Re: Sin and atonement [Part – 5]
Here’s a post on quite a number of things related to the atonement and Christ’s passion. It is a reply to this article written by one Hasan. The author in fact has an entire series dedicated to questioning the Christian understanding of these concepts and having browsed through most of the articles in this series, I must commend him for thinking critically about the Christian scriptures but I should mention that the outcome leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately his resultant product suffers from severe mistakes and errors in logic which will become all too apparent the more one reads this article. That said, this article is long.
Jesus, as we are so insistently told, offered himself voluntarily to God the Father and was made the scapegoat for the sins of all humanity, provided, of course, they believed in him. But when the time of acceptance of his wish approaches nigh and at last the glimmer of hope for sinful humanity is beginning to appear like the dawn of a new day, as we turn to Jesus expecting to observe his joy, his happiness and his ecstasy at this most eventful moment of human history, how profoundly disappointed and manifestly disillusioned we are. Instead of finding a Jesus impatiently awaiting the hour of jubilation what we see instead is a Jesus weeping and crying and praying and beseeching God the Father to take away the bitter cup of death from him. — Hasan
There are a few things that are incorrect with the above and before we can continue with the rest of the article we must first place things in the right perspective. The author claims that we are to be disillusioned by the fact that the Christ displayed such terror, such aversion even, to the events which would soon transpire. Starting from the end of the above citation and working our way up, we are treated to the author’s first mistake. He incorrectly identifies the cup which Christ was so reluctant to drink as the “bitter cup of death.” Now, to the author’s credit, the cup held out by the Father to his Son in one aspect truly was a bitter cup of death yet to term it merely as such betrays a fundamental ignorance of the realities of Gethsemane (as if the Saviour shrank back from mere death) and the agony of Jesus Christ. It is only such a profound misunderstanding that could ever lead one to be disappointed by Christ’s lack of a happy-go-lucky, uninhibitedly joyous disposition at the prospect of soon having to drink from the cup of God’s wrath. That, in fact, is the proper name for this cup and in simply naming it properly one begins to see the terror that ought to come with it. In other passages, this cup is described as follows:
“If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” — Rev. 14:9-10 KJV
From the above we understand that this cup is the very wrath of God, unmixed with pity, nor diluted by grace but it is the full measure of the anger of God against all manner of ungodliness. It is a punishment of unimaginable torment that is applied to the individual’s very soul. The imagery used in the Bible to describe the wrath of God is meant to illicit fear at the reality of hell and within this cup was contained the full payment, that is, the full wrath of God which was reserved for all those whom Christ voluntarily suffered for. Now knowing that the content of this cup was not merely death on a cross but rather the full anger, the full wrath, the full indignation of a holy God, what would one expect to feel?
At this point I will say that the author is being deceiving in his statements above because I can guarantee the reader that in reality, he believes that the terror which Christ felt in Gethsemane to be the appropriate response considering the circumstances. This is because, as a Muslim, he would agree that terror at being punished by God is the most appropriate emotion to feel. One might ask him whether a person should be terrified at the prospect of being subjected to punishment by God in hell or whether they should laugh it off and go on with their daily life feeling wholly indifferent? He would certainly agree with me that terror, weeping, crying, and praying would be the most appropriate course of action. If the same is true for the suffering of Christ on the cross, how then would he pretend that the reader should be disillusioned by the gospel narrative? Aversion is the most appropriate action to take and it would be absolutely disgraceful and an insult to God himself if Jesus had behaved anything like the author wished because it would betray a sincere lack of understanding as to what exactly was going on and would make light of the entire issue of God rightfully punishing sin. In the above quote, the author displays a very low view of God and would like us to make light of, and to merely gloss over the fact that God himself was about to judge the world in Christ. The individual who would be disillusioned by the response of Christ towards the wrath of God is not pious, rather he would that Christ had sinned by not conducting himself in the appropriate manner concerning what God was about to do in regards to sin.
