Sunday 10 May 2015

Jesus as a 'sacrifice' for the 'propitiation' of our sins and the apparent incompatibility with 'God is love'

First Letter of John: 

2: My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world...

4:Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.


There is an apparent incompatibility between the Gospel message that God is love - especially prominent in John's Gospel and the first Epistle; and the idea that God is the kind of deity who requires propitiatory sacrifice.  

A propitiation is an act done to appease or win favour from a god - and therefore to regard the death of Jesus as a propitiation seemingly flies in the face of the understanding of the true nature of God as revealed by the teaching and life of Jesus. 

The Christian response to this surface paradox has been various - but one response has been to make the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ into something resembling the focal point of the whole religion - so that the most-emphasized teaching becomes the assertion that God needed propitiation by an ultimate sacrifice of His own perfect Son - and that after that had been done, the decks were cleared for Him to be a God of Love. 

The key question about Christ as propitiation was whether propitiation was something demanded by God, or something demanded by Men. 

Is the need for propitiation a divine characteristic, or a sub-divine (human) characteristic? 


The answer comes from contrasting the core of Christianity being love, with the (occasional) use of a language of sacrifice and propitiation as an explanation

It seems clear to me that the concept of a necessity for propitiation is a pre-Christian (anti-Christian) one - the use of propitiation to (try to) manipulate divinity is apparently something natural and spontaneous in Men, but it is multiply-contradicted and explicitly-superseded by the teachings and revelations of Christ. 

My understanding is that the language of sacrifice and propitiation was being used about Jesus (and quantitatively, it was not used this way very much in the New Testament, and even less in the Gospels) purely as a concession to the imperfect state of Men's understanding and motivation


In effect, the intended message was along the lines of:

If you insist upon regarding me as the kind of God who demands propitiation by sacrifices; then please assume that the death of Jesus was sufficient sacrifice and that I have now been propitiated once-for-all. 

So, please forget about that stuff, if you can; and please stop organizing your religion around the need for propitiation!

The things I want you to focus-upon is that I am your perfectly-loving Father. To understand what I want from you, and how I want you to behave; all you need to do is imagine yourself a perfectly loving parent, and consider what you most hope for from your children in terms of attitudes, motivations, behaviours... 

Then you may gradually come to realize the absurdity, the gross misunderstanding, of supposing that I would ever want to be, or allow myself to be, mollified and manipulated by sacrifices; whether personal, animal, human or divine. 

Of course I understand and forgive that you may fall-into such behaviours, even from the best of intentions; but please, please, please do not suppose that I demand or respond-to a religion based-upon propitiation, or that propitiation is what I most want from you. 



Thordaddy said...

One of the most resonating critiques to modern Christianity made by the secular reaction is what I call the "self-annihilation for salvation" "Christian." Since all religions outside of Christianity ULTIMATELY elevate self-annihilation as highest act/state of "being." It is the effort of anti-Christians to edit the Christian narrative so that it also includes self-annihilation as its highest act and/or state of "being." As you say, there is no sacrificial mamdate for believers in Christ and I believe the Crucifixion was to solve for "us" the problem of evil and bask in the glory of he who endured the most perfect pain so that no man shall ever suffer any evil more gratuitous.

Anonymous said...

The point of a sacrifice is not payment for a transgression, but the humble admission of wrongdoing. This admission must have a real cost to be sincere. If we can just pay when we do something wrong we can do as much wrong as we can afford, This was talked about in Isaiah.

God is love, but love demands justice. Justice is an aspect of God, since it is an aspect of love. Love and justice are not different things. Love and hate are not different things; to love something requires hating the thing opposed to and harmful to it.

Someone you don't care about cannot pay for your transgressions, since the suffering you caused them doesn't mean anything to you. If you love someone the pain they suffer paying for your transgressions is painful to you, so the payment is meaningful. Most meaningful of course is the sacrifice of one family member for another.

To go further you can say a person cannot and will not pay for the transgressions of someone he does not love, which gives you Calvinism roughly.