On Yom Kippur: Rethinking the Theology of the Cross

Jason Micheli —  September 13, 2013 — 3 Comments

UnknownBecause today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement, I thought it appropriate to offer this reflection on the cross wherein Christians believe Yom Kippur gets worked out perfectly for all time.

Here’s this piece from J.R. Daniel Kirk, who takes a second look at the historic Christian interpretation, with deep roots in Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’ that God suffers on the cross.

Since my piece last week on patripassianism generated so much pushback and head-scratching, this is a worthwhile essay.

Kirk points out how often our theologies of atonement leave the text and its context behind.

On Sunday we were listening to Nadia Bolz Weber doing her “Lutheran theology rocks” thing in an interview at Wild Goose. (Seriously, folks, she is living out the law/gospel, simul justus et peculator thing better than anyone else I’m familiar with in 2013.)

At one point she started talking about the atonement. So much of what she says is so great. She talks about how grace works in a community where we experience brokenness not just in community, but just because the community has wounded us.

Then, circa minute 37:45 or so, she starts talking about God in the midst of tragedy. And, again, she does such a great job because she brings people to Jesus, and God bearing our suffering on the cross.

Then she says this:

… that’s not “God’s little boy, like God is some kind of divine child abuser sending his son (and he only had one!).” Come on, give me a break! “God’s little boy and he only had one, and as this divine child abuser and as this cigar-chomping loan shark demanding a pound of flesh, sending his little boy…” What hogwash, right? That actually is God on the cross, God saying, “I’d rather die than be in the sin-accounting business you’ve put me in.”

I love the theology of this: it’s not God sending some other to die, but Godself doing it. And, I know that there is good, strong Trinitarian theology behind this. The eternal Son who is God dies upon the cross.

The problem I keep coming back to 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.

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.

And… “He only had one!”

I don’t dislike the divine on the cross interpretation, but I’m not exactly sure where it leaves us. The only way to get there is to abandon the theological logic of the NT writers and replace it with a particular way of working out the later theological logic of the Trinity.

Is the need for it to be God as such 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 I say!, 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 this bit of the father not sparing? Do we chunk it? What about, “Not what I will but what you will?” do we chunk it?

But if we don’t, how do we articulate atonement in way that doesn’t leave us with a child-abusing loan shark?

I’d love to hear how folks are thinking about what the death of Jesus might teach us about God and/or how you’re working out atonement to deal with the scriptural tradition and concerns such as those NBW raises.

Jason Micheli

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

  1. I think there is a reason why the Nicene Creed says what it says, but does not present a logic of how it could be true. There is something beyond logic operating here. If you can believe the Word became flesh, perhaps you can believe the flesh suffered but not the Word.

  2. Thank you for the thought provoking post Jason!
    I discovered this post & blog from Matthew Frost’s blog.
    Maybe I can not offer a theological response, or any depth response. My best offer is just the sense I make of it from my own faith.
    I believe we (I) discount the love of the Father too much in the sacrifice of His Son. We seem to forget that Father and Son have been One in love and fellowship for eternity.
    In a perhaps dubious and violent movie reference, “Surviving the Game”, the lead character supposedly killed his wife and kid, which makes him eligible to be hated and hunted for his atrocity. In a private moment with one of his hunters, he confides that the situation was that his house burned down and he was not able to save his family. The opposing character in a moment of revelation says “then you didn’t murder them. It was an accident.”
    He responds, “They dead ain’t they.”
    A trite failed analogy for our present discussion.
    Work your sanctified imaginations a little:
    The only way one could get a human father who really loves his only son to send his son to the torturous death of the cross, would be to physically force him.
    Again the analogy breaks down disparately.
    Father in love for the World, and ultimately in love for His Son, who asserted his Father’s eternal will above His own temporal will, was not forced, but voluntarily sacrificed His Only Son with whom He had been in love and fellowship for eternity, to the torture and death of the cross for the love of His people, and ultimately, for His Son, for His Son loved His people as well.
    Analogy on top of analogy: Can you imagine an earthly father required to flog his son, and viscously, to death, to save his family from destruction? The father might do so, but through a torrent of tears. Would that not be akin to being on the whipping post with his son?
    In some very real senses, Father Son and Holy Spirit were on that cross. In some very real senses, Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Judge and Jury, and Executioner.

  3. Thank you for this post, Jason. Somehow you brought Daniel Kirk’s post to me at just the right time for Abrahamic dimension of the story to resonate strongly enough with the story of Jesus that I saw God as doing what we are not capable of, sacrificing a son without murder.

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