Substitute My Humanity

Jesus as substitution…a discussion I am having all over the place on blogs these days.

Wikipedia

Substitutionary atonement is a doctrine in Christian theology which states that Jesus of Nazareth died – intentionally and willingly – on the cross as a substitute for sinners. This doctrine presents Jesus’ death as a supreme act of love for mankind, and a heroic act to save people from hell. It stresses the vicarious nature of the crucifixion as being “instead of us”.

I remember One Small Step discussing this idea of Jesus being God as that substitution – and how that was problematic. I couldn’t find that piece from her writing – but I wrote this the other day:

If Jesus is God then everything he did on earth was basically a sham and God is asking us to live up to something we cannot. Jesus was sinless and perfect – could not be tempted being God – could not die either (being God) – Jesus really shares very little in common with us if he is God on earth (it’s an undue advantage we do not have nor should be expected to have). So the sacrifice and everything makes little to no sense – it’s God and all God and nothing to do with humans at all.” (SVS on MetaLutheran – Trinity)

The substitution idea is a theology developed mainly from Paul’s works as the source than backed up by scriptures from other areas. I, however, see problems a plenty with this idea now – maybe I should have listened more closely to OSS or maybe I did?

But the point is – if Jesus is God then all the things he asks of us – we cannot do. Also, he is setting up a standard in his teachings he has undue advantage over – he was God and could do them. Top that off, no real temptation could occur – he is not really like us in that sense…actually I would say if he has God capabilities he is nothing like every other human on the planet today.

And that’s where this atonement theory comes in and finds its foothold – in humanity’s inability to follow the Law (unto perfection). However, we never could according to this atonement theory and now we don’t need to at all. Jesus plays substitute for us and does all the things we could not do – and also becomes our righteousness. Is not everything ‘finished or complete’ – what can we add to God’s perfect life and sacrifice? Nothing!

I would say if that theory holds water – then what do we need teachings, community, or even basics of faith for? Since we cannot do a single thing to ‘earn’ heaven – this is done on behalf of us by another. I would say the best thing we could do is honor that sacrifice – and even then – that means nothing.

What is our role in this system? What about our sinful nature? Isn’t that also taken care of – and if not – we have quite the convenient excuse for not truly dealing with it. I am not saying God is not gracious towards us – He is – but this theory is a little over-gracious don’t ya think? I can be the most irresponsible person in history and by accepting this atonement – well – I am ‘all good’ vicariously through someone else’ actions and because I am convinced this is true (that type of belief is the definition).

Does God promote vicarious ‘righteousness’? Are we responsible for anything we do after accepting the atonement? If so, how? We cannot add to God’s work in atonement according to the theory which leaves us ‘right out of the loop’. Humanity has been by-passed altogether in my opinion.

I like responsibility for my actions – maybe this is simply about integrity.

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19 thoughts on “Substitute My Humanity

  1. I was just reading through OSS’s stuff and she is way ahead of me on a few topics that I am now looking into – and I hadn’t even noticed that…so props to OSS for all the study she has done. Anyone that hasn’t checked out her blog – it’s worth the read and I think – I might be wrong – she is a few steps ahead of me theologically. I had to laugh when I seen the Trinity and atonement stuff from months back – even before I considered the topic – I have a ways to go I think.

  2. Society wrote**And that’s where this atonement theory comes in and finds its foothold – in humanity’s inability to follow the Law (unto perfection). However, we never could according to this atonement theory and now we don’t need to at all. Jesus plays substitute for us and does all the things we could not do – and also becomes our righteousness. Is not everything ‘finished or complete’ – what can we add to God’s perfect life and sacrifice? Nothing!

    Your wrong turn is in bold. That’s called anti-nomianism; the idea that Jesus came to abolish the Law. No, He did not.
    Matthew 5:17-18 — Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

    So why do you think we don’t need to follow the Law? From this false premise you build to the next paragraph.

    I would say if that theory holds water – then what do we need teachings, community, or even basics of faith for? Since we cannot do a single thing to ‘earn’ heaven – this is done on behalf of us by another. I would say the best thing we could do is honor that sacrifice – and even then – that means nothing.

