the PSA one.
        I put this quote in another place-it is by Thomas Oden, I will place it here
        “The satisfaction and Christus Victor themes come closer to being consensual approaches (In the tradition of the Irenaeus, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Anselm, and Calvin) then the others. All four need some corrective voices from the others to form an adequate teaching. They are best viewed as complementary.The scriptural and ecumenical teaching of atonement requires a good balance of the moral nature of man, moral government of God, the substitution of Christ for us in our place, and the consequent victory of Christ over demonic powers.” (p.414 The Word of Life)
        I am afraid I have blogged again, sorry.

  19. Reading all of these posts makes me feel like I am back in Seminary again….
    Kimberly it seems like your post with the perceived heretical title has ruffled some feathers…good on you! Don’t change a thing, the job of the prophet is to afflict the comfortable. I have never gone back and changed the title (or content ) of a sermon because people didn’t like it or didn’t agree with me…maybe sometimes we need to not like what we are reading or hearing because that invites us to have a conversation with ourselves or others about why it bothers us, or pokes at us , it calls us in to examin our beliefs and that is never a bad thing .
    Personally, I laughed with delight (and some relief)at your title because someone finally said what I have always thought but was not brave enough to say. Jesus never talks about himself as a sacrifice and I don’t know why we keep insisting that he is…all of that blood language doesn’t do it for me…I have removed it from most of the liturgy that I use during communion and gently try to steer the hymn picking committee away from bloody hymns too. I don’t like it and don’t agree with it…obviously some of your readers do and a fairly fascinating conversation has ensued. Again…good on you for being the prophet that made us open our ears and our minds today…folks its called THEOLOGY….how we think about God, and frankly I find some of the forms and content of the conversations that have taken place here today far more vulgar in their tones than the title or content of your blog. Today I agreed with you…other days I might not, I appreciate the change to evoke and invoke and provoke the prophet in us all!

    • Amen sister! Thank you for your support and thank you for those days when you don’t agree with me and you gently and faithfully challenge me 🙂

  20. Hi Kimberly!

    Nice post. I agree with what you’re saying. Hope you don’t mind a non-Christian commenting…?

    I like your post for it makes more sense than most of what I see paraded as Christianity. The incredible violence and bloodshed in the bible is #1 reason I am not Christian. The actions of Christians towards non-Christians and especially the LBGTQ folks is also a major reason. There is much in the bible I simply don’t believe. I don’t see it as the inerrant word of god. I see it as a collection of ancient fragmented texts from highly superstitious, warring tribal peoples filled with often horrific tales of violence and the fanciful exploits of heroes and heroines, deities and demons.
    Do I believe God ordered all those killings and acts of violence and revenge? No. Why in the world would God do that? I believe the primitive cultures at the time attributed much of the workings of the world that they could not understand to the works of deity/deities they could not comprehend nor had much access to.

    Do I believe Jesus was the son of God? No. I believe he was just an average guy born the old fashion way who saw the hypocrisy of the world around him; especially the religious and political leaders of his time, did his own soul searching and figured it out, then did his best to make a difference in the world.

    Did Jesus intend to be put on a pedestal and worshiped as god? No. If he did then I have no need of him. I make it a practice to not worship any human, especially one that claims to be a half human/deity hybrid.

    Does that mean I dismiss the bible outright? Well, yes; mostly. Right there is enough for many Christians to want to skewer me on a pike which brings it around to the actions of Christians; ‘How dare you say that about our holy book and god!’ ‘Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?’ ‘How can you have any decent morals when you’re not a believer?’ Why is it when you are not a Christian you’re automatically labeled more or less an enemy?

    My point is I suppose is that I can appreciate the concepts that Jesus was trying to convey; love, compassion, forgiveness, taking care of each other, etc. The biggest lesson I see from him on the cross was forgiveness. I mean, here is a guy who did his damnedest to spread the simple yet profound concept that god is love. That’s it. Nothing else needed to apply. And all it got him was killed. Jesus had all the right to be flat out pissed about that. But, with his last breath what did he do? He forgave his murderers. He showed a love so deep, an understanding so profound that he forgave the people he saw as lost in the confines of the culture they had created and was trapped by. He held no hate, no ill will. He forgave and still loved them. That to me is incredible. That to me is the ultimate of ‘turn the other cheek’. That to me is what real love, compassion and forgiveness is all about: that god is indeed love.

    So, all this violence and bloodshed by god, the concept that god even needs or wants violence to gain your love is not only ludicrous it is highly damaging.

    You see, for me the bible actually got it backwards: it is not ‘love god with all your heart and soul.’ No, that is not it; for it means if you don’t then god will make your life a living hell. That is not a loving deity in any way.

    The message I get from the bible, from Jesus is: ‘You are loved.’

    YOU are loved.

    Simple. And profound.

    For God’s love IS profound; God’s love is deep, down to your very core, heart and soul. God’s love is pure. God’s love is the matrix that is the basis this reality, this world is built on. God’s love is everywhere, in everything and in everyone.

