What Does It Mean?
These few days are undoubtedly the most important in the Christian calendar; they are centerpieces of the faith.
But there is no one-way to view the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. That said, I think it’s important to think about.
I contend that how you view Jesus’ death and resurrection reflects on your view of God and how you related to the Divine.
In his book, Across the Spectrum: Understanding issues in Evangelical Theology, Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy devote an entire chapter on “The Atonement Debate.” There they outline the three main perspectives:
- The Christus Victor View (Christ destroyed Satan and his works)
- The Penal Substitution View (Christ dies in our place)
- The Moral Government View (Christ displayed God’s wrath against sin)
Here, in a nutshell, is an overview of these perspectives. Then I will make a case for something more simplistic that may work even better for you.
According to Boyd and Eddy, the Christus Victor view was the most popular until the Middle Ages. It was based on the idea that, “Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated Satan and thus set humankind free from his oppressive rule” (Boyd & Eddy, p. 114).
Later John Calvin and Martin Luther developed the Penal Substitution view, that Jesus took on the punishment that humankind deserved. One must understand, however, that Calvin was an attorney, so he saw everything in legal terms. For him, there was a debt to be paid, and Jesus paid it. The problem I have with this view is that it turns our relationship with God into a transaction. A transaction is that I put down money at the store and I get to take the milk home. However, everything about scripture tells me that God is interested in transformation, not transactions. Money buys stuff. Love transforms.
The Moral Government view is that Jesus’ death and resurrection was meant to get our attention and teach us how to love—to inspire us to holy and right living, in order to uphold his moral government of the universe. I think this relates well to the Jewish tradition of the sacrificial lamb.
To celebrate Passover, families would fetch a cute little lamp from the field, and bring it to live in the house for a few days. Then, just when the kids had become attached to the cuddly little thing, the parents would kill the animal, spread blood on the doorposts, and cook the meat. It was meant to make the reality of sin and death very real to all involved. The injustice of it all must have been shocking.
However you view these few days, and whatever theological perspective you think best fits, I offer one last idea articulated recently by Franciscan, Richard Rohr.
Rohr quoted John Duns Scotus (a Scot who was one of the most influential philosopher/theologians in the Middle Ages; he lived 1266-1308); Scotus disagreed that any debt was owed (to God or the devil) (views most present-day Evangelicals hold).
Scotus basically believed that “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! [Rather] Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.”*
This I know in my heart of hearts. God the father is not the angry member of the Godhead that has to be appeased by Jesus, the nice guy. Jesus said he represented the Divine; that’s good enough for me. There is no difference between the different members.
God the Father is not sitting in heaven (pissed off) with a big stick, ready to wack you, only to be stopped by Jesus who took the beating.
Jesus willingly became flesh to show us the way—the way to love, the way to forgive, the way to live. And he came to redeem all of life, not just our souls.
When you consider the unfathomable love of God to restore relationship with us, and all that has gone wrong, Easter then becomes a celebration of a massive, cosmic effort to put all things right.
How cool is that?
God does not love you because you are good; God loves you because God is good.
Boyd, Gregory A. & Eddy, Paul R. (2002). “The Atonement Debate.” In Across the Spectrum: Understanding issues in Evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Rohr, Richard (March 20, 2015). Jesus: Human and Divine (devotional). Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.
Royalty-free image by Brandi Fitzgerald; retrieved from: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1364044. Location unknown.