The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Insufficient Salvation

I was terrified of Hell as a child.  The concept filled me with dread.  As a six year old, I actually lay in bed for long hours while my mind raced in circles about the terrors that I was certain awaited me.  On at least two occasions I even had to seek consolation from my parents in the middle of the night.
I was told that I didn't have to worry about Hell because of Jesus' sacrifice, that because of his crucifixion and resurrection I didn't need to be afraid of death or Hell.  That Jesus' grace was sufficient.

Unfortunately, I was not convinced.  The explanation made no sense to me.  Jesus' crucifixion seemed totally unrelated to me.  Totally insufficient.  What did Jesus getting crucified have to do with my egregious sins of stealing cookies or disobeying the babysitter?  Why would punishing Jesus wash my sin away?  Why would God be satisfied with punishing the wrong person?

Even as a child the concept of Jesus' sacrifice made no sense to me.  How would punishing an innocent person, killing them, make anything better?  The entire idea was ludicrous.  Punishing an innocent person did not, in my mind, resolve the problem of sin, it compounded it.

Jesus' sacrifice did not diminish my fear of hell, or my certainty that I would be damned for all eternity.  When I raised this issue a handful of times in Sunday School, I was pointed to God's love of animal sacrifice and how the sacrifice of animals as atonement of sin was prefiguring Jesus' perfect sacrifice, but this explanation didn't make any sense either.

Why would killing a sheep or a goat or a cow relieve me of sin?  Why would God care?  The sheep or goat or cow didn't do anything wrong, what possible good would killing it do?  How would that make me less guilty of sin?  Less deserving of Hell.  The entire concept seemed stupid.  And why would God care?  Why would God want to have us kill animals - let alone Jesus?

Why would killing Jesus relieve me of my guilt and sin thousands of years later?

I didn't understand.

And I still don't.  Because the reality is the entire salvation system established in Christianity makes no sense.  The entire concept is firmly rooted in the reprehensible notion of original sin.

We are unworthy of salvation not because of anything we do, but because of what we are? Even if we were to live perfect lives, our imperfect thoughts would be sufficient to condemn us to outer darkness.  Salvation, whatever that is, may only be attained through reliance on and acceptance of the Divine Will. It is only through the acceptance of the dominion of the Divine Will that humankind can be saved.  Only through external means may humanity be redeemed.  Such a belief is staggeringly harmful.

Such belief systems may have made sense as a coping mechanism during the brutal, ruthless, savage times when the ancient texts were crafted.  A means of providing comfort to those who regularly confront death, famine, disease, war, starvation.  The ancient world was bafflingly capricious and cruel.  In a world full of suffering that would be unbelievable in most of the modern world, it is utterly unsurprising that religious understandings would seek to justify or ennoble suffering.  It is unsurprising that religious understanding would seek to explain the capricious and savage cruelty of the ancient world by describing us as fallen creatures deserving of suffering.  But we no longer live in that world.  Our world has moved on.  We have moved on.  We have evolved.  Progressed.  Such beliefs are wholly incongruent with the world in which we live.

Such beliefs make no sense now.

Indeed, the entire salvific system is irredeemably flawed.  The concept of displacing the guilt of original sin through blood sacrifice seems ludicrously insufficient, pointless, barbaric.  Try sacrificing a blameless goat or an unblemished chicken to appease your angry girlfriend after you've made an ass of yourself and see how far that gets you.  Why would the Creator of the Entire Universe be easier to buy off?  The very notion is insulting to the very idea of justice and mercy.  Just as the idea of original sin is insulting to our humanity and an insult to all that we have accomplished.

The idea that the slaughter of an innocent would somehow save us simply makes no sense.


  1. I struggled with some of these questions too and the response I got was, "That's just the way it is."

    Well, that's not good enough. If someone pisses me off, I definitely don't want them bringing a kitten or puppy to my door and slaughtering it. I don't want them burning the fat and waving the smoke through my screen door so I can smell it.

    And I certainly wouldn't want someone to try to appease me by beating my child and nailing him to some wood while the rest of the community spat on him and cheered. This would not appease me - it would drive me into a homicidal fury.

    If God is no more moral than I, a mere human, am then why should anyone worship him?

  2. Hey Jeff, my name is John. I read a lot of blogs on religion and prayer and I've i feel like I've ended up here once before. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this prayer exchange website I thought it was an interesting idea and would be curious to hear what you (or other Christians) think about it

    I'll check back here in the next day or two, thanks & God bless
    John W.