    God is Love.

    When you feel this incredibly deep, pure Love from God it truly does transform you. You realize that were never lost; you were never not loved, never forsaken. God forsakes no one. God has loved you even before your first heartbeat, your first breath and will love you for all eternity.

    You are Loved.

    When you feel this you begin to love yourself too. I mean, God loves me. Loves me! As I am, right here, right now. Incredible! If that is true, then why cannot I love myself, see myself as God does; as his very own child? When you feel this; and I mean feel, not necessarily understand fully for how can you comprehend the vastness that is God? You can’t. You feel it. God’s love is beyond the human mind’s ability to fully grasp. But you can fully accept. You begin to forgive and heal yourself as God has you. You strive to be Love in action.

    You love yourself as God loves you.

    And when you feel this all encasing, deep and profound love that is God you naturally want to share it. You want to BE it and give it to everyone you see.

    Love others as you yourself; as God loves you.

    So, to recap: the Message is Love: God is Love. You are Loved. Be the Love. Share the Love by loving others.

    BE the Love.

    Be the Peace.

    But as it happens many forget this. As a result they feel lost, less than, vulnerable and afraid. They act out their fears and often it came out as oppression and violence. Jesus saw all this and tried to share the Love of God in the context of the cultures at the time. Unfortunately the simple message of ‘God is Love, You are Loved for God Loves You’ was horribly misunderstood and applied through threats of violence and isolation.

    So, I can appreciate the lesson of Love that Jesus was demonstrating with his life and his death. I don’t need to put him on a pedestal and worship him because of it. I can look to the example his life was; ‘God and I are one’; and see the aspect of him being loved by God as we all are. In this I can say that yes; he is the son of God. And so are you, myself and everyone on this Earth. I just don’t need to Jesus put on a pedestal and worship him to feel this. Nor do I need to put everyone on a pedestal either.

    I can however strive to love and respect everyone. I strive to comprehend compassion, forgiveness, love and help them heal.

    That to me is the message of Jesus.

    And, man, can that be a hard thing to do. Just look how we treat each other. What a mess we’ve made of this world, of ourselves; of the simple concept of We Are Loved. Does that make me a Christian? Perhaps. But, I don’t think that was the goal Jesus wanted of folks. But, by looking at the example of Jesus’ life and message, and of others who felt the same Love that is God and tried their best to emulate and share it; I can strive to be like them.

    Thanks for letting me share, Kimberly!

    Be the Peace,

    ~ julia

    • Thank you. You have expressed more eloquently than I have ever done, why Good Friday, and NOT Easter or Christmas, is what I find the most holy of the Christian holidays. Easter is simply the punctuation mark on the truly miraculous act of love.

  21. I wish I could get together with everyone who is a part of this discussion for A Theology in the Pub Night. But London, Ontario is probably a bit far to drive for a pub night, eh!

  22. For some of the respondents here who hold to a PSA-or-bust attitude toward soteriology: You are completely missing the point that the Eastern branch of Christianity, arguably the oldest extant expression of Christianity, has NEVER accepted the PSA doctrine — ever. And even in the West, PSA was largely a product of the Middle Ages, of religious thinkers like Anselm. For much of Christian history and for half the Christian population of the world, PSA simply wasn’t on the map; yet Christianity was alive and well, thank you very much. So even if you’re attracted to PSA as a soteriological theory, you need to accept the fact that it is not the only or the primary way that Christians understand the Incarnation and Christ’s Passion.

    For a more nuanced understanding of biblical themes of blood sacrifice in general and Jesus’ suffering in particular, I’d recommend the writings of Rene’ Girard, a theologian who — echoing one of the respondents here — suggested that these things were not the requirements of a bloodthirsty “just” God but rather of a dysfunctional human race hardwired with a taste for blood retribution. There’s a website, http://girardianlectionary.net, that discusses the Gospel readings for each Sunday (for those of us who follow a lectionary) from a Girardian perspective. This may be helpful for people recovering from fundamentalism or who simply have a hard time trying to understand the bloodier parts of Scripture from a contemporary standpoint. You might also be interested in Googling “Christus Victor” to read about a different soteriological perspective that is affirmed at least in part (because we believe that a number of valid ways to understand the “why” of Jesus exist in a kind of creative tension) by many mainstream Christians.

    Finally: As a Lutheran Christian, I believe that our salvation is not contingent on thinking the right things about God. God saves us; not our own pretensions of thinking/feeling/doing the “right” thing. I feel genuine sorrow for fellow sinners who live their lives in terror of not passing a divine final exam. That fear keeps us from living truly freely and joyfully into our callings to love God and love the people around us. The Gospel — the real Gospel, the real good news — is that God loves us, means us well and constantly calls us into a living, loving, transformative relationship.

