Beyond “Without the Shedding of Blood …”
I must say, I am thoroughly enjoying Christian theology in the budding era of a post-retributive Gospel. With the Western rediscovery of the Beautiful News, I’m feeling—dare I say it—positively born again! I am in awe and worship of the Father of Love, the cruciform God enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth. The symbol of the ‘old rugged cross’ has once again come to represent, for me, God’s essential nature: namely, his self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love. And that’s good news for everyone! On the cross, in the face of human cruelty and bloodlust, God-in-Christ revealed his bottom line character: a mercy that endures forever—the loving-kindness that is everlasting. We discover that ‘the blood of Jesus’—i.e. a metonym for God’s self-offering, sacrificial love—can wash anything. Anything. Anyone.
Still, there will be holdouts who believe real justice requires retribution, vengeance and satisfaction of wrath. It’s okay. Many of us did … for nearly five hundred years. Happily, I can say it’s a passé ‘thing’ and we are starting to get over it. Hang in there! The shelf-life of the vengeful punisher is coming due and should pass away in not too many generations.
Admittedly, that stubborn old retributive system is also rather dangerous. I write this during a weekend when a famous Christian politician declared to the NRA that if she were “in charge,” she’d let terrorists know that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” Lord, have mercy! Such a departure from the Jesus Way! But don’t hate her for her moment of sacrilege; it is what it is and didn’t come from nowhere. Maybe you’d say it too in the right context for a sufficient honorarium … on the Colbert Report perhaps? We all have our x-amount pieces of silver … this is why Jesus died even for Judas.
Moreover, such betrayals are not merely founded on a secular Constitution; they have rich backstories in Christian theologies of retribution. If, in our theology, God needs to use torture to bring about freedom, why should we be surprised when we become like the One we worship? Just a week or two ago, a radio preacher again made it very clear that if Easter means anything, it “begins with Christ dying to satisfy the wrath of God.”
Some theologians I respect to the point of a borderline man-crush (with apologies to New Testament Wright) repeatedly insist that the Gospel of an angry God who can only be assuaged through a violent sacrifice is just a caricature -- that no one really believes that or preaches it seriously. If only it were true. Sad to say, the caricature defense is an unsubstantiated cliché exposed easily enough by the trick question, “Then how does atonement work?”