Christian Legends that need to be challenged:
That’s how the story gets told, Mark.
Yes, but God forget about the story - I want to know the real truth! I always thought you were a loving Father, and yet we get taught that you punished your one true Son in our place.
Yes you do.
I mean, one part of that story sounds good God, sounds like love…
What do you mean one part?
Well, the part where your Son was prepared to take our punishment, that part sounds like love, but the other part of the story doesn’t sound quite right, God. I think the problem is we’re too scared to think it through, scared it might mean we don’t have enough faith…
You’d better explain, Mark.
Ok, well, this idea that a loving God needed to punish someone so badly he was even prepared to punish his Son who hadn’t committed any crime? Really God?? Did you honestly need a victim that badly? It doesn’t make you sound like a father I’d want to be left alone with. What if Jesus was busy one day and you got mad at me – if you’re prepared to crucify your perfect Son, what might you do to me??
Why must you turn over every sacred stone, Mark?
Because Satan is hiding under a lot of them God, and I want to get him, knock him back on his haunches, cause him pain. But would you rather I didn’t?
Carry on, Mark.
Well God, this thing about you punishing Jesus is supposed to be a cornerstone of what we believe, something we’re not meant to question, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t really stack up does it?
Mark, you’d better lay out exactly what you’re thinking.
Well God, let’s say one of our kids, when they were young, had done something wrong and I was planning to punish them, and Miriam, wanting to spare them the pain, offered that I punish her instead.
That’s pretty much the story, Mark.
So it’s the true story, God?
I didn’t say that. Let’s take this slowly. It’s the way you Christians have come to understand the story.
Ok, well, if Miriam offered to take the punishment in our child’s place that would show that she loved them so much she was prepared to face my anger and brave the pain of my punishment.
But what, Mark?
But if I agreed to Miriam’s offer and punished her in my child’s place, it would show that I was so intent on punishment, that I needed a victim so badly, someone to vent my anger on, that I was even prepared to punish my wife for something she hadn’t done. That’s not love at all! A court of law would call me a tyrant for that sort of behaviour and they’d be right! I don’t think you’re a tyrant, God, so there must be something wrong with the way we understand the story.
And yet God, so many scriptures make it sound like you really did punish Jesus. It makes you look like you love us Jesus, but Father, it doesn’t put you in a very good light at all. So I’m asking you, have we misunderstood what the scriptures mean?
Mark, there are people who can no longer read this, they are incensed that you would question what they believe. They believe that the cross is the truth, and that’s that!
But God, I think the cross is the truth too. It’s clearly central to everything. The cross is incredible! I think it’s even more powerful than we realise. I suspect Satan has twisted the story over the years, so when we read the Bible accounts, we miss key things the writers wanted us to see.
Well, what are you saying then, Mark?
I’m saying that the common every day, never questioned understanding of the cross doesn’t really stack up, and someone needs to brave up, risk annoying the big guns, and ask you some questions about it.
And what, Mark?
And if no one else has the courage to do so, then I’m going to. Strike me dead if you like God, but someone has to ask you these questions. We need to stop asking everyone else, and start asking you. That’s what David did. About everything.
I’ve been waiting for you all to do it for eons, Mark. Waiting for you to question what you get taught - to ask me questions and expect answers.
Well, God, there’s no way that what we get taught can be true, can it? If you’re loving, then the idea that you are intent on punishing someone, anyone, for my sin, and that you’ll even punish your own Son if he’s the only one you can get your hands on. Really? That idea makes your love a joke.
But the argument is that the punishment I bore was so great because I was carrying all the sin of the world, Mark.
But Jesus, that argument doesn’t hold either, I’m really sorry to be saying this, but the same people also say that you would still have died, just for me, had I been the only sinner. So God, that means you would have crucified Jesus, needed to crucify him, needed to punish someone that horrifically, just for my sins and no one else’s. God, it wouldn’t enter my mind to nail my sons to a cross, no matter how bad their crime.
As I say, the story makes you seem unbelievably loving, Jesus, which we all know that you are, but it makes you look like a menacing tyrant, Father.
But Mark, it says that I laid on him the sins of them all.
Yes. I know. And what I’m saying is that it doesn’t sound like a loving father, so does it mean something different than what we think it means? Has something been lost in translation?
Something is always lost in translation, Mark.
Well, I need you to guide me through this, God, because I’m not sure, but I’m wondering, I mean seriously wondering if it could mean… Oh I don’t know. This is too complex God.