  23. I enjoy reading your blog because it has, thus far, been a progressive place where questions are asked and encouraged. However, I’m seriously disappointed by the title of this blog because it doesn’t invite questions; the spirit of it is very much making a negative statement about something that others still hold very dear in their belief system. We have been learning about this very subject at church, and our pastor is teaching the same thing that you’re talking about here, but she is doing so with gentleness and love because she knows that so many in her congregation have spent their lives being taught (and believing in) the concept of “Jesus cleansing blood.” I think that her gentleness and love over the subject is opening the hearts of many to hear a different way of looking at the death and resurrection of Jesus, but your title automatically shames those who are questioning this concept or still believe it’s true. I have had a link to this blog on our blog, but I took it down today after reading this blog because I don’t want any of my EXTREMELY conservative family members to be directed to a blog where they might read the title to this blog and automatically not feel welcomed to question (or even think about) their long held beliefs (as I greatly desire for them); they would only be offended by the title, disregard what you have to say (which, in reading, they might have benefited from), and discount you and everything you have to say. You responded to Deborah with “the notion of a blood sacrifice needed by an all loving God is ugly, offensive and childish theology. Once in a while what is true is offensive – as Jesus found out.” I agree that the truth can be offensive, but I wish that you would speak the truth in love so that it is only the truth that is offensive and not your words that are offensive. I do believe that you can communicate this issue while remembering to communicate it in such a way that all are welcomed to question instead of starting with a statement that would cause those who don’t see any other way but a blood sacrifice to rise up in defense so quickly that they can’t even consider what it is you’re saying.

    • Stephanie I hear you. And I feel your concern. And I can accept that my choice of title can be hurtful and alienating.

      I stand by the post with great conviction and as you see in the comments even as I maintain my deeply held belief I have engaged comments (not deleting or silencing anyone).

      But I hear you and upon reflection (and knowing that I worried in the first place) I will work to come up with a better title and change it.

      I will not ask you to add my blog back to your blog roll – that is not why I am changing it and frankly I don’t think that my title is the only thing that your very conservative family member would find offensive or problematic.

      • I really appreciate your consideration, Kimberly. And I’m not worried about family members finding good honest truth and love offensive because then they have no basis for argument. 🙂

        • I do hope you know that unlike some bloggers that I can hear and accept when I too, like us all, can make better choices with my words and yet remain true to my convictions. I’ve floated the idea of a change out to my community on FB and a few have said don’t change the title and one has offered a new title that suits the edge I want to use “Damned Crucifixion”. I am considering something long the lines of “Damned by His Blood, Redeemed by His Love”.

  24. A meditative read through the book of Hebrews should be able to resolve confusion. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

  25. A meditative read through the book of Hebrews should resolve confusion. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

  26. Hi KevinC, I’m a half Conservative. 🙂 What do they say about money that you were referencing

    • I’m thinking of things like the Parable of the Rich Man and His Barns, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, “Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” the thing about how if you have two coats and someone else has none you should give them one of yours, “lay up for yourselves not treasures on Earth, but lay up treasures in Heaven, for where your treasures are, there will your heart be also,” where Jesus tells his disciples to be like the lilies of the field and not concern themselves with what to wear or planning for the future (kinda hard to square with an investment portfolio and a 401K)…you know…pretty much everything Jesus ever had to say about money. Then there’s the fact that Jesus and his disciples are portrayed keeping all their funds in common. IIRC it’s in the Gospel of Luke, there’s a reference to Judas embezzling funds from “the bag” (i.e., his and the disciples’ common pool). This is referenced again in the lead-up to the story of Ananias and Sappira in Acts, where it says that the early Christian community kept all things in common. Sorry, I don’t have time right now to go and look up all the passages.

      While Jesus never forbids property ownership outright, he never commends the pursuit of wealth. Even in the Parable of the Talents, the servants are managing someone else’s money, not enriching themselves, and I doubt that the message of the parable was “I want you all to make profits on Wall Street. When there is a Wall Street.”

      In a nutshell, AFAICT it’s awfully hard to reconcile Jesus’ teachings on money, social justice, and how to treat the poor with the current Republican/Evangelical/”Conservative”* project of treating Atlas Shrugged as the Newer Testament.

      *BTW, what are the current crop of Republicans who call themselves “conservative” trying to conserve, anyway? I doubt that Edmund Burke would recognize them, or want them in his tribe. Not attacking you, Seth, I have no idea what your views are. It just seems to me that what we now call “conservative” (“Frack the planet and society! I wanna increase my quarterly profits! I got mine, and devil take the hindmost!”) doesn’t have a whole lot to do with any genuine attempt to conserve traditions or pass down a civilization worth preserving for another thousand years. 🙂

  27. Penal substitutionary atonement is a very late development Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas 11th -12th – nearer our time than that of Christ. Biblical Theology talks more about our dying with Christ and rising with Him in Baptism. Why we should think penally when Christ came to to fulfil the Law with love not with more Law. I think Penal Substitutionary Atonement is coming back to Britain via fundamentalist, conservative evangelicals and as one of Britain’s evangelists says it sounds like cosmic child abuse. I think concentrating on the wrath of God not his love is counter-productive and not Biblical. I’m glad others feel the same. There is a good book in Britain by Lorraine Cavanagh called ‘Making Sense of God’s Love: Atonement and Redemption’.

