The Skeptic Wrestles with Human Sacrifice

There’s a worship song we sing at church that I change one word in. I doubt anyone notices, but I say one word different when I sing that song. I will tell you in a bit what word I change.

Growing up in church, I was always taught that Jesus died for my sins, for the sins of everyone. Specifically, I was taught that God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that God could forgive us, that God needed the sacrifice of Jesus in order to forgive us. And I accepted this as “the good news” until very recently.

Here’s the thing. I still believe that Jesus died for our sins. It’s the details of that belief that have changed. I no longer buy the “God could not forgive us without a perfect human sacrifice.” Isn’t this the same God that told Israel, through the prophet Micah, that he was fed up with their sacrifices and rituals and wanted them to act justly and do good and walk humbly with their God. Didn’t the ritual of human sacrifice usually get applied to the “pagan” nations the Israelites were supposed to be different from? So God went from fed up with the emptiness of sacrifice and hating the entire concept of human sacrifice to requiring his own son be murdered before he could forgive us?

Apologists, stand down. I do not want to argue that theology. I know the arguments already. I have argued the arguments and truly believed them in the past. I just realized one day that the God I believe in, the God I have experienced through the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus is not this human-sacrifice-demanding God. God loved us and made is in the holy image of relationship. We are the ones who tear ourselves away from that relationship. We are the ones who refuse to forgive.

We refuse to forgive ourselves.

We refuse to forgive others.

We refuse to forgive God.

Sin, to me, is this refusal to forgive, this refusal to see outside of our own selves, our own needs, the way we think things should work. This is especially true of the church, where Jesus is supposed to be the model for living, but instead we look a whole lot like the people shouting “crucify.”

How many men and women marched with Nazi flags in Charlottesville yesterday and went to church this morning?

That is sin.

I believe God did send his Son to us. I believe he sent Jesus to show us another way, the way of love and humility, of mercy and compassion, of integrity and abundant life.

But God created humanity and knew the evil in our hearts. He knew when he sent Jesus that we would kill him.

He knew.

It was our sin that killed Jesus. The sin of humanity: arrogance, closed-mindedness, cold-heartedness. Sin put Jesus on a cross.

You see, I don’t believe God demanded a human sacrifice before he would forgive us. I believe we demanded a human sacrifice before we would believe he forgave us. Because we see God through the lens of our own sin, our own nature. And we don’t want to forgive those who hurt us. We want them to pay for what they did, so of course we’d expect God to demand we pay for what we have done.

God knew this. Jesus knew this.

So we were given what we asked for.

Thousands of years ago, Israel demanded a king. God told them they did not need a king. They had God. A king was just going to cause them problems. But they insisted, and God appointed Saul king of Israel.

God gave the people what the people wanted, what they believed they needed.

We are the ones who needed a human sacrifice, a grand gesture, a miracle, a sign… And so God gave us what we believed we needed. Jesus came and showed us another way to live and submitted himself to our sin, took it on himself and let us mangle his body.

Today, we mangle his message.

We teach people that they are worthless, horrible, not worthy. We teach them God had to have a blood sacrifice in order to love us again, and that just doesn’t fly with me.

God created us and said that we were good. God already loved us. God always loved us. We are the ones who ran away. We are the ones who could not forgive.

The line I change is about Jesus dying on the cross. It says that “the wrath of God was satisfied.” When I sing this song, I sing, “the wrath of man was satisfied.”

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