I’m still struggling to understand the alleged logic of the Easter sacrifice

April 7, 2012 | By | 15 Replies More

Tonight, more than 35 years after completing 12 years of Catholic education, I find myself re-visiting the claim that it was God’s gift to humankind to allow Jesus to die. Specifically, I’m re-reading

Image by javierantonio at Dreamstime (with permission)

my earlier posts on the “illogic of atonement” and the application of the “moral accounting metaphor.”   I believe the latter theory would actually shed light on why an omnipotent God couldn’t simply snap his fingers and forgive humans, instead of sacrificing his son.  Then again, none of this would explain why a God would blame all of humankind for the allegedly bad act of Adam and Eve, especially when their alleged transgression was trying to partake of knowledge of good and evil.  That doesn’t sound like a crime to me. In fact it befuddles me.  Hence, I’m not a Christian. Rather, as usual, I’m looking at Easter from the outside in.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (15)

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  1. Adam Herman says:

    It only makes sense if we figure that God is not quite omniscient. My own reading of the Bible certainly tells me that. Once you do away with that concept, the Bible makes much more sense.

  2. Adam Herman says:

    One thing I’ve always wondered about is why ancient religions didn’t need all powerful, all-wise gods. They were perfectly happy with gods with faults and limits to their power, who were often motivated by the same base motives of humans. Except they could shoot lightning out of their eyes or something.

    And it does seem that the earliest books of the Bible portray a God that is a bit less than all knowing.

  3. Okay, here goes. The savior they pinned their hopes on, that meant so much to them, died an ignoble death. To turn this humiliation around and salvage Jesus as being more powerful than those who put him to death, they likened him to an animal that is sacrificed to cleanse people of their sins.

    For the people of first century Judea, who grow up in a world where it is a given that animal sacrifice atones for sins, the leap to Jesus’ sacrifice taking away sins is “sensible.” Since today we are so removed from the animal sacrifice for sins tradition, this transferring of the concept onto Jesus seems illogical.

    But now it should make perfect sense, right?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Michael: What you write does make sense. If the followers deem a person to be their savior and he/she died an ignoble death, well . . . it just couldn’t end like THAT. No decent book or movie would have that sort of ending– “and then the hero died an excruciating death. The end.”

      It HAD to mean something, or at least symbolize something. Given that humans are inventive and highly symbolic, might as well shoot for the stars. This death was not just meaningful, but it constituted an extreme act of heroism and love. Something huge resulted from the death. In fact, it was part of a much bigger Plan.

  4. Karl says:

    There are at least four possibilities for how to search for meaning (if there is any) to the death of Jesus.

    1) The physical body of Jesus was only that of a human animal without any spiritual aspects to life that means anything once the animal is dead. If such was the case, the sacrifice is not a sacrifice with any meaning so it is pointless even to discuss this as if it did have some kind of understandable meaning. Not much point in even valuing anything about Jesus at all. Jesus did nothing to help the evolution of mankind progress by dying off and removing his genes from the gene pool.

    2) There is more to the existence of Jesus and to the existence of people in general for that matter than just a physical body and thus the willing sacrifice of his physical body upon the cross had a meaning that was culturally relative but is not relevant beyond that culture. Even the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans had human sacrifice as part of their cultures. They didn’t need to trump up charges as far as we know – the ones selected were held in high honor to have their hearts ripped from their chests.

    3) There is more to the existence of Jesus and to the existence of other people for that matter than just a physical body and thus the willing sacrifice of his physical body upon the cross had a meaning that was culturally relative and for those that will receive it this sacrificial death also has a meaning for other human cultures and other human individuals as well. What is the proper way to show someone you care for them and love them even when you know they are treating you like an enemy? Jesus had enemies -and he sacrificed his all to avoid an insurrection and a revolution by those who had no idea what is mission truly was all about.

    4) There is more to the existence of Jesus as both human and also the only begotten Son of God and thus the willing sacrifice of his physical body upon the cross has a meaning that was culturally relative but the sacrificial death also has a meaning for all other human cultures and all other human individuals across time as well. This is not a fact provable by scientific models and calculations, it is a matter of personal values, personal belief and personal witness.

    But if you want numbers to back up the fourth possibility, that is if one cares to study it, there were over 330 references from the Hebrew Old Testament that found direct application in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

  5. And I forgot to mention, if this isn’t obvious, that all of the premonitions and predictions of Jesus’ own messianic nature and death were post-facto additions to create a false impression that it was all part of a preordained plan. The gospel writers’ desperation to make it appear that Jesus’ destiny was foretold in the Hebrew Bible resulted in two mistaken citations of “predictive” scriptures and three citations that are nowhere to be found in the Bible.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Michael: Speaking of predictions, the following predictions are typically ignored by preachers when speaking to their flocks:

      Matt 10:23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

      Matt 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
      16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

      Matt 24:33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
      24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
      24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

      It appears that many things that should have happened a long time ago are 2,000 years late. Somehow, these passages never phase those who claim that Jesus will come again.