  28. I’m sad I spent so many years buying into the “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” theology. I’m glad to have met and learned so much from theologians like you who teach and share this different and more… educated perspective. My next many years will be so different than the first!

    • You are such a radiant light of love and joy and I am honored to call you my friend West Coast Kimberly!

  29. This is where, in my judgment, Western theology got it wrong from the very beginning and the evidence is in the continued pain and confusion about Jesus. Even the idea that the cross damns us is messed up. The cross is this: Christ defeating death by death itself. It isn’t a symbol of our shame, it is the reality of how God opens the gates of eternity for our participation. The cross is the very reality of how God has healed death.

    I’m not guilty, I’m ignorant and imperfect. That is my sin and Lent is an offering of my humility and putting to death the addiction I have to the world as I experience it – a fallen place with only spots of beauty that pierce through it. That’s not reality. God is reality.

    Heretical yes. The penal idea is totally heretical and the early church would have deemed it Anathema.

  30. Hey, I just want to say that I really appreciate the tone of our discussion here – that even though this is a very hard topic to disagree about I really feel like y’all are brining a level of disagreement laced with faithful respect. If I get too edgy I will work to dial it back a notch – really, really (in my best Shrek voice). I appreciate good dialogue and do NOT expect everyone to be on the same page. Thank you for being at the table.

  31. Thank you!

    “Second is the more esoteric question of HOW exactly such a sacrifice would pay for “sins”? There simply has been no answer to this question that I have encountered in my reading, praying, discerning life that satisfactorily answers this big fat how.”


    I’m not a Christian, and this is one of several reasons why. I recently had a post on my blog about this concept too!

  32. The title of your piece was meant to provoke….maybe to get people to read it. And it worked with me .
    But it occurs to me that even if I agreed with your interpretation of God and/or Christ, I don’t like intra-religion disrespect any more than I like inter-religion disrespect.

    It’s one thing to state your opinion so that you are not counted as a Christian with THOSE PEOPLE. Maybe sometimes one needs to do that. But the intolerance of other opinions/religious beliefs expressed in the title is ugly and divisive (in a childish sort of way) no matter who it’s aimed at.

    • I can agree with that Deborah, I really can. I am not entirely a fan of titles that are written to be ugly or snarky just to get readers. I worry about the title actually (and imagine I will lose some folks and risk not getting shared because of the title) but I chose those words because they are truly what is in my heart and yes I was being intentionally provocative but I also feel quite deeply and faithfully that the notion of a blood sacrifice needed by an all loving God is ugly, offensive and childish theology. Once in a while what is true is offensive – as Jesus found out.

  33. It’s one thing to say I don’t think this passage is interpreted correctly because of X or Y. It’s a different to say “this make me uncomfortable, therefore I don’t believe it” That makes what’s in your flawed heart and mind equal or higher than what is in God’s heart and mind IF you think the majority of the bible has any value as God’s word.

    I believe that God made us and that he knows what we need spiritually and psychologically. I think the animal sacrifices in the old testament were about our human need to make atonement when we did things we KNEW were wrong and for things we didn’t know about. I think human beings NEED to feel like they’ve gotten back to even ground psychologically. I mean, have you ever had someone apologize to you over and over again unable to let it go even though it wasn’t that much to you to being with? I know I’ve had people that WISHED they could have given me money or a gift (their dead animal sacrifice) to feel like they’d gotten even again. In a way this is sort of petty….but it’s very human.

    On the other side of the same psychology, I’ve seen a man “forgiven” over and over again for being violent with his wife and children. He had repentance in him. He had no desire to get to a level playing field after having wronged someone because he NEVER felt like he’d wronged someone. And when women give “forgiveness” to someone who doesn’t WANT forgiveness and is not RECOGNIZED as forgiveness but as validation of their rightness and their due— and that behavior (yelling, beating etc) is encouraged.

    The lessons here are 1) people who are genuinely repentant after doing something wrong feel a psychological debt and they want to repent and pay. 2) A (false) forgiveness given to someone who feels no debt ( and is not repentant) encourages evil. Sometimes I know the difference between the two in my daily life. But God knows the difference ALL the time whether I can see it or not.

    What if God’s way of doing things–offering Jesus’s life as payment for all our sins in the past and going forward (replacing the animal sacrifices of the old testament) is not about some limited human desire for vengeance in God’s heart (as you see it) but is INSTEAD about God’s heart inside us which has real psychological/spiritual demands for justice….for ourselves. What if we humans are the ones who can’t stop feeling bad/low without paying what we owe when we do something harmful to another? What if Jesus Christ’s death is exactly what the bible says it is–a way of paying our debt so we don’t have to worry about it–and just be grateful instead?

    There are things in the bible, I don’t understand and on the surface maybe I don’t agree with. I try to understand as part of being obedient to God. I don’t just throw things out because they make me uncomfortable. That’s not an intelligent path to any place good.

