Is this good news?

I grew up in a tradition where I was taught and believed that the good news (we called it the gospel) was that everyone has sinned and thus was separated from God, yet God sent God’s one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sin so that when I die I can go to heaven instead of being tortured for all eternity.

Now this is problematic on many levels, but to put it simply it’s not really good news for the following reasons:

1 – It begins with sin management

First, the story of the Bible begins in Genesis 1 where God creates and calls everything good. Where is the action? Here! Notice there is nothing about heaven, an afterlife, and most especially going somewhere else…the action is all here, on earth.

Second, sin (ie anything that is destructive) does not come into the story until Genesis 3.[1] If you start in Genesis 3 it becomes about sin management. Like every story one should begin in the beginning.

2 – It is primarily concerned about the afterlife

Notice the good news (gospel) I was taught is primarily concerned about escaping this world and going somewhere else – this has most definitely led to all kinds of destructive behaviors most recognizably the lack of environmentalism among many Christians. Thankfully the importance of earth care is gaining traction in theology and in faith communities around the world.

Back to the afterlife. As mentioned above the story begins here, on earth, with no mention of anything out there somewhere else.

Where does the story end?

In the book of Revelation (one of the most difficult to interpret and probably the most misinterpreted book of the Bible) we get this beautiful picture of a holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a picture of heaven coming to earth.[2]

In what has traditionally been called The Lords Prayer Jesus taught his followers to ask that God’s kingdom and will be done here as it is in heaven.

See a pattern?

The movement of the story is always about heaven coming down here and not us going up there.

3 – It paints a horrific picture of God!

This is one of my biggest struggles and concerns with the way I was taught the good news. This good news paints a picture of God who cannot stand to be around us (God’s good creation?) and needs  blood  in order to forgive. Now the imagery of sacrifice is sprinkled all throughout the Scriptures, but it seems to be the need of the people and not God (more on this topic later).

Now to the main point

God needs to send God’s one and only Son who must be tortured and killed in order for God to forgive? Many have already pointed out the multiple ways this understanding can be destructive, but it does raise many difficult questions and points to a divine child abuser who treats His/Her son in a way no sane parent would deem humane.

I am currently finishing a very good book by Richard Rohr titled The Naked Now where he raises two important points about this topic

  1. “The individual Christian is told to love unconditionally, but the God who commands this is depicted as having a very conditional and quite exclusive love himself or herself! The believer is told to love his enemies, but ‘God’ clearly does not; in fact, God punishes them for all eternity.”[3]
  2. “Even my less-than-saintly friends, the ordinary Joe’s on the block, would usually give a guy a break, overlook some mistakes, and even on their worst days would not imagine torturing people who do not like them, worship them, or believe in them. ‘God’ ends up looking rather petty, needy, narcissistic, and easily offended”.[4]

So what then is the good news?

 

[1] For a great teaching on this subject click here

[2] Revelations 21.

[3] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013), 80.

[4] Ibid, 81.

8 thoughts on “Is this good news?”

  1. Aaron,
    I’m a huge fan of deconstructing our assumptions and testing what we’ve been taught–especially in our religious endeavors. Some observations I have on this post:
    1. I think you have an interesting understanding of sin (“anything destructive”). I’ve understood the story of the Bible to articulate that sin is behaviors that damage or hurt right relationships, not so much just bad stuff we do. The focus is on sin’s effect on relationships.
    2. Forgiveness that doesn’t come at a cost is cheap forgiveness. If I loan you my car and you back over my neighbor’s bird bath, I can run out and immediately forgive you. If I do not fix the bird bath for my neighbor, the cost of your mistake has not been covered. How silly it would be for God to forgive us of the ways we violate right relationship without being willing to pay the cost. While I agree, the language of torture, blood and death is problematic for me, the idea of paying the price to have the right to forgive makes a lot of sense to me.
    3. Our great luxury of being able to forgive/be forgiven by the people around us is because God did what he did. The good news about God’s sacrifice is that he “buys” us into the deal giving us the ability to live in right relationship with each other and him.
    4. I think some of what you say about the way we (I get the impression you and I were taught similarly about God growing up) were taught the gospel is more about how we interpret that gospel. The reality that sin (behavior destructive to right relationship) can keep us from knowing/experiencing God can seem like he can’t stand to be around us if you interpret it that way. I wonder if it is not so cruel when we interpret it with everything you pointed out about God loving his creation, entering into life with us as a baby and experiencing the futility of death (and conquering it in resurrection). I would venture to say that my interpretation of the same gospel I heard as a kid is that God is actually less interested in my behavior and more interested in what motivates it–my heart, if you will.

