Wednesday, April 04, 2007

John: On the Cross, He is Immanuel

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans, wrote this marvelous and powerful meditation on the Atonement for the BBC "Lent Talks" series. There was some strange pre-publicity stuff going on about this-- what with some segments of the British press mis-representing the piece before it came out and some Bishops taking the bait and taking umbridge on what they had not read. But let's not worry about that.

Just meditate on Dr. John's reflections on the meaning, mystery and miracle of the atonement:
It just doesn't make sense to talk about a nice Jesus down here, placating the wrath of a nasty, angry Father God in heaven. Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate. As he said, 'Whoever sees me has seen the Father'. Jesus is what God is: he is the one who shows us God's nature. And the most basic truth about God's nature is that He is Love, not wrath and punishment.
Julian [taught] that the wrath of God is no more than a human projection, and that for God to be God, he can't be less merciful and loving than the best of human beings. As Julian wrote,
wrath and friendship are two contraries… For I saw that there is no manner of wrath in God, neither for short time nor for long;-for in sooth, if God be wroth for an instant, we should never have life nor place nor being.

The cross, then, is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it's almost the opposite. It's about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God. As St paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Because he is Love, God does what Love does: He unites himself with the beloved. He enters his own creation and goes to the bottom line for us. Not sending a substitute to vent his punishment on, but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him.

[He ends with this:]

On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it's like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It's a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it's one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God's given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow. From Good Friday on, God is no longer "God up there", inscrutably allotting rewards and retributions. On the Cross, even more than in the crib, he is Immanuel, God down here, God with us.

Read it all.

1 comment:

Chuck Blanchard said...

I am still surpised that Jeffrey John's comments were received with the hostility that they have received. Theologians hav eexpressed deep doubt about penal substitution, and Johns does not reject atonement--merely the meaning that has been given to it in the past.

And I am reminded that C.S. Lewis himself in Mere Christianity noted that the important fact is atonement--not the specific theory of atonement:

"We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at."

I found Johns take on this very helpful as I struggle with atonement.