    • I understand what you are lifting up here but please understand that I (nor do many Christians) read the bible literally or believe that it is the literal/factual word of God unfiltered by human needs, desires, history and social context.

      I am not merely “uncomfortable: with the theology of penal substitutionary atonement, I believe (as do other Christians) that to be a deeply flawed, primitive theology.

      The death of God does not “pay a debt” and I can be grateful for God’s immeasurable Grace without a blood sacrifice.

    • I wonder if PSA (penal substitutionary atonement) evolved as a means of dealing with that psychological leaning within man? If we consider the uncomfortableness aspect, ransom theory albeit one of the oldest theories, tends to make a lot of folks queasy. If one combines psych leaning + uncomfortableness, it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to consider PSA as a evolutionary process.

    • I absolutely love your take and thoughtful explanation, Deborah. It puts into words exactly how I feel. Thank you!

  34. Finished reading the comments too now, I feel richer for the experience, thank you for the blog and comments xxx

    • Thank you Helen, I am glad you are here and thankful you’ve taken time to comment.

  35. I understand the deep concern. But I think this is an over reaction to fundamentalism which does entirely focus on blood sacrifice as atonement theory. And totally focuses on personal sin not community sin (injustice, discrimination, etc). BUT I think we liberals have to be careful not to throw the parts of the Jesus story (which by the way are interwoven all through salvation history) that are offensive at first glance – parts of the story that we may not understand the richness of their meaning at first glance. Instead we need to have a little faith and look deeper instead of denying it outright! Glad for your writings, but I think there is more to what Christ did than what you have boiled it down to.

    • That is entirely my point – that what Christ did is way more than what penal substitutionary atonement boils it down to.

      And not so much an overreaction I feel, but a bold proclamation of a different way of looking at Easter. We liberals tend to not speak with as much conviction as our fundamentalist sisters and brothers and we leave too much room to be watered down.

  36. Another way to say this is

    Christ did not die for our sins.
    Christ died because of our sins. Because we can be a brutal, fearful lot who when encountering God revealed as a mere man, full of love and wisdom who tells us the kingdom is at hand and all we need to realize this is to love and live compassionately with our sisters and brothers (even the scorned, least, detested and foreign) – we kill that God.

    And that God, who could have, hell, had every right to destroy this weak and hateful brood knows that there is still love and compassion in our core (because it was planted there) and returns with only forgiveness and peace.

    • Amen sister. That’s the real ugliness we face on Friday. The reality of our culpability. It was, before CNN, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, FOX News, internet, Youtube, . . . (I could go on) the most graphic, “in your face” unavoidable view of what our brokenness can result in. I learned many moons ago in one of Hebrew classes that the word for “for” could also be translated “because of” in regard to that Isaiah text “bruised because of our transgressions.” Isaiah spoke of how many would “turn their heads” and not look at the ugliness, and then rationalize this one was “smitten by God.” The Prophet actually warning that his generation as ours would slide into denial about their culpability. As you point out, we won’t “own” our ugliness, “we kill God.” It is remarkable how even “theology” works to help us turn our heads. After 30 plus years in “church” it is astonishing to me how so many refuse to see their culpability and what our “missing the mark” leads to, the kind of ugliness exhibited on the very “body” of Jesus, and eventually on others in many different forms.

      • Yes! We still wound the very body of Christ every day when we allow gross injustice and oppression to thrive.

  37. Thanks for the explanation Rebecca, I certainly agree that God uses our culture to reach out and reveal Himself. People seem to have an inward craving to pay off for the wrongs they’ve propagated. In old times, that was animal sacrifice as you pointed out. Nowadays perhaps it is volunteering, or donating to the United Way, or tithing 🙂 but despite the thought of God using our own creations to teach us about Himself, don’t you think that the very attribute of God called Justice is incomplete without, well, justice being served? I myself may want justice from time to time, but the perfect nature of God seems to entail some version of Justice that is much more just than whatever I come up with. What does that look like if we strip any recompense from it?

    Although evil men did conspire and put Jesus to death, I can’t agree that it was entirely carried out by men without the foreknowledge or volition of God. For Acts 2 says, “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge God, [but] killed by the hands of lawless men.” And later in Acts it speaks of evil men gathered against Jesus to do “whatever [God’s] hand and plan had predestined to take place.” Certainly God was active in Jesus’ death, and certainly Jesus knew about it beforehand too when he asked the Father to take away the cup if it was His will. You know what Im talking about? I see God planning for the redemption of the world through this.

    • Seth,

      I can hold onto the idea that God (in the form of Jesus) knew what was going to happen and that God allowed it to happen. I do not hold onto the idea that God caused it to happen nor that the execution of an innocent (of God’s very self) was the act of redemption. That to me is utterly unacceptable and inconsistent with the God revealed by the words and deeds of the Incarnation.

      I do not accept that God wanted, needed or willed such a brutal act in order to love and redeem me. As I said in my post, there is no explanation – complex or simple – that makes a blood sacrifice a redemptive act by a loving God.