  3. On another blog I discovered the term for this: "penal substitution." It is indeed ludicrous in and of itself, but perpetrated by a good "father" who made up all the rules, it's even more ridiculous. Why can't God simply just forgive us? Or have us do something constructive to earn forgiveness. Modern Jews have the concept of an annual "mitzvah" to atone for the sins of the past year. So the originators of the practice have moved on. It seems silly for Christians to cling to it.

    A good "father" wouldn't punish his one good kid in place of his pack of brats. If God does this, he's a BAD father.

    Jesus' "sacrifice" was a few hours of pain, a little humiliation, and about 48 hours of "death" or coma. Then presumably he goes on to live in Heaven forever. What's a few days compared to eternity?

    Christians conveniently take back this theory when (other) people do something that offends them. Ghandi, gays & blasphemers will go to Hell but a murderer can get into heaven if they are "saved" (by their words, not Jesus' sacrifice). What an incoherent theology!!!

    To their credit, they lack the insight to see any of this because of their indoctrination. It makes perfect sense to them. I try to point out some of these things but they just smugly pity me. *shrug* I just can't stand to see nice people be turned into babbling fools.

  4. Oh how I love the smug pity. It's a shame we 'won't see the light.'

    The exact same analogy occurred to me when I was a kid. If I stole cookies and lied about it, what possible sense would it make for my parents to punish my brother or my baby sister in my place. None. They would be making the situation worse and I, the guilty party, would get off scott free.

    As a lawyer, the concept makes even less sense. What kind of a 'justice' system would allow the innocent to be punished in place of those deserving of punishment. The very concept is offensive to any rational understanding of fairness or justice.

    This entire scam, of course, is premised upon the notion that we are somehow flawed, broken, unworthy. It is strange to me that we dirty, sinful, vile humans have come up with a system that is so much fairer, more reasonable and equitable than the one our supposedly omniscient 'Father' constructed.

    Omniscience must not be all it's cracked up to be because frankly, a lot of God's rambling is incoherent intellectual mush.

  5. @ Spammer John,

    Obviously you didn't read the post because if you had, it would be obvious that I'm not a Christian.

    That said, I find the concept of a prayer exchange to be hilarious. I love the way the prayers on the front page are for incredibly important things like:

    - A Packers' victory!
    - A 68+ on a calculus test!
    - Lose 25lbs by June 6th!

    God is so clutch like that. Sure he ignores the plight of millions of Africans who would rather not die of AIDS, ignores the plight of millions of starving refugees, but the Creator of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE is ALL OVER your calculus test!

  6. "It is strange to me that we dirty, sinful, vile humans have come up with a system that is so much fairer, more reasonable and equitable than the one our supposedly omniscient 'Father' constructed."

    Good point!

  7. I love how prayer chains and circles supposedly influence cures and whatever. God sits in the sky with his calculator deciding who is the most popular, and those are the ones who move from ICU to a regular room. The ones who only have a few friends or whose family doesn't know they've been hurt yet move from the ICU to the morgue :-(

    Healing is a popularity contest. YAY! God is good!!!

  8. I'm honestly not sure why I'm going to post as I get the feeling I'm just going to be flamed. I don't claim to know everything or have all the answers... only fools believe they do. But, because of this, I thoroughly enjoy well informed debate as I usually get the chance to learn quite a bit. However, it's rather difficult to find said well informed debate amidst what is typically nothing but misinformed mockery. You probably won't sway me and I probably won't sway you... but we can still learn about what the other believes.

    I'm not really posting this to start a big argument... Mostly just to correct many of these misconceptions about true Christian beliefs. To this end, I reference a lot of scripture in my response as that is the standard by which I hold myself to.

    Let me start by saying that, while we were created in His image (Genesis 1:27), we do not posses God's full knowledge/understanding. We simply do what we can with our limited human understanding and what is revealed to us in His word and through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:9-16). There are just certain things about Christianity that you will not understand until you have a fundamental faith. Not liking or accepting that concept doesn't change it.

    The concept of blood sacrifices is a rather simple one. The Bible often tells us the results of sin. "The wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23). Let me rephrase that... The set punishment for all sin is death. By our "more reasonable and equitable" human system of justice, the proper way is for the sinner to pay for his/her own crimes. That leaves no way of salvation for anyone as "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23).

    However, God has provided a way for us. Blood, represents life and can, in a way, be considered life (Leviticus 17:11, 17:14). The blood therefore is the payment of of that debt of sin. And for that sacrifice to work, it has to be perfect... It can't be tainted with any blemish/sin.

