Because we could not come to him or even be brought to him without horror, he came to us, in the form of Jesus Christ. There was never a time when God had not yet intervened in the human condition, so it is misleading to conceptualize the sending of his son as the beginning of God’s response. But Jesus Christ, from before the foundations of the earth, is the ultimate expression and the primary vehicle of God’s intervention. He is “the anointed one”–the “Christ” (in Greek) or “Messiah” (in Hebrew)–the one chosen to serve as this vehicle. As in all of the great hero stories, the hero comes prepared with the necessary assets for the monumental task that is set before him. Often the hero is told of some weakness of the enemy and given a predestined weapon, tempered for the conflict. The hero of God and man came armed, not with any sword of destiny, but with an intimate and unbreakable relationship with his Father. He spoke unceasingly of his Father–from his first recorded utterance (“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”) to his dying breath (“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”). Why did he have power to perform miracles? Because his Father showed him how and gave him power. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” (John 5:19). “All things are delivered unto me of my Father” (Matt 11:27). “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:35).
The Human Condition In One Sad Story
If the Atonement was the completion of a task necessary for man’s reconciliation with God and with his fellow man, then we need to first understand the nature of the breach that the Atonement was meant to heal. If the “good news” of the Gospel is salvation through Christ, we need to comprehend what he saves us from before we can speculate about what metaphor best expresses how he accomplished it.
My cousin saw a young man from his high school walking on the side of the road, and he felt he should pull over. My cousin was a successful scholar, athlete, and member of the student government, well-liked and looked up to by many of his peers. This young man was at the opposite end of the popularity spectrum. He was occasionally bullied and constantly given reason to understand, through subtle exclusions and other signs familiar to most of the high school population, that he was not “cool” or “successful.” My cousin, for his part, had tried to be nice to this young man, as to everyone else, by such simple kindnesses as saying hi with a smile before class started. My cousin thought he seemed dejected and wanted to offer a ride, but then thought, “I hardly know this guy. It would be weird for me to offer him a ride. Besides, I will already be up late doing my homework.” So he ignored the generous impulse and kept on driving. He got to school the next day and found out that the young man had died the evening before by suicide. Continue reading
The apparent illogic of the notion of God suffering for man’s sin is captured nicely in “Life of Pi”:
Humanity sins but it’s God’s Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine my Father saying to me, “Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.”
“Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up.”
“Hallelujah, my son.”
While the character who finds the story of Christ’s Atonement so illogical does eventually find it meaningful and valuable, he does not resolve the illogic. And that is fine for a character who appreciates Christianity, in common with every other religion, as a set of beautiful stories that contain truth. But for a person like me, who considers Christ himself to be the Truth and Christianity to not only contain truth but to be true, the apparent illogic grates on the mind. Continue reading
There are several reasons that I am an attorney instead of an English professor (my original plan). A relatively minor reason that I don’t usually mention is the dominance of multiculturalism in the academy as a lens for talking about and judging literature and culture generally.
What I mean by “multiculturalism” is a particular kind of intense focus on race, gender, class, nationality, sexuality, and other categories that might make a person a minority, and the ways in which cultures construct and deploy these categories (generally in ways that disadvantage the minority). Anyone who has studied English literature at today’s universities should understand what I mean. But so should anybody familiar with the rhetoric of certain liberal politicians, some of whom (for instance) have recently assumed it unnecessary to make any substantial explanation of why they deem it deeply wrong for Joe Biden to have had collegial relationships with segregationist senators. Continue reading
Those who argue against the existence of a benevolent Christian deity will often site as a centerpiece of their belief the inexplicability of suffering in the world. This happened again recently in the New York Times. While there is some suffering caused by other people which can be explained by an appeal to human agency, there is also suffering (perhaps a far greater amount of suffering) caused by mindless, lifeless, natural forces. Hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, famine, pestilence. Millions of people, in pain, just for living on the earth. These forces, they will say, since they cannot be assigned another agency, must be assigned to God, if there really is one.
To secure their position, they might add, while the devil could be a convenient scapegoat, what are we to do when a hurricane has brought rain to a farmer but killed another woman’s child? The farmer kneels in the darkened soil thanking God in the same moment the anguished woman stands at the end of the pier cursing the devil. We cannot say in one instance it is an act of the devil and in another it is the act of God. It must be one or the other. Continue reading
To many modern minds, including the minds of most people my age (thirties) in the Western world, it is practically inconceivable that there might be any legitimate rationale for inculcating a preference for heterosexual marriage over any other expression of sexuality, including homosexual marriage. This preference is the historical status quo, but it has been so dramatically rejected in the last 75 years (and especially the last 15) that, for many today, the whole business of disapproving sex for any reason other than nonconsent is wholly alien, bizarre, and even evil–a thing to be dismissed with a word: “Victorian,” “repressive,” “culturally insensitive,” etc. But can it be so easily dismissed? Where did the tradition of disapproving expressions of homosexuality come from?
Is it, as many moderns imagine, entirely irrational, evil, and indefensible? Continue reading
In the Gospel of Matthew the often repeated words, “he is risen” are preceded by the statement, “he is not here.” Then as evidence of the risen Lord, the angel invites Mary to see the absence of the Lord’s body from the tomb. But the missing body only highlights the questions already burning in her heart. The very questions which caused her arrival in the garden tomb in the first place: where did he go and where is he now?
As is often the case with Christ’s miracles, the supernatural aspect underscore the common reality: people die. And while the body is usually left behind, we are left to wonder how it could be so entirely abandoned. How an object which had once been a man has ceased to present a human being. How the formaldehyde fails to preserve key aspects, even physical aspects, of the person we knew. And it is by this common, natural reality—the incongruity of death—that Christ’s missing body moves us, and not the other way around. The loss of a friend, a father, a lover, a son. Touching a corpse, holding an embalmed hand, kissing a dead man’s lips, nothing more profound than these are required for us to have asked the question: Where did she go? Where is he now? Continue reading