    How does that mean nothing? What measure are you using to determine that it means nothing? God honors our faith (see Genesis 15:6 and Hebrews 11:6 et al). From there we can grow in our faith and begin the long walk away from our former broken lives. God then uses His disciples to pour the miraculous wine or feed the 5,000 or preach the gospel to the poor. He invites us to participate. Imagine for a moment there was no Christianity, say it never existed. How different would the world be?

    Jason, here’s a link to a local mega-church whose Pastor has an incredible gift for communicating the real gospel. Check out a sermon or two by Bob Coy and let me know if it makes sense to you. Regards.

  3. I was actually told to read books on this subject arena – and the fact of the matter is I am reading info on it – piece by piece. It seems that orthodox people want to go back to Arian on this subject and those debates…the thing is I am not asking Arian or any of his contemporaries – I am asking people of the day – today – what this means since that all that matters to me (the current context and how this works out).

    Maybe I will do some reading on it from old – I just hate to go back to a time so long ago and have to read those stories (laziness factor in me plus I would rather hear real voices in our time on it).

  4. Society, remember a few things. His deity isn’t an unfair advantage. Adam (and Eve) were sinless in the garden before they sinned, so a state of sinlessness isn’t totally foreign to humanity. Also, Jesus was a picture of what we shall become. We shall become like him. Because he took on a human nature to himself, he is fully aware of the things we suffer. We talk about how much better a boss is at work who stoops to our level and deals with what we do, along side us, than one that dictates from a corporate office somewhere. This is what God did, he took on human nature to rub elbows with us, to know what it was like to die, to see friends die, to be persecuted, to struggle day to day with food and shelter. You’ll never hear of Allah in those terms, as Allah is the one in the corporate office way out somewhere in heaven.

    Also, atonement “today” takes care of our justification today, but our sanctification is ongoing. Salvation is a process that won’t be completed until the kingdom. The idea of substitutionary atonement is present in the Hebrew scriptures. This is a basic belief in traditional doctrine. The scapegoat is one example.

  5. **His deity isn’t an unfair advantage. Adam (and Eve) were sinless in the garden before they sinned, so a state of sinlessness isn’t totally foreign to humanity.**

    Part of the difficulty with this, though, is that if everyone has inherited a sin nature from birth, then we want to sin by default. Whereas Jesus did not inherit the sin nature (granted, if someone does not believe in Original Sin, then this disussion becomes much different). But if Jesus does not have that experience with sin that we do, it kind of loses something for me. At this point, without the interference of Jesus, then sinlessness is a foreign state to humanity after the Fall.

    Even the idea that Jesus was never tempted can have complications — part of our temptation when we want to do something wrong can involve the fact that we’re fighting against our desire to do something wrong. In Christian circles, even that desire is considered sinful and thus requiring a Savior. Did Jesus ever experience that internal desire? Or was the temptation purely an external matter, with someone trying to convince Jesus that doing something wrong is okay? If it’s not the former, then how can he relate to the internal form of temptation? How could Jesus then be fully aware?

    And if Jesus is God, then there’d never be a chance that he could sin, which is where the “unfair comparison” comes in for me. To say he was “tempted” becomes meaningless, because it’s only that external form of temptation, and it’s something that Jesus would never succumb to. He’d be restrained by the divine nature.

    **This is what God did, he took on human nature to rub elbows with us, to know what it was like to die, to see friends die, to be persecuted, to struggle day to day with food and shelter. **

    But if God is already all-knowing, why wouldn’t He already know what this was like? How could such experiences be impossible to Him unless He became flesh? Not only that, but how could it be a true death since God can never die? The inability to die is part of the whole “eternal” description. How could it be a true struggle for food/shelter if you know that you can always have food, regardless? Part of struggling for things like food/shelter is that you don’t have a “back up” to it.

    **The idea of substitutionary atonement is present in the Hebrew scriptures. This is a basic belief in traditional doctrine. The scapegoat is one example.**

    I think for many, the difficulties arise when that becomes the only reason why Jesus was born and why he died. The whole reason why he died was to take on our punishment, and that’s it. No other reason. Whereas there are quite a few ideas floating around in Paul’s letters — hence all the atonement theories.