      If we accept a God that is all loving and all powerful there is no need for that God to require that act to do some magical transformation of the relationship between Creator and Created. Just not.

      The redemption lies in the resurrected God who died a horrific death at the hands of creation and returns with only forgiveness and grace. No matter what we do, even to God, grace is free. We can not earn it and we can not reject it. We are only called to respond to that grace by loving others as radically as God loves us.

  38. If you reject the atonement, if you reject the fact that Christ died, then rose from the dead three days later, then really, you’re not a Christian. Its one of the central doctrines of Christianity.

    Or as St. Augustine said: “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. “

      • I did … I quote from your post:

        “See, I am the sort of Christian that is not theologically down with the whole subsitionary atonement thing – especially penal.”

        If you reject this, then there is NO reason for Christ to have died. He could have been just another person like Buddha or Confucius who had a bunch of great ideas on how to live your life. No divinity, no Trinity, no reason for death and ressurection.

        • As I said, it still seems like you did not read my post, or maybe not all of it , or maybe you are cherry picking to suit the lens you wear.

          I do not reject the crucifixion. I do not reject the resurrection. I most certainly did not reject Christ’s divinity.

          What I reject, as do many other Christians, is the brutal and heretical idea of a blood thirsty God that wanted or needed a blood sacrifice to right the wrongs of humans. That makes God in our image as a small and vengeful thing that is utterly inconsistent with a God that is executed by the beings that very God created and comes back with only love and forgiveness.

          • Blood thirsty God?? God sacrificed himself on the Cross .. yes fully human, fully divine, to show his love for us. Took the totality of mankind/s sin on his shoulders, so we could have eternal life with him.

            Calling such an idea “heretical” rejects the teachings of Christ himself.

            • You are utterly missing the point and we are at different ends of the Christian theological spectrum. Humans were the blood thirsty ones that killed our God. A God that rose again NOT to seek revenge but to bring love and forgiveness.

              His blood did not wash away our sins, only the radical love of a God that does not seek revenge and instead asks us to love one another as completely as we love God or ourselves is the way God frees us.

              God did not need the blood sacrifice to right anything with us – that is primitive thinking leftover from an age of animal sacrifices to appease gods. That is not the teaching of Christ. Love, compassion and forgiveness are the teachings – the actions – of Christ.

            • And you ignore the fact that you accused me of denying the divinity when in fact I did not.

  39. You miss the point completely and your title is vulgar. Making a shocking statement out of something that is sacred is highly offensive, but I guess that it doesn’t bother you at all. God bless.

  40. I find this discussion absolutely fascinating! As a former(recovering) fundamentalist preacher I would really appreciate any suggestions for resources of study that would guide me in my transition to a progressive understanding of scripture. Also, any prayers would be greatly appreciated as well. It has been and continues to be a struggle in that I am surrounded by very conservative and fundamentalist people. Thanks for this post.

    • As I’ve put in another comment try Lorraine Cavanagh ‘Making sense of God’s Love: Atonement and Redemption’. (London: SPCK 2011) Believing the literal truth of the Bible is also even more modern than penal substitutionary atonement which is Thomas Aquinas after Anselm of Canterbury. It started after the enlightenment when FACTS were thought to be important.The Protestants went for the inerrancy of the Bible and the Catholics for the infallibility of the Pope. Most Jew and early Christians understood that like parables story- telling was the best way to get a point across.Many cultures do this including the Navaho who answer questions with stories just as Jesus did.Surely we don’t think that the Good Samaritan actually existed so why do we think that Jonah and Job or even Adam and Eve. They are stories trying to explain the Human condition in the minds of people in the Stone age -to the Iron Age. They did not have our regard for FACTS!

    • Hi! I’m new to this column but really like what I’ve seen so far! I am currently reading a book called Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross by Derek Flood that speaks similarly to the column above and, as a Progressive Liberal Catholic, who is just trying to come out of the brainwashing of my Church, this is a very helpful read! I’m am a str8 LGBTQ ally with a gay trans son and have found that the Catholic Traditional views just don’t speak any longer to my reality and experiences. Still, there is much good in the Catholic heritage that can be saved.

  41. Thank You, Kimberly! Well said. Easter is chock full of symbolism and evidence of a loving Creator. The idea of Bloodthirsty deity just does not compute. (Ok, I watched Lost in Space when I was a kid.)

  42. Hi Kimberly, I can agree with some of what Mr. Grisham writes. But why couldn’t it be both? God is not 1 dimensional only. Otherwise why did He institute the sacrificial system for sins in the old covenant and then in Hebrews point to Jesus as the perfect sacrifice who was offered once for all sins for all time? Surely there is a basic human notion of justice for injustices suffered? Can we really tell the millions who died in the concentration camps that there is no true justice for them?

    • Seth,

      I think maybe you misunderstand how I read the bible and how I understand the history of our faith. I do not believe that God instituted a sacrificial system for sins. I not believe that God needed or needs any such of a thing. I understand that the Hebrew people of that time, much like people of of different traditions around the world in similar eras, were struggling to understand their relationship to God as they understood God. Some cultures believed in animal sacrifices, some in food or drink and we believe that a few have practiced human sacrifice in order to appease their gods.