    Anyhow, I don’t want be that guy who hijacks your blog, so I’ll stop. Let me just say that I’m so glad you are unpacking all of this and doing the hard work of deciding what stands true and what needs to just fall by the wayside in religion.

    1. Chip,
      Thanks for the thoughtful response! I resonate with a lot and you are probably a lot farther on this journey than I so I appreciate the input.
      I agree with your definition of sin – I think we can say it slightly differently, but mean the same thing.
      Also I think forgiveness always costs something doesn’t it? If someone owes a large debt (sorta remember a parable on this) but choses to forgive this it costs them something. If I choose to forgive someone else for something they may have done to me, it usually is not easy but demands something great of me – namely my ego and pride and sense of justice at times.
      Like your thoughts about our motivation and heart!

  2. Aaron, this is the start of a very healthy discussion. I too have grappled with these issues. I wonder if maybe some of the “far out” groups that consider Jesus’ teachings the real gold, rather than the crucifixion and resurrection, may have a point. If there was no resurrection, the teachings become the entire thing. I am not sure either way. I’ve never been able to give up on God, but exactly what the details are, who knows?

    1. Ann,
      Thanks for sharing. I do still think the resurrection is important, but I think we can focus to much on the death and resurrection of Jesus that we minimize His teaching. It seems both are important, but I do think those that focus on the teachings of Jesus has some weight and can really enhance the discussion.

  3. hey dude, you got a website…can’t wait to buy your first book. Rohr’s daily Devos are mind blowing. Keep up the good work bro! Miss y’all.

    Jesus came to change our minds about God not god’s mind about us. – mclaren

    #thegodsarentangry

    1. Brian,

      Ha…good to hear from you. I guess a website, but it is mostly for reflection and not necessarily for intense debate. I find it a great spiritual exercise to write out some of my reflections (the first post was something from several years ago and really isn’t that new). I love the McLaren quote and was going to use it int the future. Blessings my friend!

  4. Aaron,

    Man, I love your passion for understanding, seek and you will find. Here is a little of my take however:

    Sin, prior to salvation (believing and confessing) is a position that we hold, not a behavior to be punished. This is key as we attempt to understand the grace of God and his motivation. If its about our behavior, then it becomes about standards to reach for and a desire to be a “good” person who deserves to be in God’s presence. Sinful thoughts, actions and yes behavior after we have been transformed from death to life (2Cor 5:17) are opportunities to grow, learn and be molded into the image of God to impact the world around us. If we have truly been transformed from the inside out, we will meet God in the midst of our transgressions and experience His grace again and again, showing us how to see those who are POSITIONALLY separated from God and in need of grace also. My sin is dealt with daily as I come to God completely depraved and desperate for Him to fill me with that grace and knowledge that outside of His indwelling in my spirit, there is no hope for me. Through His indwelling, I then have the power to become less selfish and continue my journey to be more selfless and others focused. Without His death, resurrection and life in me, I have no hope. It is the kindness of God that leads men to repentance. The FINISHED work of Christ on the Cross is however, and always will be the only GOOD news, without it, we have nothing. The cross doesn’t compel us to BE better or live right, it gives us access to God and His Spirit so we can be transformed and bear fruit for the world around us to feed on.

    1. Kevin,
      Thanks for the thoughtful response, you touched on some really good stuff!

      I really resonated when you wrote, “We will meet God in the midst of our transgressions and experience His grace again and again,” This has been my experience as well. Thankfully God doesn’t wait for us to have all our stuff together, but rather the movement is always God toward us. In my experience it is about our response, not our actions, that really matters.

      Appreciate the dialogue,

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