Furthermore, the author seems to insinuate that seeing as the Christ displayed such terror at the coming agony, he was somehow involuntarily coerced into dying on the cross. I believe that Jesus undertook his suffering voluntarily but Hasan disagrees (on the basis that Jesus displayed such aversion to his suffering) so now we have to ask ourselves who in fact is correct? To be sure both our positions are attested to by scripture: that Jesus wasn’t especially excited at experiencing the wrath of God is recorded in Matt. 26:39, Luke 22:42, Mark 14:36 yet that Jesus voluntarily underwent his passion is recorded in Matt. 16:21-23, Matt. 26:53, John 10:17-18, John 12:31-33 and in many more places throughout scripture. That said, perhaps the better question to ask would be whether one can both volunteer for a matter and yet feel aversion at the task, all at the same time?
Reason tells us that this is quite possible and one does not need to posit a hopeless contradiction between the two or opt for one scenario and thereby completely disregard the other. It is a simple fact that many people would be willing to give their lives for their loved ones, yet one doubts that they would be particularly excited by the thought of their suffering. During the hour of their agony, would it not be possible for them to wish that there was another way? If this is so, would it then put into question the fact that they voluntarily offered their life for their loved one? Of course the answer is no because the dread of suffering and the dedication to go through with the suffering are not mutually exclusive. Hasan however, would ask us to disregard all of the above and simply believe that Jesus was coerced into dying on the cross (nevermind his repeated claims to having come for just this purpose or his foreknowledge of the fact) because he was anything but ecstatic at the coming punishment. It goes without saying that this position is wholly unreasonable and does nothing to harmonize all the evidence that is presented (while my position does take into account all of the factors, his does not and largely ignores them altogether). One must remind the author that there is a time for everything (Ecc. 3:1-8) and at times, it is far more appropriate to display terror than to display joy.
Yet there is more to be said concerning Gethsemane. Up until now I have conducted my response as if the words “take this cup away from me” meant that Christ was asking to be saved and effectively skip his ordeal and that is not at all what I understand from this verse. To be sure enough, I sincerely believe that Jesus was in deep agony concerning the events which were to transpire—as he should have been for no other response was more appropriate—but I do not think that he was asking God if he could forgo drinking from the cup of his wrath seeing as to pay for the sins of his people was his entire reason for becoming man (Matt. 1:21)!
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. […] 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. — John 10:23-24, 27-33 NIV
Notice that in the above Christ derisively asks whether he should ask to be saved from the hour of suffering and then claims that he could not do so for the hour of his suffering was the very reason for why he was born. Even the analogy concerning the kernel of wheat shows that the Christ viewed his death as being absolutely necessary! So then in what manner are we to understand his request towards the Father in Gethsemane? Perhaps the following explains it best:
A third possibility is to take “this cup” as an image of punishment, as it is in the Old Testament. Rather than asking to get out of the torment of the cross, Jesus is looking forward to the time when the punishment for sin will be over and he will be restored to complete fellowship with the Father. Craig Blaising notes that Jesus applied Isaiah 53:12 to himself before going to the garden, and suggests that Isaiah 51:19-22 may hold the key to interpreting the desire to have the cup removed. In Isaiah, the cup of God’s wrath is taken away from the people after they have experienced it. They received the punishment in full, but afterwards the cup is removed and they experience the blessings of the Lord in the Kingdom. Rather than asking to avoid the crucifixion, Jesus is praying that after he “drinks from the cup of wrath,” he have that cup taken away so that he can enjoy fellowship again.
The implication for Jesus’ prayer is this: As in this passage, where God will remove the cup of his wrath from his people after they have drunk it, so Jesus prays that the cup of God’s wrath for sin, which he drinks for all, will in the same way be removed from his hand by the Father after he has drunk it (335). — Reading Acts
This interpretation of the words of Christ is made all the more forceful when one understands that Jesus ushered his ministry by quoting from Isaiah (compare Isaiah 61:1-2 with Luke 4:16-21) and the fact that Jesus was looking forward to returning to his previous state of glory. The very glory that he shared together with the Father before the world was created (John 17:4-5)! If we comprehend things in this manner, then we would see that it fits in exactly with the punishment and blessing motif of Isaiah. Yet not only that, but it fits in perfectly with the hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Once more abasement follows exultation and it is only after having been abased that Christ returns to his seat of glory. It is this return to glory that the Christ asks for.
