Monday, August 8, 2011


The high, holy day each year for Jews is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In ancient times, this special gathering centered at the temple. The High Priest, who alone could enter the Holy of Holies, would sprinkle the blood of a bull and a lamb on the fire within that sacred place as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. The High Priest would also take a goat and, after laying his hands on the back of the goat signifying the transfer of the people's sins, send the animal into the wilderness. There was always a little side-play to this drama....someone would see to it that the "scapegoat" would go over a cliff so that it would not, in time, wander back into the city.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the idea developed that there would no longer be the need for a sacrificial offering. Jesus would be considered that sacrifice. His death would cover all the sins of all people forever and he would be something of a scapegoat, bearing the sin away.

This theory was developed by Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the early 11th century. Anselm pulled from that ancient Jewish ritual of sacrificial offering to establish his thought. Rather than making a deal with the devil, Anselm would state that God in God's holiness and justice must have some sense of satisfaction. Human sin could never be something that God, in a sense, just winked at and forgave. Something had to be done that would recognize and respect God's honor and holiness, and thus bring satisfaction to a God that had been so offended by the depth of human sin.

John Dominic Crossan reports seeing and hearing Mel Gibson, before the opening of the film THE PASSION OF CHRIST, say "Dying was His reason for living." Crossan challenges that by turning it to say, "Living was His reason for dying."

What confuses me here is that this theory seems to necessitate the "programming" of God. Certain things must happen before God can act. Make the sacrifice, please God, then be forgiven. And those who go with the programming insist that God has set it up this way.

If God is Creator and the One in whom we live and move and have our being, why cannot this God say "I forgive. Nothing else needed. Be a part of my family."

It is also interesting, and tragically so, that humanity now adopts the satisfaction attitude and says of others, you must pay a bloody, violent price before reconciliation can be effected. Somewhere here, since at least the 11th century, and probably long before, we have created a God in our own image.

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