On Yom Kippur: Rethinking the Theology of the Cross

Jason Micheli —  October 9, 2019 — 2 Comments

Because today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the cross wherein Christians believe Yom Kippur gets worked out perfectly for all time by the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ.

Very often, in order to avoid depictions of the cross where God the Father appears as a sort of “cosmic child abuser,” Christians will insist that it’s God’s own self suffering the onslaught of Sin and Death upon the cross.

The eternal Son who is God dies upon the cross not an innocent carpenter from Nazareth scapegoated by our sins. 

Certainly, the doctrine of the Trinity frees the Church so to speak of the cross; however, putting God on the cross instead of the human Jesus is but one way our theologies of atonement leave the text and its context behind.

The problem I can’t ignore though is that everywhere and always in scripture, the son who dies is precisely the son who is not the father, and is nowhere the God who, as Godself, is dying to save us. Instead, there is always the son who is not the father who is dying out of obedience to the father. There is always the father who is not the son who is not sparing his son but delivering him up for us all.

I don’t reject the divine on the cross interpretation— I don’t think the grammar of the Trinity allows us to jettison it— yet I can’t help but think it problematic that the only way to get God on the cross is by reading the texts in a way other than how the first Christians read them or to ignore the form in which they gave their witness to us, abandoning the theo-logic of the NT writers and replacing it with— or projecting onto it— a particular and later way of working out the logic of the Trinity.

Is the need for it to be God who dies so profound that we simply have to abandon the suffering Human One of the Synoptic Gospels, or the obedient Second Adam of Paul? Or do we simply need to return to the question of why Jesus died to shore up a better answer of why this man (man!) goes the way of the cross?

And if we put it all in the divinity, what then of the calling to take up our cross and follow Jesus? Does God love us less than the Son because what God would not call another to do, but does Godself, God nonetheless demands we do?

And what about the bit of the father not sparing? “Not what I will but what you will?” do we throw it out?

In trying to absolve God of appearing less nice than we think God ought to be, do we ignore God as the New Testament bears witness to God?


Jason Micheli


2 responses to On Yom Kippur: Rethinking the Theology of the Cross

  1. The cost of love.

  2. Right, right, and so ….
    Wait, what? Where did you go? Why did you stop? You tee up a whole store of good questions, but then you just stop and don’t address them?

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