    Personally, I like my Heavenly Father's method of grace a lot better than the way of the law.

  9. Really quick, without getting too far into it, I'm blown away that anyone could actually believe that people are inherently good. We don't have to teach children to misbehave... they do that naturally. It's "being good" that we have to teach. We have an inherent understanding of what is right and wrong, but our natural inclination is nine times out of ten to follow our selfish desires.

    You also seem to have no concept of what the Bible says about grace, faith and salvation. ANYONE has the opportunity to get to Heaven... This includes homosexuals, blasphemers, liars, murders... The key is GENUINE repentance for what you've done and an acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice. (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10). God loves everyone in this world and wants them to come to repentance. It's not at all Him rejecting any of us... It's about so many of us rejecting Him.

    Regarding the comments on prayer, even most Christians really don't understand the concept of prayer. God is not "our vending maching who art in heaven".

    Jesus gave us our example of how we should pray with "The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. If you break it down, it's really dissimilar to how most people seem to pray:

    "Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name" - Prayer is showing our respect to God.
    "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." - Prayer is submitting ourselves to God's will and His ultimate plan.
    "Give us this day our daily bread." - Prayer is a commitment to reliance on God for our needs... not our wants.
    "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." - Prayer is repentance of our sins.
    "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." - Prayer is our petition for strength to not repeat our sins.
    "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever." - Prayer is giving praise to God.

    Christians tend to take the "Ask, seek, knock" verses in Matthew and Luke to mean that God will give you anything you ask for. This is not at all true. The verses say that "everyone who asks receives". This is true... we will always receive an answer to our prayers. However, the verse doesn't say "everyone who asks receives exactly what they ask for". Sometimes our answer is "yes", sometimes it's "no" and sometimes it's "wait". The verses continue on to say that our Heavenly Father will not give us what is not good for us.

    God already knows of all our needs before we ever give voice to them (Psalm 139:1-4) however, he still wants us to ask. When we ask in prayer instead of stressing ourselves to the point of breaking, we solidify our faith in and reliance on Him (Matthew 6:25-34).

    Just as an example, I'm currently looking for a new job. When I'm praying, I don't ask God to set me up at that slick new agency down the road... I don't even pray that He gives me a new job. I simply pray that His plan will be reavealed to me and that I will recognize it and be faithful to it.

    In the end, the most important thing to know, whether you believe it or not, is that there is a God in heaven who loves you, knows everything about you and is reaching out for you. He's waiting to free you from your sin and bring you into a joyful relationship with him.

    Please excuse any grammar/spelling mistakes as a significant amount of this was written on an iPhone.

  10. Ugh... Looks like it posted what I wrote out of order. Ah well. Don't hold that against me.

  11. Strange... an entire section of this isn't posting. This was supposed to be in the middle:

    Now, it's not as if someone is just punishing their good child instead of the bad. Jesus walked willingly to His death on the cross. (Matthew 26:51-56, John 18:4-11) It's not perfect, but a slightly more apt description would be like someone running to knock a child out of the way of a speeding bus knowing that they'd end up getting the full force of the blow.

    Also note that while we are metaphorically considered God's children, we are not equal with His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that Jesus was not only fully man, but fully God. Let me quote from someone who phrased it in a way better than I probably could:

    "The death of a mere man (no matter how noble) could not provide the infinite purchase price required to redeem other men form their sins, nor satisfy the payment of sins agains an infinite God. But Jesus, being eternal and infinite, was able to satisfy the penalty for sins against an infinite being by his death."

  12. And then this:

    However, for this sacrifice to actually be valid, Jesus also had to be a man who was subject to the same trials and temptations that we as humans are subject to. He walked through this life without sin and therefore became the perfect sacrifice.

    When it comes down to it, whether or not you think it is just from a human perspective, God is the ultimate arbiter in this matter.

    I'll tell you something though... If there existed out there anyone else who has never once, in the slightest, sinned in thought, word or deed, then I just might be convinced that they should be allowed into heaven on their own without Jesus' sacrifice.

    Now by saying that Jesus' sacrifice was nothing but a little pain and humiliation, you really show that you have no concept of the the whole process of scourging and crucifixion. If you're actually curious, you can find many clear medical descriptions with a Google search.
    There's also much debate over how much he was scourged, but the prophecy in Isaiah 52:14 tells us he wouldn't even be recognizable as a man.
    And truly, you're right... what is even a lifetime on Earth compared to eternity? Nothing... until you consider that He LEFT Heaven to be born as a man.