Did God the Father have to kill His beloved Son, Jesus, in order to forgive us?
Before I can talk about this subject, I’m going to have to play the part of Morpheus. You’re going to need to make a decision.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more. (The Matrix, 1999)
In other words, you take the “blue pill” and stay the same, regardless of any evidence that might contradict what you hold to be true. For just about all of my readers, this would probably mean you’re happy with Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory; one that states that God had to kill Jesus in order to forgive us. This is the blue pill—the popular “Matrix,” if you will—a theological paradigm that I’m suggesting we’ve had “pulled over our eyes” since the Reformation. This is what I believed and taught for most of my Christian life.
If you decide to open your mind to what I will be sharing, take the “red pill” and we see how far this theological rabbit hole goes. You stay in “wonderland” in the Father’s love for Jesus….and you. 🙂
I’m not suggesting that I will be successful in convincing you of what I’m proposing if you take the red pill. But you won’t be the same. You will look at these things differently than you did before you read these posts. This is why it’s only fair that I pause here before we go on.
Okay, enough with the Matrix (for now….)
This short series of posts will mainly focus in on Isaiah 53, which is used as the main proof-text for the idea that God killed Jesus. But before we get to that (take the red pill), we need to do some prep work. We need to be aware of some literary devices and concepts often employed in Scripture. This is important because, if we don’t, we can end up with all kinds of conflicting and even false conclusions about what’s being said. There are too many to interpretative keys to list here, so I will list just a few that will directly pertain to my topic.
Interpretative bias: we ALL read Scripture with our own preconceived ideas and conclusions about what we’re reading. This is not necessarily bad unless we’re not aware of them. Again, most of you will probably be reading these posts with a PSA bias. That’s okay, just be aware that PSA is only one of many theories held by devout, Bible-believing Christians since the time of Christ.
Theologically speaking, the only way we can really know what God is like without our personal bias or through the lens of our emotional baggage is to look at Jesus Christ. Jesus defines God, not the Old Testament (Matt.11:27; John 1:18). He is the perfect expression of the Father (John 14:7; Heb.1:3). Whatever is not like Jesus is not like God. I’ve talked about this many times in the past so I won’t elaborate here.
Explanatory scope: this means that the explanation not only has value with the particular text but also when applied to passages on the same topic elsewhere in the Bible. In other words, Scripture interprets Scripture. Something else to consider: the Bible never contradicts itself (that doesn’t mean that spiritual truths aren’t often paradoxical). When our interpretation creates a contradiction, we should continue looking for the right meaning. Difficult and seemingly contradictory passages are often clarified by other passages on the same topic.
For instance, when we read that Jesus said He wasn’t doing away with the Law but fulfilling it (Matt.5:17), then read Paul telling us that “Christ is the end the law” (Rom.10:4), the best explanation is that Christ did fulfill the Law and put an end to it in the normal sense of the word. We know this because the Greek word used for “end” in Romans 10:4 is telos, which is used in the normal definition of “end” throughout the New Testament (See Matt.10:22; 24:6, 13, 14; Luke 1:33; John 13:1; 1 Cor.1:8; 10:11; 15:24; Phil.3:19; Heb.3:14; Rev.21:6; 22:13). This is utilizing explanatory scope.
Theocentric vs. anthropocentric: simply put, is the passage being written from God’s perspective or ours? In fact, many passages in Scripture are not God’s view at all, but man’s interpretation of what’s going on, based on his or her understanding of the situation. If we don’t understand this, we can misinterpret what’s actually going on.
The book of Job is a classic example. Job was totally unaware of what was really going on (Satan’s antics), so he and his friends badly misinterpreted the situation. God had to set them straight in the end.
Perfect will vs. permissive will: is God directly carrying His will by His own actions (perfect divine will), or are the actions being carried out by free will agents that are permitted by God for some other purpose (permissive will)?
For instance, we know that God’s perfect will is that all mankind be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (2 Pet.3:9), yet we also know that many will choose not to receive God’s amazing grace. This is because, in this case, they have free will to be as stupid as they want.
Jesus tells us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt.6:10), which obviously means that His perfect will isn’t always done on the earth.
Compression – This is a critically important literary device to understand so I will spend a little more time on it here. Oftentimes, the Bible uses compression to simplify what is being said. When God’s permissive will allows His free will agent to do something contrary to His perfect divine will, the biblical writers will phrase it as if God Himself is doing the action. There are many examples of compression in the Bible; I will give you two classic examples here:
Both 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 relate the same incident of David conducting a census against God’s will. 2 Sam.24:1 says that God moved David to count the people; 1 Chron.21:1 says that Satan was behind it. So who moved David? (It can’t be both.) Since we know that God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (James 1:13), then 2 Sam.24:1 must be using the literary device of compressing perfect and permissive will into one.
Another example of compression is when the twelve spies went to check out the Promised Land. In Numbers 13:1-2, it says that the Lord told Moses to send the spies, yet in Deuteronomy 1:22-23, Moses says that it was the people’s idea and it pleased Moses to send them. Using explanatory scope, we can deduce that this was not God’s perfect will to send the spies, but His permissive will allowed it to show them what was in their hearts.
One last thing here. Divine will versus man’s free will and the literary device of compression both contribute to massive misunderstanding about the nature of God and the problem of evil (called theodicy). After all, if God is sovereign and all powerful, why does He allow evil? We might as well ask, why do we have free will? Why aren’t we automaton slaves, blindly carrying out God’s perfect will with absolutely no choice or say in the matter. Beloved of God, you can’t have both. God, by His sovereign will, chose to give us free will because of love. But that’s another subject.
Okay, prep work is done. Next time, we’ll start looking at Isaiah 53 and other passages to find out if God killed Jesus so that He could forgive us. But, again, you’re going to need to be brave before we go down this rabbit hole. You’ll need to have an open mind and heart to new possibilities. But I believe if you do this, you’ll stay in glorious wonder!
So, Neo…which will it be? The red pill or the blue pill? I will give you a few days to decide.