  6. The idea of substitutionary atonement may be there, but certainly not the acceptability of human sacrifice. The scapegoat wasn’t killed either. It was set free in the wilderness to bear the sins of Israel on its head forever.

    “Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for Adonai, which he is to offer as a purgation offering; while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before Adonai, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel ” (Lev 16:9-10).

    “When he has finished purging the Shrine, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, the live goat shall be brought forward. Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated agent. Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:20-22).

    The goat who had placed on him all the sins of the people wasn’t sacrificed; it was set free!

  7. “Your wrong turn is in bold. That’s called anti-nomianism; the idea that Jesus came to abolish the Law. No, He did not.” (Jim)

    Actually Jim – I agree 100%. This theory is huge in mainstream Christianity (along with penal substitution) and I am merely exposing some of the error associated with it. I actually think the Torah is good and always was – Paul (and some others) seem to be the ones with the ‘chip on his shoulder’ about it and even change scripture or mis-interpret it for the purpose (including in Hebrews). From thence we get a skewed view of Judaism based on the judgment of a guy that had previous problems with interpretation (he is noted for killing Christians at one point in Acts) – he then goes ultra conservative in the other direction against ideas in Judaism for some reason.

    The funny thing about that few scriptures from Jesus is Paul disagree’s (according to almost 99% of Christianity in the modern era). Paul’s view of the Judaic texts actually wins out – not the gospel version from Matthew – which may very well be attributed to Jesus very own mouth (whom John calls the ‘word’). This reveals one of the worst problems this faith has hidden – Pauline Christianity (as seen in letters) means more than the very words of someone Christians consider ‘God’ – now that is truly ironic.

    “How does that mean nothing? What measure are you using to determine that it means nothing?” (Jim)

    I say ‘if the theory is true’ – I don’t think it is – but if so, ‘yes’ my statements make all the sense in the world. Jesus did it all – there is nothing – and I mean nothing – you can do to make that sacrifice any better than it already was since it was done by God Himself apparently. Now we get Jesus’ perfect righteousness passed on to us and ‘presto’ – we are righteous now w/ a perfect righteousness – how do you add to that with any single thing you do?

    “Imagine for a moment there was no Christianity, say it never existed. How different would the world be?” (Jim)

    A lot would be different that’s for sure – but then also a lot of bad things that happened in our God’s name would also not have happened – including the forced conversion of my people in Canada (which resulted in mass deaths in residential schools). So I am not sure how to feel about this question – since Judaism – the source of Christianity’s writings – would still exist anyways!

  8. “Wow! That was one friendly blog” (Yael)

    You’re telling me – I actually was slightly mad at the condescening attitude that was taken with my questions on the subjects at hand. I don’t get mad easily – but that site actually got me a bit mad I must admit.

    “so a state of sinlessness isn’t totally foreign to humanity.” (Steve)

    Well, actually it is…name one person you know that was sinless? You see the problem with Adam/Eve is they are likely fictional and are used to prop up a theory about ‘sinlessness’ – a philosophy none of us can even identify with – and in trying to realize we cannot be sinless. Isn’t that a set-up for failure?

    “Also, Jesus was a picture of what we shall become. We shall become like him” (Steve)

    Actually the Mormons ran with this idea just over a 150 years ago also – and apparently their God is now someone with human features and we can become like that also – a new Adam so to speak (but like God). Big question is – if Jesus was God on earth and we are to become like Him – aren’t we becoming like God(s) then?

    “This is what God did, he took on human nature to rub elbows with us, to know what it was like to die, to see friends die, to be persecuted, to struggle day to day with food and shelter” (Steve)

    But that’s a facade if Jesus was/is God. God cannot die – I am not sure people quite get that point but it is in plain and simple text in the Tanakh somewhere (which would be yet another teaching Jesus would break by dying). I would say if Jesus was/is God then temptation is a sham also – how can God be tempted – yet another Tanakh teaching Jesus would of broke?

    To be perfectly honest, for a guy that says “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – he sure likes to break/annul them in spades (including the 1st commandment). That’s the problem with Jesus being God – he breaks a lot of commandments – the same ones he promises not to change one iota!