It is said in the Old Testament that an imposter who attributes things to God which He had never said, would be hanged on a tree and die upon it an accursed death [(Deuteronomy 21:22–23)]. […] Jesus knew that if this happened, the Jews would celebrate with ecstasy and proclaim him to be an imposter whose falsehood had finally been proved beyond a shadow of doubt on the authority of the divine Scriptures. This was the reason why he was so anxious to escape the bitter cup of death; not out of cowardice but out of fear that his people would be misled and would fail to recognise his truth if he died upon the cross. — Hasan
Once more the author betrays his lack of understanding by implying that it was the cross which so terrified Christ rather than the unbridled wrath of God that he would soon experience. In fact, the author cannot support the above words through scripture because we have repeated instances wherein Christ plainly announces that he came into the world so as to become a sacrifice for sin and reconcile the world to God. The fact that Jewish law claims that whoever is hung on a tree is cursed poses no problem for the Christian because this is precisely what the Bible claims of Jesus (Galatians 3:13). We must understand that the wrath of God is the same as the curse of God and for Christ to accept this punishment is to accept the curse. It only follows that God would punish that which he has cursed. Yet the prophets themselves declared that the Messiah would in fact bear our sins upon himself and God would punish him for us all (Isaiah 53).
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makeshis life an offering for sin,
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledgemy righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities. — Isaiah 53:4-5; 10 NIV
The above words were written some 600 years before Christ yet describe the life and sacrifice of Jesus so perfectly. Contrary to the incredibly vague prophecies that Muslims have to read into the words of God in order to find Muhammad in the bible, the prophecies about Jesus are incredibly clear. I mean who else (more specifically, what other Jew) in the history of the world has it been claimed of that he died for the sins of others? Who else has it been claimed of that in his suffering and in the shedding of his blood would he reconcile the many to God? Notice that the text says that the individual would be pierced for our transgressions and by his punishment we would be healed. What other figure in the history of the world does the above describe if not Christ? This is certainly a problem that the Muslim, Jew and the world has to come to terms with given that at the very least, the above is dated hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus yet details his life and ministry so perfectly even to the point where it claims that the very nation to whom these things were revealed to would not believe it (Isaiah 53:1). I would encourage Hasan to read the chapter in full.
Who was Sacrificed?
One is compelled to wonder about the relationship of the man in Jesus with the inherited propensity to commit sin, common to all the progeny of Adam and Eve. At best one can bring oneself to believe that in the duality of the ‘Divine Son’ and the man occupying the same body, it was only the ‘Divine Son’ who was innocent. But what about the man living alongside him. […] This scenario will not be complete without presenting Jesus the ‘Son of God’, dying, not so unselfishly after all, for the sake of humanity but his prime concern might have been for his half brother, the man in him.— Ibid.
Again the reader is privy to Hasan’s lack of understanding in that Jesus did not inherit the propensity to sin seeing as it is passed through the father. The author goes on to posit a distinction within Christ between the man and the God and no such distinction can be made. There is only one Christ. Two natures in one person and not two persons in one person. Also given that we have established that the Christ was sinless, we need not concern ourselves with the author’s baseless conjectures.
The Dilemma of Jesus
‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’>
One must notice that it was not agony alone expressed in that cry but obviously there was mingled with it an element of surprise, bordering on horror. — Ibid.
It would seem that Hasan has once again displayed his lack of biblical knowledge. He claims that the Christ was somehow surprised by the events of the crucifixion, as if somehow things had gone horribly wrong and he had been deceived by God. To this end he quotes from Matt. 27:46 yet little does he know that those very words which Jesus spoke were to point his audience towards the truth that his crucifixion was foretold in the Bible! The words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are actually the opening line of Psalm 22—written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Before I continue it must be mentioned that the Bible hasn’t always been neatly divided into numbered chapters and verses etc. so it often occurred that entire sections were known by their opening lines and this is exactly what we find in Psalm 22. It contains specific prophecies about Christ and the circumstances surrounding his death, both his abasement and subsequent exultation. At this point, it would prove worthwhile for us to take a look at this prophetic psalm:
Psalm 22:7 and 8
(7) All they that see me, they mock me. They hurl insults shaking their heads saying,
(8) “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
(41) In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.
(42) “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
(43) He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.”
(16) Dogs have surrounded me, a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
(17) I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
(18) They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
The Psalmist then goes on to describe the eventual triumph of the Lord and how the one who previously suffered will sing God’s praise. From the above it is more than obvious that Hasan has profoundly misunderstood the atonement and the suffering of Christ.