Also remember that parables never give the whole story. They’re simply meant to make a point that we might not otherwise consider. This is why Jesus used parables all the time.
Okay, here’s my first parable…
There once was a family named Adams who lived in a quiet suburb. Next door to them lived a father and his son. Apparently, the Adams family had done something that deeply offended this father. Something had to be done. So he went over to the Adams family and said, “You have deeply offended my honor and so justice must be served. I cannot forgive you unless I kill someone.” The father then goes back into his house, drags his son out into the front yard and beats him mercilessly until he is dead, then hangs him on a pole for all to see. And from that day forward, everyone in the Adams family line who accepts this father’s brutal murder of his son will be forgiven. The end.
Honestly, without bringing your theology into the story, if this father were your next-door neighbor, what would you think of him? Would you say he’s forgiving? Was there any justice served?
Okay, back to theology…does this story sound like anything you’ve heard before?
We hear something similar to this faithfully preached from pulpits every Easter. In fact, we will add that our Father was actually pleased to beat Him! (Inferred from a dubious translation of one verse in Isaiah.) Everyone nods their heads in agreement while declaring that God is love!
Can we just say…major cognitive dissonance!
I understand that the picture I’m painting is perhaps a bit harsh and provocative. I apologize if it offends you but, frankly, this version of the Easter story offends me every time I hear it. (And I used to preach it myself for over 25 years, so I understand why you might chafe!)
But I ask you, if the logic is sound, shouldn’t we see it for what it is?
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been pretty hard on this relatively modern theory on the atonement (“Penal Substitutionary Atonement,” or PSA, an innovation by Calvin via Anselm. You can read what I wrote about it here). I’m hard on it because of what it says about our heavenly Father…that Jesus had to save us from Him, which I think paints a very ugly picture.
Because many see this view of God as totally repugnant, it’s a big factor driving some to atheism. For instance, Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God is Not Great, says he’s technically a Presbyterian atheist! (By the way, I think Calvin was a brilliant theologian in many ways, just not in this regard).
And here’s the thing…I would still defend it…if I thought it was theologically sound.
What we’ve invented in the Latin West (Eastern Orthodox calls PSA heresy) is an atonement theory that looks more like Molech than a Father who’s supposed to be exactly like Jesus. The Bible consistently condemned this kind of parental behavior as abominable (emphasis mine):
35 And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’ (Jer.32:35 NKJV)
This retributive view of God is based in appeasement mythology going back to the ancient pagan gods we sacrificed our virgins to so they would rain on our crops and not burn our villages. It’s from Babylonian-Egyptian cult worship that God was progressively deconstructing throughout the Old Testament, culminating with Jesus showing us (Sermon on the Mount and parables) that this is not what His Father is like at all!
I believe this is a better Father’s Day story…
Same suburb, same Adams family and father and son. Only in this story the Adams family is constantly antagonizing the father and son who did nothing to merit their vitriol. They start spreading slanderous lies to the neighbors, until all were certain that this father and son were to blame for their problems. Then one dark night the whole neighborhood gathers outside their house. The angry mob, with torches and pitchforks in hand, smash down the front door and drag the son out onto the front lawn and beat him mercilessly until he is dead, finally hanging him on a pole for all to see. But soon after this terrible deed, a few realized what they had done and were so ashamed. They cried out, “What have we done!” Certainly, this father will retaliate and kill us all!” But, much to their surprise and utter shock, the father comes out into the yard, takes down his son, looks at them and says, “I forgive you…go in peace.” The
So, which version of the story sounds more like unconditional love to you? Which story sounds more like a “Good, good Father?”
Perhaps this story is too far fetched for our deeply embedded, retaliatory-driven, grace-hating imaginations to accept. This can’t be describing a holy and just God! We must have our pound of flesh!
Admittedly, it’s not a perfect story, but it pretty much describes how God forgives.
More to the point, it makes us put down our torches and pitchforks and honestly look at our own hearts, realizing that this is how Jesus bids us to come and die.
What we should be asking is, where was the Father when Jesus was being beaten and crucified by the angry mob on Calvary? And what did He do about it? Paul sums it up succinctly (emphasis mine):
19 For God was IN Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Cor.5:19 NLT)
Beloved, our Father is not Molech. Contrary to what you might’ve been taught, He didn’t require a child sacrifice so He could forgive us. His justice is not retributive, it’s equitable. He considered our frame, knowing that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), echoed in Jesus’ words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And the Father said, “I have already done so because I have loved them from before the foundation of the world.”