I am working on accepting Christianity, but I have some questions. Chief among them is the notion of the incarnation. The Hebrew Scriptures say that God saves all who call on him (Psalm 145:18-19). So I have to wonder what the point of the incarnation and atonement was.
I think the writer of the lecture/ sermon to the Hebrews does a fine job of unpacking this. A small sample:
“14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2)
Another issue which I have with the atonement (or at least certain interpretations of it) is that it is basically human sacrifice
Sin was ever a bloody business. People are wounded, killed, battered by sin.
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Lev. 17:11)
The person of Christ is fully God and fully man. God lays down His life on the cross. There is paradox, here. Not a mystery to be solved, a real paradox held in tension. It is not a “human” sacrifice.
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
Who, but God, can die and rise, again, of his own power?
On the cross, we see a God willing to die for us. We also see all the weight of human sin hurled at Him, heaped on Him – it is a murder. The cross is the anvil of sin and God hammers out justice.
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:17-19)
God overcomes death. Human sacrifices are merely murders. No one comes back from them.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
I think you just “pre-answered” your own question before you even asked it!
There are different notions of “sacrifice”, some of them definitely being evil and others of them being good.
The skeptics taunting caricature of how ancient believers thought: “We really need rain and we seem to be in an extended drought. Hey, I know! Let’s kill Steve!”
Sacrificing to gods or for the sake of superstitions is definitely of the evil sort (no matter who does or commands it.)
Another sort of sacrifice might be: A couple of people are dying of thirst out in the desert with only a little water left in a canteen. Knowing that they certainly can’t both make it far enough to get more, Steve lets the other guy drink all of what’s left so at least he has a better chance of making it.
That notion of sacrifice is a noble sort.
And there would be many other types of sacrifice too. The question is, what sort of sacrifice is Christ’s? Certainly not the evil sort above to my way of thinking.
Another common issue is the word “sacrifice”. Hebrew knows no such word and “offering” is preferred by many theologians. The term relates to drawing near (another great topic handled by the author of Hebrews). God requires no sacrifice from us because He has everything.
For Christ to have been offered up in such manner as might even be termed a human sacrifice, the humans doing the killing would have to be worshipping God in doing so, making him an offering on their behalf. No such awareness is recorded.
I have to say, I much prefer the Ransom and Christus Victor theories of Atonement, since they do not suffer from the problems I have raised. They do not posit that there was no atonement before a blood sacrifice, but rather a victory over the Devil and the Principalities and Powers.
Thank you for your question about the Incarnation, but the question about Jesus is not whether He is the Son of God, but whether He is the Messiah?
When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do You say I am?” Peter replied, "You are the Messiah, the One chosen by YHWH to save God’s People? " Only in Matthew was it added, “the Son of the Living God.”
Christians follow Jesus because YHWH sent Him as the Messiah or Christ to save Jews and Gentiles from sin, not because He is the Incarnate God. He is God Incarnate because He is the Messiah. We experience salvation through Jesus because He is the One Chosen to save us from our sin.
People (Gentiles) would not call on YHWH if they did not know YHWH. Jews would not really know Who YHWH is without Jesus. As things were they were at each other’s throats. The Jews rebelled in AD 70 which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple.
Jesus had to come, God in the flesh to break through the barrier between Jews and Gentiles so the whole world can understand Who YHWH is. The incarnation revealed the full identity of YHWH to humanity. The atonement for sin does not really change God, but changes people so they can understand God.
The early Christian answer to this question is quite different than taught today. It goes like this. God sent the King of Heaven, Jesus to fulfill the task of the messiah, to save all of the fallen. Jesus needed to defeat Satan in His life and after His death to complete the task of redemption. During His life, Jesus rejected all the temptations from Satan. After living a perfect life, holding true to His Father despite Satan’s attempts to save Him from His torment. This perfect life and total rejection of Satan earned Him the right to pass final judgement over Satan, and open the gates to heaven. It was Jesus’ victory over Death [Satan] that brought about the atonement of humanity and began the restoration process.
Best Wishes, Shawn
Indeed, that is the way many Xtians have been pushing it since the middle ages, and besides the basically magical nature of this theology (a sure sign of incomprehension since magic is how the primitive views things they do not understand), there are many things that do not make any sense. For example, if this plan of redemption is by a human sacrifice powered magic spell, then why wait so long? Did this god simply want to watch us suffer for our sins a little longer or did hell have some kind of quota to be filled?
The most sensible reason for the long gap is that we had a lot to learn in order to prepare us for redemption. But in that case, it is not just about magic but about changing the way we think and if you are going to go even a little way in that direction then why go all the way and suppose that it is ALL about learning and changing the way we think? And so that is what I do.
If it is about changing how we think then God becoming man serves quite a few different purposes. And that is another difference in the way I think about this than many modern Christians. Instead of being one completely foreordained plan, this was a multifaceted one with many possible outcomes (as any intelligent human problem solver would do).
The purpose was to heal the breach between God and man and restore them to the proper relationship of parent and child. There is only one thing that can break such a relationship and that is when the presence of the parent in the child’s life does more harm than good. Such is the case when an all powerful parent changes from a source of learning to an obstacle to learning, such as by a habit of blaming Him for everything that goes wrong in our life.
So the goals are as follows…
- Make us understand that we are the problem not God. And so it is not about appeasing god(s) as most human religions believed, but about changing ourselves.
- Give us a gold standard example of how we should value, think, and live.
This is accomplished by doing the following…
- Show us that God will do anything and make any sacrifice in order to help us.