    “Also, atonement “today” takes care of our justification today, but our sanctification is ongoing.” (Steve)

    So we are atoned for – forgiven and clean – but we need sanctification for the process to be successful? So basically we can add to the atonement something that was lacking – and that substitution for our sins was not 100% – we still need to change. It’s a lot of talk about making the process more complex than it really is in my opinion – and I almost sure a child could not understand that complexity – yet we see Jesus allowing the children to come to him and learn. I almost think this level of theory is tantamount to what Jesus rebuked some Pharisee’s for 1900+ years ago – the over-complexity of something meant to be easy and understandable.

  9. Here’s something I was thinking about. Last week’s parashot included Leviticus 11 where in verses 44-45 we are told “For I Adonai am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not make yourselves impure through any swarming that that moves upon the earth. For I Adonai am the One who brought you up, [elevated you] from the land of Egypt to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.”

    What does kadosh, holy, mean? Separate. It doesn’t mean free of sin, it means to be separate. God tells us God is separate from us. God has always been separate from us. We built a tabernacle so God could dwell with us, but there was still a separation, an otherness to God. And that’s how we’re supposed to be: separate from those around us. Not isolated, just different, distinct. And one of the biggest things that separates us from those around us is following the laws of kashrut; keeping away from those foods God says are off limits and thus impure.

    There is also the statement in these verses about being ‘brought up’ from the land of Egypt rather than ‘brought out’. We were brought up from Egypt to Sinai, to accept the commandments and live by them. In shul when we’re called to the Torah is is called ‘having an aliyah’ because aliyah means to go up. Always we are told to go up, to be separate like God, but never are we told God is to become like us. Pagan gods were like us, our God was different. And always we are told it is possible for us to live up to God’s standards. Sometimes we choose not to, perhaps often we choose not to, but we always can make the choice to do right. It’s up to us. Certainly there is always teshuvah, repentance, available. We ask forgiveness, we make amends, we turn in a new direction, and the next time we’re in the same situation we choose differently, or we don’t, and then we start the process all over again until we do.

  10. “And always we are told it is possible for us to live up to God’s standards.” (Yael)

    I agree with you on this and the idea of repentance – and even the seperate/holy thing (it makes sense). I have to admit my holiness does not seperate me from people in the sense of isolation either – but in my reactions and actions to the world around me and where I learn to find values from.

    The big thing I want to examine is the idea God told you it was possible to do these things…is there any scriptural passages on this? I tend to think you are right on this point – or why would God waste His time with giving something impossible to do?

    I made a point today about salvation – it is always from God. That being said, so was the 3 aspects of the atonement in Judaism then – since they are based in the Torah and Prophets (which Christians consider God’s words). I would say salvation, as it stands, was something God had provided via Israel and to Israel – and I think that was the blessing it could give to surrounding nations (like my own). When I start reading the gospel in that manner a lot changes for me – I am grateful to God for the Torah and Prophets of Israel (the community of God) – that they share such a grand message.

    In Christianity, I am taking a road ‘less travelled’ that’s for sure – and my views by no means speak for the masses or denominations – they can very well answer for themselves and their structures on that ‘great day’. I think the reason this bothers me so much is I actually like the Torah and Prophets – the things I learn from your teachers and site – they add wisdom to my own learnings (and I cannot deny that); and Christianity in general does not accept this – but rather has always tried to usurp it (even own it).

    That attitude is something I want to see rooted out of the church. Problem is, this is not very likely going to happen due to the interpretations of the gospels and letters as being ‘greater than’ Judaism – and not seen as compatible in any way. Top that off, Paul does not help anything (nor parts of the gospels) with some of the rhetoric that can be too easily used to denigrate Judaism – and even has been used in anti-Jewish ways. And this makes my mission and goals practically impossible (even if with God nothing is impossible – which begs the question – who is considering their faith in God on this issue?).

  11. Society wrote**The funny thing about that few scriptures from Jesus is Paul disagree’s (according to almost 99% of Christianity in the modern era). Paul’s view of the Judaic texts actually wins out – not the gospel version from Matthew – which may very well be attributed to Jesus very own mouth (whom John calls the ‘word’). This reveals one of the worst problems this faith has hidden – Pauline Christianity (as seen in letters) means more than the very words of someone Christians consider ‘God’ – now that is truly ironic.

