Remembering the Needs of the Many at Christmas

Remembering the Needs of the Many at Christmas December 22, 2016

Star Trek Xmas ornament

The intersection of religion and science fiction would be enough to justify sharing the above. But it also raises useful questions about what is meant by “sacrifice” and also “resurrection.”

Sacrifice in the sense of animals killed so that their blood can be poured out as an offering to a deity is something unimaginably foreign to most people in the English-speaking world today. And yet it was that – and not the modern sense of giving one’s life to save others – that was in view when the term was applied to the death of Jesus in the New Testament. I’ve blogged before about problems with some of the ways that people have tried to address this – in particular, what is known as the “penal substitution” theory of atonement. Perhaps in this case it makes sense to keep the term but rethink how it is understood. Jesus died to save us from a way of life that perpetuates cycles of violence and hatred. His death accomplishes that by embodying in himself, while bearing the title of Messiah and king, a preference for his own death to the taking of the lives of others in an attempt to preserve his own life or safety.

That is something worth commemorating, both through traditional Christmas stories, as well as when that prototypical example receives a faint echo in a Star Trek movie.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    In the linked article, you mentioned 4 Maccabees, and I think that is helpful for context around Jesus as a sacrifice because along with the verse you quoted, there’s 4 Macc. 17:20-22 that attributes the salvation of Israel from Antiochus Epiphanes to the propitiation of the martyred sons. 2 Macc. 7:37-38 shows that the brothers expected their trials and death would cause God to be merciful to Israel instead of angry with her, and therefore act on her behalf.

    I bring this up because, like the sacrificial laws in Leviticus, none of this indicates that personal sin has created some kind of debt that merits killing someone or something to pay off. There is certainly a sense of substitution, but it’s along the lines of the martyr asking God to view the nation with mercy in light of the suffering and death the martyr will experience. It’s as if the offering is meant to move God, not pay something off.

    This seems to be consonant with episodes like Moses asking God to destroy him if God is going to destroy Israel. The idea is that God will be moved to change his mind and pursue salvation and reconciliation.

  • It is intensely comforting to find such a kind understanding of Christ’s sacrifice here. I do not understand the unstated relation between science fiction in particular and Christ’s offering on the cross, but I’m willing to wait on that. I have made my own link. I have written a sci fi novel called Run that makes an explicit use of both Catholicism and Islam in the plot and characterization that might interest you , if you’ll permit me this promotion. It’s at Malapert Press, Just google that and Run the novel. (I don’t otherwise promote it, as it is politically controversial, introducing the notions of monarchy and religious state on the High Frontier.)

    To Phil, it is my understanding of Catholic theology that there is in fact a ‘debt’ created by personal sin that is expiated (that is a word that goes with quantities, with sums, it gives rise to the Catholic phrase “the economy of salvation”) in Christ’s death on the cross. A one for one, a tit for tat, a God’s life in exchange for an insult to God. Which is what choosing sin is, of course. I’m not prepared in a com box to explain it (and I’d have to refresh my Thomism!), I’m just raising it. But I don’t see a contradiction anyway between God accepting an exact sum and at the same time moving God not to accept the payment (for it was His own idea) but to give us personally the grace to personally play our own part, what we do to “make up” the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I forget Paul’s exact words, but you will recall them. For we can’t even do that without His grace.

    A wonderful Christmas to all here.