  6. Karl says:

    The terms “some standing here” means some remaining here.

    The term “this generation” pertains to this and every generation up until the time of when Jesus returns.

    Just as Abraham is alive, so to is every human being that has ever lived.

    • (I know I’m going to get smacked for this, but…)

      Karl, you’re interpreting. And it’s fairly clear from later documents that the Apostles didn’t hear anything so indefinite—they expected to see him come back with the Kingdom of Heaven. So either (a) he conned them, (b) he misspoke (but that’s not possible, he’s supposed to be god) or (c) none of it happened and it’s just a story.

      How you get “some remaining here” from “some standing here” is a stretch. But this is a game played by all Millennialists—they reconstruct what it should say from what it does say when their predictions don’t come true.

  7. Karl says:

    I’m sure intepreting makes no sense since the loss of a context becomes the pretext for what anyone’s words can possibly mean.

    Just explaining how Jesus reasoned with the Sadducees about death. It ain’t over until its over, not matter what you may happen to believe or think you understand about life and death in terms of the duration of linear time.

    Jesus flatly told his followers not to expect a quick resolution timewise to these matters, but to be prepared because when the day arrives it will be as if you have left your physical body and entered directly into the judgement and eternity. All generations will come into judgement in a similar way and what will seems like the same instant.

    This is what Jesus gave as the clearest “signs of the time.”

    From the Gospel of Luke Chapter 21

    24And they (??????) shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

    25And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

    26Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

    27And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

    28And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

    • Which is all great Wagnerian poetry, but it means what?

      “Until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Meaning? There will be a time full of gentiles? Or they will all have had a really good meal? Sorry, don’t mean to be flip—oh, wait, yes I do, because that is a vague, meaningless phrase. Nothing is defined and why would god be concerned about divisions of orthodoxy, i.e. gentiles, etc?

      Jerusalem, for that matter, has been “trodden down”—depending what exactly you mean by that—for most of its existence, so again, what does that mean? It was under Roman rule at the time this was written, so the phrase can pertain to then or two centuries before then or a millennia after then.

      And “the powers of heaven shall be shaken”? What? Meaning Yahweh is gonna lose his grip on things? Which is supposedly impossible, so that’s not it. And what “powers” exactly are we talking about? the weather? Sunspots?

      And that “distress of nations” again is a vague, constant conditions, nations are always distressed, always have been, it’s in the nature of being a nation. Of course the always popular signs in the sun and the moon and the stars, but now we know what stars are, and how can there be signs in things that carry no signs? Jesus, being god (supposedly) would have known that the Crystal Spheres were just stories and that stars were actually other suns—which he might actually have mentioned, ’cause if that had been recorded then we’d have something significant to talk about here, but he didn’t, he stuck with the cosmology of the day, which was wrong, so where’s the omniscient part? Oh, yeah, this is all metaphor, not to be taken literally, but then, what part shouldn’t be taken literally? Some, all? If all, then the coming back bit is probably bullshit, too.

      Now, I go on at length about how silly this crap actually is. It only sounds impressive until you start asking questions about MEANING! Then it kinda starts all falling apart and you realize only someone predisposed to believe there’s anything important here would buy any of it.

      I had some Witnesses knock on my door a couple years back and they started in with the Signs—“wars and rumors of wars”—and I laid a little history on them, like, there are ALWAYS wars somewhere and likewise always RUMORS of wars, and what is very interesting is that we are actually experiencing a decline in violence globally. It’s hard to see since the only thing they talk about on the news is violence, so it sounds terrible, but surveys show fairly conclusively that people are killing each other at a lower rate than ever before. This might partly be a statistical anomaly, but given the explosive growth in population, you’d think it would keep pace, at least, and be within a margin of error, but it’s not, so that also is bullshit anymore, but I suppose people can be forgiven for not knowing it—

      Which is the point. This crap is impressive to people who don’t know any better. To people who don’t know.

      To people who don’t want to know.

      You know what—Christopher Hitchens was right, religion poisons everything. It’s like lead. It makes people stupid.

      Apologies to all for letting my patience slip.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Mark: Here’s what Steven Pinker has to say about all of those wars supposedly going on:

      “Violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and today may be the most peaceful era in our species’ history,” Pinker said.

  8. Ruben says:

    I don’t think anyone can really explain atonement, the best I can understand is that God cannot contradict Himself by this I think He cannot just wish things away (like humanities fall). Human freedom comes at a price and the price is God allowing us to run our destinies. In the same way the correction or undoing of our fall requires restitution in many levels, it cannot simply be wiped out by will. Omnipotence and omniscience are attributes of God but goodness and truth are also His attributes. So things have consequences. And the undoing of consequences is also a grave matter. I think the atonement was the Fathers sacrifice more than the Son’s, it was God giving up what was most precious to Him.

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