Carry on, Mark.
Ok, I’m wondering if it means that in response to God turning up on earth as a man, first the Jews, and then the unchurched masses they stirred up, decided to murder you. Actually murder, God. That was their response to God reducing himself to become human so he could prove he wanted friendship.
Murdering you was the culmination, the outworking, the demonstration of what us humans are really like. Our real sin, as you described it in John 16, is that we don’t actually believe you. Given that you are love that means that not believing your love is our real problem. Killing you is the ultimate expression of a son who does not believe that his father loves him, who rages against a father reaching out to him.
You’re surprisingly close to the truth, Mark, although many will consider you miles from it.
So God, if a son condemns his father to death, and then executes him; the father, if he loves his son, somehow takes on himself, accepts responsibility for the monster his son has become. All his son’s mess, his actions and his confused thinking, everything, he takes it all on himself. So I’m wondering if that’s what it means when it says, ‘Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried’?
Do you think it could mean that, Mark?
I’m sorry but I do. And God, the verse that follows that one says, ‘Yet we thought he was punished by God’. The sentence structure suggests we were mistaken, that you weren’t being punished by God at all.
Yes, it does.
Alright, but there are still a couple of places in that passage in Isaiah that really do suggest you were punishing Jesus. It seems so unlikely, that the Father who runs to the prodigal son would do that, yet the verses clearly suggest it.
Popular teaching certainly suggests that, Mark.
So are you saying the scriptures themselves don’t suggest that?
No, I haven’t said that yet. Not so fast. I’m saying the reason you believe I punished Jesus in your place has more to do with popular teaching. Mark, let’s work through those ‘sticky passages’.
Alright, God, then it goes on to say, ‘the punishment that brought us peace was on him’.
Mark, I’m not a harsh God, not looking to throw you all into hell, and yet any human can see that if a mob gets together and executes God, punishes him for supposed crimes, that if anyone needed to be punished it was that mob and not God. And yet I was the one punished. By them. That verse does not say the punishment heaped on me came from God, it says the punishment brought you peace.
Ok true, but that means that we got peace because you were punished?
Yes, it does mean that.
Ok well, how God??
Mark, here’s a question for you: What if me hanging on the cross was not a story of the Father finally getting his victim? What if God wasn’t looking to punish anyone? What if the cross was actually mankind’s response to ‘peace and goodwill to all men’?
Well, that would be huge, God, but there are a couple of big questions around that idea. First is how did you dying on the cross bring us peace? It sure makes it sound like by punishing you, God was able to let us off the hook.
As you said yourself, Mark, that would be like you punishing Miriam so your kids could go unpunished. It would mean you were a tyrant, looking for a victim. If you’re not that bad, then certainly my Father isn’t.
Well what IS the story then, God??
Mark, I offered myself to humanity – my message was ‘here I am, I’m God, but I’ve made myself a man so we can talk’ - but you murdered me. The mystery, the power that wins men’s hearts is this; I didn’t retaliate like the stern God you humans think I am. Instead, I submitted like a servant, a heart broken dad. I offered my life as a sacrifice, allowed you to sacrifice me. And the result is that people everywhere, when they hear the story think ‘hang on, what have we done? We murdered God, and he let us??’ The story opens men’s hearts, Mark.
Ok, so God, later in that passage it says ‘The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. What’s your answer to that? It seems pretty clear. It certainly seems to back up the story of an angry God punishing his son in our place.
It might seem that way, Mark, but actually, on closer reading, if you’re prepared to throw out your presuppositions and risk letting me speak, it doesn’t mean that at all.
What else could it mean, God? I don’t want you to be a tyrant who needs a victim for the crimes of the world, but that’s what the scripture sounds like, and if it’s true then I guess I just have to live with it.
Yes. If it’s true you do. But is it true, Mark?
Well, it doesn’t sound like you, God, is all I’m saying.
Mark, let me explain how the punishment - men punishing me, not God punishing me – brought you peace. When you hear the story of the cross and you realise that God lowered himself, made himself a man to prove that he wants equal relationship, is prepared to make himself like you…
When you hear that, it moves you, it’s the core of the story. Mary Magdalene didn’t need the cross to understand my love, neither did David, but the cross filled the gaps even for them. Suddenly, so much they hadn’t understood about my love was made obvious.