    I don’t follow you, here. It seems you’re saying Paul contradicted Jesus and we believed Paul instead of Jesus. Can you show me an example of that?

  12. The big thing I want to examine is the idea God told you it was possible to do these things…is there any scriptural passages on this? I tend to think you are right on this point – or why would God waste His time with giving something impossible to do?

    My favorite is Deuteronomy 30:11-20

    Surely, this Instruction (mitzvah) that I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.

    See I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love your God Adonai, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, God’s laws, and God’s rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that your God Adonai may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess. But if your heart turns away and you give no need, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish: you shall not long endure on the soil that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life–if you and your offspring would live–by loving your God Adonai, heeding God’s commands, and holding fast to God. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that Adonai swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.

    Me again:

    God tells us it’s not too hard, it’s just all about choice.

    I think I’ll write a post about this on my Torah blog with some more references. I’m curious now myself as to how many times we’re told we can follow Torah. That would make a good study over Shabbat.

  13. ” don’t follow you, here. It seems you’re saying Paul contradicted Jesus and we believed Paul instead of Jesus. Can you show me an example of that?” (Jim)

    Jim, I am going to do my next blog on Pauline Christianity and the gospels – and Judaism. There are some stark differences in language from Jesus to Paul – which I will try to address…and I may be wrong but I will write it out.

  14. Thanks Yael for the passage – I think it would make a great blog – and I think it backs up my point all along – God never gave us something too hard to follow (an idea I also see in the gospel writings).

  15. **we choose not to, perhaps often we choose not to, but we always can make the choice to do right. It’s up to us. Certainly there is always teshuvah, repentance, available. We ask forgiveness, we make amends, we turn in a new direction, and the next time we’re in the same situation we choose differently, or we don’t,**

    I very much like this. It seems to mirror what a lot of Christians say in this blog, in the santification part. The difference is that Christians hold that there must be some blood atonement done before forgiveness, and Yael, you’re saying that simply repenting is enough. We ask forgiveness, we make amends, we “go beyond the mind we have.”

  16. ‘Simply’ repenting might be a simplification! It”s not like we can just say ‘sorry’ and go our merry way…..Sometimes that would be nice but easy in the short run is usually hard in the long run so…..

    The problem with saying blood is required is that Torah doesn’t say that. The half-shekel provided expiation, the priests eating the meat from an offering where the blood wasn’t even brought into the sanctuary provided expiation, the grain offering provided expiation, that scapegoat that wasn’t killed but still carried the sins of Israel on its head. And then there are those instances in Torah where people asked forgiveness and it was granted.

    I decided just out of curiosity to make a list of all the different verses where something other than blood is given as providing expiation or where forgiveness is granted just because someone asks. And I still want to check into the point raised by Rabbi Singer that even with blood it was required to be splashed on the sides of the altar in order for atonement to be granted; I just need to list all the different sacrifices and what was done with the blood for each in order to see for myself the merit of his statement.

    As far as the sanctification goes, to a certain extent I think both traditions do view it the same way. We don’t usually speak in terms of ‘sanctification’ however, a noun, but instead speak in terms of ‘sanctifying’, a verb. We sanctify the mundane, we sanctify the little moments of everyday life, we sanctify our tables, etc.

  17. Yael,

    **‘Simply’ repenting might be a simplification! It’’s not like we can just say ’sorry’ and go our merry way**

    Well, ‘simply’ rempenting in comparison to requiring a blood sacrifice. 🙂 If no sacrifice is required, you simply need to repent, rather than repent and accept the sacrifice. If someone does just say sorry, and then goes on their merry way, I don’t think we could qualify that as repentence. Repentence would have to be accompanied by some sort of change.

  18. Yep, I knew that’s what you were getting at. The usual accusation against us is that we’re to flippant about all of this stuff so that’s why I threw in that comment. Not directed at you at all, which I didn’t do very well at clarifying….Too tired these days.

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