      I do not believe the sacrifice of food, animals or humans is the key to justice for any human evil – most especially the atrocities of the holocaust. They have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

      • Many Jewish people do not call what happened to them during WWII the “Holocaust,” which means “whole burnt offering.” Their death was not an offering for any sin. They call it the HaShoah, the calamity or the devestation. Using the term Holocaust perpetuates the myth that anyone can pay for another person’s sin…including Jesus. Their death was a travesty, not a payment for anything they or anyone else did.

        • Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have blessed us beyond measure with your comment.

          Namaste sister, namaste.

    • Seth, if I may – animal sacrifice has been practiced throughout time and around the world as part of religious practices. Even in scripture, it shows up before it is ever demanded by God. It is a human rather than Godly invention. For example, when God made his covenant with Abraham, the specific ritual used (cutting animals in half and passing between them) is documented as a way of making an unbreakable agreement in other, surrounding cultures. So we see God using a manmade ritual which Abraham understood in order to demonstrate his commitment to his covenant with Abraham. God does not wait for us to reach his level to reach out to us – rather he is willing to deal with us where we are and in OT times, where we were included the use of animal sacrifices as a means of establishing forgiveness, covenant and fidelity between God and man. Yet even in OT times, the seeds which would undermine the practice of animal sacrifice were being sown. Repeatedly God expressed disdain for the sacrifices offered to him and a desire for hearts instead. Also, there is the fact that there was NOTHING about the execution of Jesus which met the standards for sacrifice established by God. It was a human created and directed event from start to finish.

      As to justice, think of what you really want when someone wrongs you. You want them to experience the pain which you felt. You want them to have to live with the reality of what they did. You want them to experience anguish and regret over their actions. This is far better accomplished through having eyes and hearts opened to reality than through torture or payment of debt. God’s justice does just that – it reveals everything. It makes it impossible to deny reality or hide from what you have done. It’s this facing of reality – much like the crucifixion was a display of the reality of who mankind is – which brings justice. The idea that it’s a debt to be paid or a penalty imposed is based on silly human notions. God has no need of such things. As he demonstrated with his response to the crucifixion, his response to our very worst cruelty and evil is to say, “you’ve done your worst and still I am Lord. Still I live. Still I overcome. Turn from your sin and follow my ways of love, forgiveness and life.”

      • Thank you Rebecca Trotter! I could not for the life of me understand why such a loving God would kill an animal, your answer gives me partly an answer. I am told still by my old church that Jesus’ blood atoned for our sins and the animals in the OT did too but again didn’t understand for the life of me why an animals blood? Why would a loving God pick that! It just did not seem to make any sense! I enjoyed reading this blog and some of the comments, thank you xxx

  43. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately and I’ve begun to think atonement theory is a just another cop out. Think about it for a minute, if we’re busy arguing about the cross we don’t have to deal with all those hard, messy things that Jesus actually called us to do. You know, like loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek. That said, I refuse to believe in a God that would require a blood sacrifice to forgive anything. If a sacrifice was required, it was by humanity.

  44. Of course, that theology dates back to the first century, when the sacrifice of living things was part of everyone’s religion. Consider, for instance, the taurobolium in which a bull was sacrificed on a platform with gaps in it, so that the priest or priestess would emerge “baptized in the blood” of the bull and thus purified.

    This is where the theology of Hebrews comes from. Christian theology has turned this into something far greater than a cultural imitation (because, by all means, Christianity MUST be unique).

    For this reason, I’m not offended by “blood of the lamb” imagery. I get where that comes from; and I balance that with Paul’s assertion that God raised Jesus from the dead.

    • I am not so much offended by the theology as I find it insufficient as a way to understand the salvific experience of Easter in the 21st century. I do understand where it comes from but I believe, as a progressive (maybe a process) Christian that this language points to a 1st century understanding of God that is brutal and inconsistent with a theology of liberation, love and grace.

      • As a fellow progressive (definitely process) Christian, I couldn’t agree more with your statements. I have found the work of Mark Lewis Taylor in his book, “The Executed God” to be very helpful in this regard. In that book he states, “Jesus on the cross is best viewed as what that event concretely was, an imperial execution. When understood and interpreted as that kind of death, it has a most needed, transformative effect for suffering peoples today.”

  45. The central question of Christianity is why Jesus died on the cross. The answer we are often given is he had to die so we might live. This answer seems wrong to me, God is not required to do anything. So we are left to ask why God chose to become a flesh and blood human being. The only answer that makes sense,at least to me, is that he loves us so much that he was willing to become fully human. If Jesus did not suffer on the cross the Easter story has no meaning. God loves us and shares our pain. As a parent and grandparent I would take on any kind of suffering for my children or grandchildren, at least I hope I would be that strong. I have long been troubled by the story in the Old Testament where God tests Abraham by asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. The fact that he did not make Abraham follow through does not make it seem any less cruel. I recently had a flash of insight that I think makes sense of this. God loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus to live among us, even though he knew we would crucify Jesus. The message of Easter is that through God’s Grace we are made whole. He loves us much he allowed us to put his son to death and still we are forgiven. God showed his love and mercy by allowing his baby boy to die, something he never required of Abraham.

