Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Here are some notes from our meeting on 3/6/07 in which we discussed the first part of Chapter 3 (Jesus and the Crucified God)

In this chapter, making heavy use of the synoptic gospels, Wright begins to explore how God resolves the problem of evil within the person, ministry and death of Jesus. His goal is to locate the problem of evil where he believes it properly belongs, within the theology of the atonement, which he feels has become excessively individualistic. Hitting some notes familiar to Wright fans he laments the inadequacy of a “Christian faith that “has the role of rescuing people from the evil world, ensuring them forgiveness in the present and heaven thereafter” for a post-Holocaust, 9/11 world. I commented that while this might be theologically thin many do find it sufficient. In fact the worse the world seems to become the more appealing ‘left-behind’ theology seems to be.

Wright asks us to reread the Gospels for what they are, not as what they are not. He argues that that whole of the (synoptic) gospels contain atonement theology and not just Mark 10 (the son of man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many). They “tell the story of how the evil in the world –political, social, moral, emotional-reached its height and how God’s long term plan for Israel…finally came to its climax. They tell both of these stories in-and as-the story of how Jesus of Nazareth announced God’s kingdom and went to his violent death.”

Wright says they tell this story in five ways. First they tell the story of the evil of political powers being confronted by an alternative ruler, Jesus the king of the Jews, hanging on a Roman cross. Second they tell the story of “corruption within Israel itself” where neither the Pharisees, the Priests nor the Zealots are faithful to their God given vocations. Third, there is the suprapersonal, demonic power of “deeper, darker forces” which includes death itself. Fourth, there is the double mindedness of the disciples who doubt, attempt to exploit, deny and betray Jesus. Finally, there is the “downward spiral of evil.” We had to most difficulty understanding what Wright meant by this though I wondered if perhaps he meant a Girardian cycle of violence.

Next Wright talks about how Jesus “solves” the problem of evil. This is a summary of chapters 5-10 in Jesus and the Victory of God. God has an apparently risky and ambiguous plan which in Jesus will come to fruition. It comes to fruition in Jesus’ ministry of healing in which he absorbs others uncleaness rather then be contaminated by it himself. The cross is an ultimate example of this. Secondly it comes to fruition when Jesus has table fellowship with sinners. Jesus deliberately embraces the lost, finally sharing the shame of rebellious criminals. Finally, Jesus ‘articulates and models the call to Israel to be Israel.” He himself fulfills the Sermon on the Mount which is the fulfillment of the law given on Sinai.


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Edward T. Babinski said...

Doesn't the Bible provoke lots of questions concerning suffering and evil?

Doesn't Yahweh kill more men, women and children, according to the O.T., than Satan?

Doesn't the Bible show that everything from polygamy to slavery and genocide can be considered "God's Will" depending on the situation? Situational ethics?

What about the "evil" of "tossing people into a lake of fire whose smoke rises forever in the sight of heaven's inhabitants," per Revelation? It's God, not the devil, doing that. Whether metaphorical or not, the image chosen or "revealed" was that of tossing people into flames like kindling wood.

And even if, as Christians believe, God suffered pains like those we all suffer, is that much better than a king telling a peasant, "I visited the town where you live, and contracted the same case of leprosy found there, and am suffering with you all." Does that make ordinary people feel much better about "suffering" in general, or injustices and evils in general?

And, per the Bible, Jesus suffered while fasting in the desert for 40 days, and then a few years later was tortured for hours and killed and spent maybe one day in hell (and it wasn't so bad for him either, because he was able to preach to souls there), and spent less than three evenings and mornings before rising from the dead. Per the Bible he also had the added advantage of knowing even before he died that he'd rise soon after dying. The rest of his life prior to his death was spent as a healthy young boy and man, and after his ministry began that time included meals shared with sinners and wine-bibbers, and the enjoyment of receiving acclaim as a preacher -- not bad as far as human enjoyments go.

And what about the injustice of killing the only truly innocent person on earth, and one's only son? (Couldn't God find a pillow to beat instead, or simply employ direct forgiveness like in the prayer Jesus taught to everyone where he said to pray, "Forgive us [Father] our debts as we forgive our debtors?")

So, God tosses everyone into a lake of fire if they don't believe that his only innocent Son HAD TO DIE (and it had to be a bloody death) before he could forgive anyone anything?

And what about the hubris of humans believing that "God" came down to earth to die, to "become sin for us" as the Bible says? Did God reject Himself when Jesus was on the cross and "became sin?" Was there a temporary rift in the Trinity, God hating God at that moment? God making sure God was punished, God pouring out his wrath at sin, sending God to hell? How can there be no sin in God, but he became sin for us? It seems like a myth to aggrandize humanity's own self-centered view of its own importance. God beat up his own self, his own kid "for us." God punished His own innocent self "for us." And that makes us "clean?"

Because a Jewish man died a bloody death in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, I can now go to heaven even after talking back to my mom? So long as I believe all the things Christians do about that Jewish man?

And what about the "sin" of "crucifying God's only son?" Who is going to "pay" for that sin? Apparently no one, since Jesus forgave those who did it. Immediate direct forgiveness per one Gospel's telling of the story. Because without immediate direct forgiveness I guess God would need to keep sending saviors down to earth to die for the sin of the men who killed the previous one, ad infinitum. Because killing God's only begotten son has got to be at the TOP of the "sin" list, the sin of which there can be no atonement. Really, think about that question a little while.

And what about Judas? According to Christian theology without Jesus having been betrayed he wouldn't have died and we'd still be in our sins. So why wasn't Judas redeemed and made a saint for playing his necessary role so that the world could be saved? Instead, he was reviled so much that Christians invented THREE stories about how he died, two are in the N.T., namely "falling headlong and splitting open," and another saying he "hung himself," and a third that arose after the Gospels in which Judas is portrayed as having been crushed to death by a cart in one of Jerusalem's gates.

And if Christianity is about praying for sinners then why don't Christians ever pray for the two sinners who need it most, namely, Judas, and Satan?

I really don't see how Christianity "solves the problem of evil." But I do see how Christianity has a mythological schema that could convince people who became believers that they were "saved" while everyone who dared to doubt such a scheme for any reason, were "damned."

And in my opinion, such a scheme appears irrational, and well, "evil."

I don't believe in the virgin birth, and I have my doubts about the resurrection too (N.T. Wright's book on the resurrection has not convinced the world, and certainly not altered the views nor the questions raised by a great many other theologians and non-believers who have reached a variety of conclusions based on the same evidence.)

Edward T. Babinski said...

Also, if you want read a challenge to Wright's eschatological interpretations, check out the works of the theologian Edward Adams at King's College London.