All posts in Atonement

  • Good Friday: A World Indicted

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    Good Friday: A World Indicted
    Brian Zahnd

    Good Friday offers humanity a genuinely new and previously unimagined way of understanding both the character of God and the nature of human civilization. As Jürgen Moltmann writes in The Crucified God, “the cross is the test of everything.” But to understand Good Friday we need to be clear on who did the accusing, condemning, and killing of Jesus of Nazareth.

    As we read the passion narratives in the Gospels it’s obvious that it isn’t God who insists on the execution of Jesus. Mark tells us, “the chief priests accused him of many crimes.” (Mark 15:3) Jesus’ jealous rivals accused him of heresy, blasphemy, and sedition because they were possessed by the satanic spirit of rivalry and blame. It wasn’t God who charged Jesus with capital crimes. It wasn’t God who shouted, “Crucify him!” It wasn’t God who ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The work of accusation, condemnation, and torture is the work of human civilization under the sway of the satan. The spirit of God is not heard in the crowd’s bloodlust cries of “crucify him,” but in Christ’s merciful plea, “Father, forgive them.” We must not imagine the machinations of the devil as the handiwork of God!

    When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the principalities and powers of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate and their constituent institutions of religious, economic, and political power were at enmity with one another. These power brokers were bitter rivals locked in a fatal embrace. But when they took their rivalry-induced fear and hate, and projected it onto Jesus as their chosen scapegoat on Good Friday, they achieved a demonic unity. Luke precisely tells us this. “That same day [Good Friday] Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)
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  • The Crucified God

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    The Crucified God
    Brian Zahnd

    Here’s a big question. What is God like? I suppose this is the biggest question theology can ask. And we don’t need to be a theologian to ask this question. It’s one of the most basic questions facing anyone who attempts to worship or even just think about God. But how shall we answer the question?

    Our capacity for imagining God seems virtually limitless. Is God like Zeus whose incited anger results in hurled thunderbolts? Is God like Ganesh, the lovable elephant-headed god of prosperity from the Hindu pantheon whose idol I’ve seen in hotel lobbies across India? Is God like the comic white-bearded old man sitting behind a computer from a Far Side cartoon? Does God bear any resemblance to the primitive tribal deities who lead their people in waging war on other people? Is God totalized Will-To-Power whose omnipotence controls every event in the universe? Is God the aloof and absent clockmaker of Thomas Jefferson and the eighteenth-century deists? Is God the amorphous everything and nothing of New Age spirituality? And so on.

    To even venture an attempt to answer the question of what God is like seems to court idolatry. How can mere mortals possibly try to answer the question about God’s nature without being guilty of not only theological error, but outrageous hubris?
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  • Who Killed Jesus?

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    Who Killed Jesus?
    Brian Zahnd

    Two years ago during Lent I preached a series of sermons grappling with the horror of the cross. Why was Jesus murdered? Why was he tortured? Why was he crucified? And most pointedly, who killed Jesus? Throughout this Lenten series I made it clear that God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by the principalities and powers — a term used by the Apostle Paul to describe the very powerful, the very rich, the very religious, the institutions they represent, and the spirits that operate within these institutions. Jesus was put to death by the structures of political, economic, and religious power represented by Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and Joseph Caiaphas. In the Gospel narratives we see the Roman governor, the king of Judea, and the high priest acting in demonic concert to execute Jesus. God did not kill Jesus; human culture and civilization did. God did not demand the death of Jesus — we did.

    These Lenten sermons on the cross turned out to be surprisingly popular. I’ve discovered that most Christians are deeply relieved to learn that the forgiveness of our sins is not predicated upon God killing Jesus. Most people take it as good news to learn that child sacrifice is not part of God’s plan to save the world. Due to the popularity of these sermons a Bible college invited me to participate in a public debate on whether or not God killed Jesus. My debate opponent held to John Calvin’s theory that God had to expend his anger upon an innocent victim before he could find it within himself to forgive sin.
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