The Cross does that. It demonstrates my love. The cross wasn’t our intention, but we knew from before creation that it would be your response, and decided to allow it. We could see that it would melt your hearts. It wasn’t the way we wanted to begin a relationship, but we could see that it would work for you, so we went with it. “The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” We saw that allowing you to nail me to the cross would allow us to demonstrate how we feel about you humans.
Mark, we don’t want to judge and punish, we want friendship. When you realise it wasn’t just enough to be made small like you; I was also prepared to submit to your will, even let you murder me – something about that story melts your heart, brings you into relationship with us, heals your hearts. 1 PETER 2:24 “By his wounds you have been healed.”
And it’s no story, Mark, it’s truth. When you hear those words you’re touching the very meaning of the universe – God wants a back and forth relationship. He wants it so badly he makes himself small, equal to you, vulnerable to the decisions you make about him, no matter how murderous.
And that knowledge, Mark, that my love is so strong that I will never retaliate, never hurt you, no matter how angry you are, no matter how deep your mess, that knowledge wins your heart. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” The cross proves I’m not a harsh God, wanting to punish sinful humans, I’m a servant God allowing you to punish me, if that’s what it takes to reach you.
But Religion, that enemy of the Cross, has made the story about right and wrong and punishment and repentance. That’s the opposite of what the story means.
That won’t win you many friends in religious circles, God.
Mark, I’ve never had many friends in those circles. The cross is the ultimate demonstration that whatever you do, even right down to killing me, I’m still going to overlook it – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” I just want connection.
Ok, God, but what about where it says, ‘the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’?
Can’t you see, Mark? Everything we’ve just talked about makes it obvious. We saw from before the beginning what your response would be when God was revealed as a man, and we decided we’d still do it. All three of us agreed to it. We are one. I, the Son, took your grief and mess and the punishment you meted out that day, the punishment that really you deserved yourself, I took it all on myself.
The three of us, as one, took the punishment you dished out on ourselves. We accepted it, allowed it, and Jesus the representative of the three of us that day, bore the excruciating pain.
I, the Father, allowed him to take it on himself, laid it, gently, lovingly on him. Because we are one, it meant I was also putting it on myself. And, I the Spirit, held his hand while the Father mopped his brow. We took your ‘sin’ upon us, Mark, your real sin, which is that you don’t believe our love. John 16:9
In Revelation it says about me ‘with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation’. Mark, I purchased them for God, not from him. I didn’t need to pay God for you. That would make me a hero and my father a villain. That’s a lie. The act of submitting to mob murder has melted the hearts of people, from every tribe and nation ever since. Don’t you get that?
Mark, that rubbish about ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’, is a lie, carefully concocted by the prince of lies. The real truth is ‘God in the hands of angry sinners’. A truth that breaks down the barriers between us. I submitted myself into the hands of an angry mob, an act so shocking, so humbling, an act that only a servant God, a loving and not angry Father could be capable of. And as a result, millions of hearts have turned to me.
The cross wasn’t so you could get into heaven. The cross was to demonstrate that the door to heaven is open, has always been and will always be. I endured the cross to demonstrate that whatever you do, I’m going to stand and wait ‘til you’re ready to respond. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
Ok God, so you keep quoting from the Bible, does that mean having the Bible is crucial? If so, what about the people who don’t? What about Christians who never have one? How do they manage to have a relationship with you God??
Explain your question, Mark. Break it down. Plenty of people will be deeply concerned that you would even ask.
I mean like continual, habitual reading of the Bible in order to hear what you are saying. I mean putting more effort into hearing you by reading scripture, than hearing you speak direct.
What did Paul tell you?
Well, I’m thinking about where he said we should imitate him, because he imitated you?
Exactly. Did Paul and I rely most heavily on scripture, or on hearing God speak direct?
Well, could the answer be bo…
The answer is not both, Mark! History proves that each of us had an extensive knowledge of scripture, but we could not survive without hearing from God direct, Spirit to spirit. Paul told you that he imitated me, and that you should imitate him.
So God, you’re saying that listening to you direct, Spirit to spirit, is more important than reading the Bible?
Much more im…
Hang on God this is a problem for people, Religious leaders have told them that listening to you direct is dangerous, we might hear wrong.
Yes, you might. It’s happened before and it will happen again. But then listening to me through the Bible is equally dangerous, Mark, that was the Pharisees’ key mistake.
John 5:39&40 “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”
My marriage came crashing down and me with it. The devastation began sinking in and me with it. Nothing I knew was the same anymore. It was horrible and I was terrified. I threw my pride to the wind and screamed (literally) to God.