Either Jesus was wrong–or we are

bad-mathFor years, I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that I became a sinner the moment I took my first breath. That’s what I was told. Everyone around me believed it. As far as I was concerned, it was so—until I began to notice that something didn’t add up:

Jesus didn’t simply die; he was sadistically tortured to death. According to the scriptures, he was made to suffer for something others did, just as I was destined to be punished because of something Adam and Eve did. It made me think.

Is God unfair?

If asked if God is unfair, our natural response is, “Of course not!” But do we really believe that?

Yes or no: Is it fair to blame, harm or kill an innocent person for something someone else did? If not, we actually believe that God is unfair.

If we worship someone who treats others unfairly, what does that say about us? To be consistent, if we believe that satanically torturing an innocent man to death is the divine way to solve a problem, then we also must believe that society should jail or execute innocent people for crimes committed by their relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Do we?

No. We live in an if “you do the crime, you do the time” society. Why? It’s only fair.

The truth is, we don’t believe in harming or punishing innocent people, and we don’t know any sane person who does. Yet we love it when God does it.

Would Love do that?

Like most Christians, I was repeatedly told that Jesus’s suffering was an act of godly love. Further, I should be grateful that God loved me so much that He would have Jesus brutally tortured instead of me. And if I didn’t believe that Jesus was tortured, I would be.

I had to wonder: Is it an act of love to torture someone to death? Whether it was for their mistake or someone else’s, is that what Love does?

Furthermore, what kind of person is grateful that an innocent man was executed for a crime he committed? Was I that kind of person? I surely hoped not.

Jesus viewed God differently than we do

The way Jesus viewed God completely contradicts the way the crucifixion story portrays God. Jesus’s view of God is the polar opposite of ours:

Through his Parable of the Prodigal Son, retold in Luke 15, Jesus revealed what kind of father he believed God to be. He related the story of an impatient, greedy son who wanted his inheritance from his father—immediately, thank you very much. Despite the disrespectful “I wish you were dead” implications of his younger son’s demand, the free-willing father bestowed him the inheritance.

How to become a prodigal in a few easy steps

The self-indulgent son and his party pals squandered every cent of the inheritance, quickly transforming this son of wealth into a pauper. He became a laborer on, of all things, a pig farm. He’d hit rock bottom. To this famished heir, even pig feed looked like a banquet.

What next? After treating his father as if he were dead, going back home was out of the question. It was doubtful that he’d ever be forgiven.

But, weighing his options—pig slop or groveling at his father’s feet—he wearily returned home, bracing himself for the verbal or severe physical beating he deserved. He’d be lucky if his father didn’t turn him away or have him stoned to death, as was the custom in those days—and remains so in cultures that are wed to the dictates of their ancient holy books. It is human nature to be vindictive.

We view God as humanly vindictive

What would the next scene look like, if we were writing the story of the Lost Son? How would the father in our story react to seeing the wayward son who had wished him dead and had wasted everything?

My guess is that our scene would start with an angry, judgmental rant, complete with expletives and name-calling. If he allowed his son to live, the father would probably punish him so harshly that he’d wish he had been stoned to death.

In our story, he probably would never regain his position as a beloved son. He had traded that for debauchery.

Jesus viewed God as divinely forgiving

Father greets prodigal sonHow did the father react in Jesus’s story? He spotted his prodigal son from a distance and ran to greet him with open arms. He clothed him in fine garments and ordered a feast, much to the dismay of his older and much more respectful son.

The father in Jesus’s story was unconditionally forgiving, unconditionally loving and totally merciful. Why? That is the way Jesus viewed God.

It was a perception that defied religious teachings and disturbed the religious order. They felt that chaos would erupt if people were not controlled by the threat of extremely harsh or deadly punishment. (We see how well that has worked.)

What if every child was told the same thing when they reached an age of comprehension: “Sweetheart, we live in a what-goes-around-comes-around world. Whatever you do here will be done to you. It’s called karma. It keeps everything in balance. Keep that in mind every waking minute of every day. Let that be your guiding light.”

If we believed that, like the father in Jesus’s parable, God gave all souls the free will to choose our consequences, this world probably would be less chaotic and more heavenly. We would always be thinking that if we steal, cheat, deceive, rape or murder, at some point in our eternal lives the same thing will happen to us. Consequently, we would never do anything that we would not want done to us.

Instead, we worship the ancient human view of God as a controlling, judgmental, vindictive villain, an enforcer, and alas, a sadist who unfairly murders His innocent child.

I have only one thing to say about that: Either Jesus was wrong—or we are.

Forgive us, for we know not what we do

Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.

Each Palm Sunday, I am even more sensitive to the fact that for the next week, millions will unknowingly demonize God and believe that they will be mightily blessed for doing so. I’m sure you’re wondering: How in the world can someone demonize God and not know it?

As simply as I can explain it, we can be fully aware that we’re doing something (walking, driving or standing somewhere) without giving it a conscious thought. We frequently do things without thinking about why we’re doing them—or the meaning and implications of our actions.

For example: All of us have found ourselves in a room and wondered, “Why did I come in here?” Or while in the process of doing something, we suddenly ask, “Why am I doing this?”

On rare occasions, we ask, “What does it mean that I am doing this?”

Death by torture: Divine or demonic?

This week we will frequently hear the phrase, “Christ died so that we might live,” as if he lay down on a slab, closed his eyes and stopped breathing. No one ever says, “God gave Jesus to the Romans to be sadistically tortured to death for sins he didn’t commit.” If they did, would it change our perception of God?