- Show us how our sins are getting in the way and destroying anything that would help.
- Show us by His own concrete example what He values, what He thinks, and how He would live.
The incarnation does all of these things perfectly…
- He set all power and knowledge aside to become a helpless human infant. His choice is and always has been love and freedom over power and control.
- He grew up among us fully human to show us how we can live and think even with all our limitations and difficulties.
- He showed us that greatness is in being a servant of servants and sacrificing everything for the sake of others.
- He gave His only Son into our hands, so that if we chose we could abuse and kill Him as we have done with so many of the prophets.
Greetings, @Chemnitz! Welcome to the wonderful world of the BioLogos forum! Those Scripture passages you shared really hit it out of the park (at least, in my opinion )!
P.S: I love your username!
Save from what? Damnation isn’t explicitly referred to in the Bible until Daniel 12:1-3 (2nd century BC). I don’t think the type of saving being referred to here is the same type of saving happening in the NT. I would like to read further about such a thing, though.
EDIT: Here’s something that came to mind. What happens in the actual OT narrative where God/YHWH saves or delivers someone? When it comes to David, for example, David was delivered from his enemies. The idea of being delivered from your enemies/the wicked figures a lot in the OT. I think it would be a stretch to claim that when the OT authors talk about us being saved, they meant something identical to the NT concept. If anything, that would be forcing the mindset of later authors onto the OT authors.
In many countries today there are certain crimes that are deemed to be worth the death penalty.
Sin, compared to the perfection of God, deserves the death penalty. Because we have sinned, both as humanity and as individuals we also deserve the death penalty. But just as another person can pay a fine on our behalf Jesus accepted the death penalty on our behalf. In dying he accepted the death penalty for us and in rising he gave us salvation. This is not something we did in order to get favourable treatment from God but something God did for us.
Also consider this. We couldn’t be sure Jesus rose from the dead unless we could be sure he actually died first. A Roman crucifixion is as certain as anything that Jesus did actually die. Not only was he found to be dead and so did not need his legs broken but to be certain the Romans speared him through the side to make absolutely certain. Nobody survives a Roman crucifixion.
Shawn, that is a beautiful synopsis of the Gospel. Thank you.
Answering “Why did God become man” is a bit like asking “why did you marry your wife…” there is no single answer that could possibly answer that.
At least part of the reason being that there is no better way for us to know God than when he walked among us. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” And to demonstrate, tangibly, his compassion and love and justice. And for God to teach us in a direct manner. Also, to make undeniable his truth claims by his miracles… “he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
But based on the wording of your question it sounds like you’re focused on the atonement. Even in the Old Testament worship, God would save all those who called on him, but even there there was a process. Even there the forgiveness and salvation was accomplished through the means of the blood sacrifice. “The life of a creature is in its blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for your life.” “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” “And The priest will take some of the blood… and the priest will make atonement for him and be forgiven.
If we accept what the NT says, that these sacrifices were an image of what Jesus was going to do (“Behold the lamb of God”), then Jesus death was the necessary means for God to necessarily punish sin yet forgive those who called on him (to be both “just” and “justifier.”)
I’d recommend reading through the book of Hebrews for more of that, or perhaps Romans as well, for further thoughts that touch on those topics, if helpful?
I do beg to differ though - there can only be one reason why He came, it is just that most do not understand what it is. This is the major problem with religions today in my opinion. They have no idea why we are here. Specifically, why He would come when the population was so small (relative to today) and when few had the capacity to understand HIs teaching, let alone film it and preserve it perfectly for the future.
Best Wishes, Shawn
What is the defining quality of the human condition but our separation from God? We live in a fallen world summed up in the bumper sticker “life is hard, then you die”. Nature is cruel, our fellow man often brutal. Human nature searches for purpose beyond nihilism and values that transcend our temporal existence. A flaming sword blocks our path back to communion with God.
Why did God become man? To know fully would be to know the mind of the almighty. But when did God become man? Yes, the incarnation is Christmas, but that is focus on us living as flesh and blood in the impersonal, physical world. The incarnation was complete when, upon the cross, Christ cried out “my Father, why have you forsaken me”? That is the pitiful, fully human condition. To reach us, Christ reached down. That was the price of redemption and the beginning of our journey back to God.
Every one has the right to pass judgement over Satan. Satan is a Liar and the Father of Lies. Jesus was able to lead the perfect life in harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit because He was more than human. Jesus was perfectly God as well as perfectly human, which is proven by His perfect life.
Jesus was not trying to defeat Satan by obeying some rules, by legalism. Jesus was living for the Father through Love and the Spirit.
Jesus died for us because He demonstrated God unqualified forgiveness for our sins when we accept that forgiveness. He does to show that humans can and must be in right relationship to God, even though most people think that humans cannot know or love God.
You were actually quoting me and not @Ron0126. Your assertion that Jesus was more than human is a common misnomer. Had He had been allowed a God-given advantage during His human life, the test that He mastered would have been meaningless. It is the fact that He was fully human which made His perfect life extraordinary and His victory over the constant temptation of Satan a true victory. Had Gone not forsaken Him in HIs worst moment, Satan would have been able to have claimed being cheated, and could have rejected his defeat. But, being fully human is what allows Heaven and Hell the proof that Satan can be beaten fairly.
Best Wishes, Shawn
This was not a test of strength. Jesus lost the power test of power, because He was murdered by humans under the influence of Satan. This is a test of right and wrong. Jesus won because He demonstrated that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. was on the side of the Good and the Right, and not on the side of Lies and Satan.
We have also need make a decision on this issue.