My class is still charting the twenty-first-century reformation. Getting this reformation off the ground isn’t easy. The biggest obstacle is the image of God as a white man sitting on his throne in his mansion above a flat, three-tiered earth, running everything and judging everyone. Even with photos from the Hubble Space Telescope of at least two trillion galaxies and no signs of God, heaven, or hell, the ancient image remains in our minds, prayers, preaching, and teachings.
Renaming God as Creation and eliminating obsolete doctrine is still deemed heresy. When I suggest that God Is Love no longer works but Love Is God is a good twenty-first-century approach, confusion reigns. But it’s simple. God Is Love suggests I know who God is. I don’t. When I say Love Is God, I am only saying that’s how I imagine God. Others have to work it out for themselves.
People often tell me that if they try this approach, they feel empty. I understand—change is hard. When I left home to attend college, my life suddenly became empty. Almost everything I had learned had to be relearned. We live an era of constant change and relearning.
Then people tell me that without God, they have no prayer life. That’s not true for me! I pray daily, but I’m not telling NoOneUpThere what to do. Instead, my prayers are about thanksgiving, what I need to do for the hurting world, and what I must do to be a better Follower.
Some folks ask, how I deal with sin if I demote Jesus. (Sin comes from a Greek word that meant “missing the mark.” I like missing better than sinning.) Easy! I see Jesus as an extraordinarily wise, sensitive man who gives me the tools to lead life to the fullest. He’s my Christ because of agape, not because of some cockamamy stuff about a cross.
The idea of Jesus atoning for our sins on a cross was another of Paul’s strange ideas—similar to his teachings about an imminent Second Coming, women being silent in church and submissive to their husbands, and other ill-conceived ideas.
We do understand how Paul might have developed the idea of Jesus dying for our sins. Paul lived and died as a Jew. He was a highly educated Pharisee, a legalistic Jewish sect that believed in some form of life after death, but in none of his letters does Paul share a story about Jesus’s resurrection. Maybe he was using resurrection as a metaphor? It’s a great one!
Paul talked a great deal about sin. As a Jew, he was aware of the image of a ram at Yom Kippur acting as a scapegoat that atoned for the sins of the Jews. It seems that Paul then decided to use Jesus dying on a cross as the new scapegoat. I often wonder if Paul ever thought through this far-fetched idea, since it made God an accomplice in the murder of his son and an abusive father.
I see no indication that Jesus dying on a cross two thousand years ago reduced sin by even an iota. Paul had a bad idea that needs to be relegated to history books.
I like what Sigmund Freud suggested. We need to grow up, leave God as Father behind, and take responsibility for our own lives. We don’t need a cross. (What a terrible symbol for a man who preached agape.) We need to be grown-up, responsible Followers.
Do you believe in a cross or agape?