    If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
    They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
    Woody Guthrie
    And perhaps we give a little to the poor
    If the generosity should seize us
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus.
    Jackson Browne

    • I would respectfully disagree. I do not believe the central question of Christianity is why Jesus died on the cross. I believe the central question of Christianity (or, IMHO, the question that *should* be central) is “How do I live out the teachings of Jesus?” Focusing on the crucifixion as central immediately removes any responsibility for us to live the life of Jesus because the probability of any of us being crucified today is nearly nonexistent, and the chance that any of us could be offered in any form of sacrificial atonement is even more unlikely. Jesus did not say, “I came to die.” He said, “I came to give you life, and that you may life it more abundantly.” When he said, “All that I do, and more, you will be able to do in my name,” I do not believe he was referring to the cross. 🙂

      • I’m not so sure we differ all the greatly. To me the question of why Jesus died on the cross leads to the question “How do I live out the teachings of Jesus?” If Jesus was willing to give up his very life, what are we asked to give up for his sake. You are right when you say that we are not likely to be crucified or asked to give up our lives as a form of sacrificial atonement. But we are called to feed the poor, help the homeless, love the unloved. As Christians this is what we are called to do, and all to often we fall short of what is required of us. We all need to work harder to follow the path Jesus sets before. To do otherwise turns the great gift of God’s grace into a cheap trinket sold in the market for pennies. God’s grace is freely given but also changes us in ways we never imagined.

    • The story of Abraham and Isaac needs to be understood in context. Human sacrifice had sometimes been an extreme form of religious devotion. So when Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, this was a command which would likely have been seen as the sort of thing which a god would sometimes ask a follower to do. IOW, it was within the realm of normal for how religious devotion was practiced in those days and had Abraham refused to do as he was told, it would have meant that he was less committed and devoted to this new God than some of his countrymen were to theirs. When God stops the sacrifice, it was a sign that he was not like those other gods – he was not a god who would demand human blood as a sign of devotion.

      Also, in the text itself, there are two different words for God which get used. The instruction to sacrifice Isaac came from elohim which is most often translated as “gods”. Later, the angel who stopped Abraham is the angel of Yahweh – the Lord or God. So there is some inconsistency in the text about who exactly asked for the sacrifice to begin with.

      • I agree that part of the reason God did not require Abraham to sacrifice his son is that he is not like the gods that demand such sacrifices of their followers. The point I was trying to make is that God allowed his son to die on the cross. He was willing to let his son Jesus die to show us his perfect love. As a parent and grandparent I can not understand how God could love us so much that he was willing to pay the price greater than I can imagine.

        • I know the theology goes that Jesus is the son, and yes, I believe that – but to an extent of course. Jesus was more than the offspring of God, Jesus, in our trinitarian theology where three are one and one is three – IS God. God allowed God’s self to suffer with us and by our hands and yet sought no revenge, sought no recompense and is with us still gently inviting us into the Grace that is ever present. We are called to respond to that Grace with radical hospitality that I struggle daily to embody.

          • The trinity is one of those things that lies beyond our ability to understand. Jesus is God, fully human and fully divine. If Jesus was not fully human he would never have understand human suffering and if he were not fully divine his Grace could have no meaning. I believe in a God who is Lord of the Dance and invites to eternal life.

          • This is a nice idea, but unfortunately it gets stomped on pretty hard by the inclusion of the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Too bad they didn’t vote that one out (I’ve read that it was a close call). As for that quote from Augustine given by Reformed Catholic earlier (“If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. “), that applies to the conservatives too. They like the bits about weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness where the worm dieth not and the smoke of [other people’s] torment goes up forever and ever, but they blithely ignore every single thing Jesus ever had to say about money.

            • Agreed, my father a retired Presbyterian minister often quotes one of his professors from divinity school. For the first 20 years of your ministry never preach on Revelations, after 20 years you’ll know better than to preach on Revelations. I am often shocked at the degree to which capitalism has been conflated with Christianity. For many capitalism has almost become a religion. It has its profits (pun intended) like Ayn Rand and Milton Freeman and its holy scripture Atlas Shrugged. Truly, no man can serve two masters.

  46. Excellent! This sounds a lot like Moltmann’s “The Crucified God,” which I am reading for Lent. It’s not the blood that matters (unless you want to get into “paschal lamb” interpretations of the crucifixion held by the author of Matthew—but that’s another discussion). Good Friday is about the total abandonment of God on the cross.

    I’m also about to start reading J. Denny Weaver’s “The Nonviolent Atonement,” which I think offers up something along the lines of the Christus Victor model of atonement. I’ve been wondering for some time now if Moltmann and Weaver’s theologies of the cross are compatible or even complementary.

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