God-so-loved the worldWe unconsciously declare, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Have you thought about the meaning of this Bible verse and others that proclaim that Jesus “died for our sins”? Would you like to? Let’s do a Drama Queen Workshops-style thinking exercise:

Scene:

Front door of a beautiful suburban home. A business executive and single father, who has returned home a day early from a business trip, hears loud music and raucous chatter coming from his basement as he opens the door. He walks past beautifully appointed living and dining rooms, then into the huge kitchen, and down to the basement.

As he gets to the foot of the basement stairs and his eyes adjust to the darkness, he surveys the room. It looks like a scene from Sodom and Gomorrah:

Teenagers are drinking alcohol and dancing wildly. A few have passed out on the floor and on the sofas. Four guys are gambling at a table in the corner.

Near the laundry room, two boys are raping a drunk girl in the shadows. One kid, who was severely beaten after vomiting on a classmate, is lying in a pool of his own blood, lifeless.

The father is outraged! “What the hell is going on here? Mandy! Mandy, where are you?”

Screaming kids start scrambling, trying to escape up the stairs. He blocks their exit.

His daughter stumbles over friends to turn off the music and runs to him, stammering, trying to explain. Dad doesn’t want to hear it.

Mandy begs for his forgiveness; but forgiveness is out of the question. She falls to her knees, head bowed, in tears.

Dad is so angry, he can barely look at her. He asks, “Where’s your brother?”

“He left for that spiritual retreat today, remember?” Mandy murmurs, sobbing.

Dad raises an eyebrow. “It looks as if you are the one who should have gone!”

“I’m sorry, Dad. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me. Please forgive all of us,” she says, making a sweeping gesture across the room.

Her friends are now too afraid to move.

Dad thinks for a moment. Looking into the faces of the frightened teens, his tone softens.

“Because I love you so much, I will forgive you—but only on one condition: When John returns, I’m going to have him arrested and slowly tortured to death. His murder will wash away all your crimes. Everyone who believes that I have done this as an act of love will be forgiven of their misdeeds. In fact, they will live forever. So go tell everyone you know.”

That’s our drama. Now, ask yourself:

How would you respond to the father’s forgiveness offer if you were one of those teens in the basement: Would you accept it? Would you be grateful?

Is it an act of love or sadism to have an innocent child sadistically tortured to death so that the guilty children can escape punishment for their own misdeeds?

Why do we believe it is an act of love if God does it?

If a parent loves his guilty children so much that he would protect them by having his innocent child tortured to death, how does he feel about his innocent child?

If we insist to others that God had His innocent child tortured to death, are we proclaiming that God is good or evil?

If we believe that torturing an innocent person to death—for any reason—is a good thing, what does it say about us?

Needless to say, I’ve given this matter considerable thought, and I have concluded that declaring that God does something that Love would not do actually demonizes God. So during Holy Week or any week, I will repeat only one verse from the Bible’s crucifixion narrative: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

The greatest cloning feat in human history

Dana Carvey's judgmental "Church Lady" character. "Well, isn't THAT special?"

Dana Carvey’s Enid “Church Lady” Strict:
“Well, isn’t THAT special?”

The condescending attitudes of those who believe that God solves problems by drowning, burning, torturing and threatening to excessively punish His children throughout all eternity used to make my blood pressure rise. I’ve been met with outright hostility and judged as a hell-bound heathen because I steadfastly refuse to believe that God would do anything Love would not do. Is it really diabolical to believe that God is consistent, not capricious?

Take a Deep Breath…

Instead of angrily going to the “You worship a sadistic genocidal despot, and you have the nerve to look down your nose at me” place, I’m making an effort to understand why so many believe that God is so vile.

Maybe people are so judgmental and think they’re so special because they believe that God is judgmental and exclusionary. But it’s mankind that seeks differences between himself and others, discriminates against others, and feels superior to others. More than likely, he long ago cloned God in his image.

Establishing an exclusive path to God perpetuates man’s belief in divine discrimination (an oxymoron, if I ever heard one). It goes like this: I’m on the only path to God; you’re not. As Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey’s smug superior-dancing Church Lady character, Enid Strict would say, “Well, isn’t THAT special?”

What “One Path” Really Implies

This “One Path to God” theosophy presumes a few things:

  1. God is not omnipresent spirit: He (always “He,” in the image of his creator) is a stationary, man-like being who lives in Outer Space and occasionally venturing out to banish, condemn, murder or eternally torture His kids.
  2. God turns His back on unfavored children: Billions are wandering aimlessly because God didn’t show them the path home.
  3. God is a hypocrite: God wants humans to do as He says, not as He does. He sent Jesus to tell us to forgive 70 times 7, love our enemies, judge not and condemn not. Meanwhile, He drowns, tortures, threatens, judges and condemns…with love.

God’s Fingers Crossed behind His Back?

Another critical one-path belief is that God’s forgiveness comes with strings attached. They say three conditions must be met:

  1. God’s only innocent child must be sadistically tortured to death;
  2. Everyone else must believe that the innocent child was barbarically murdered instead of us;
  3. We also must believe that torturing an innocent man to death is an act of divine love. If we don’t believe it, they say, God will inhumanely torture us throughout all eternity.

Would Love do that—or have these Believers completely redefined Love?

Unfair father

Man has made God in his image, awash in qualities that we consider undesirable, criminal, even despicable in mere mortals. In fact, He bears a strong resemblance to our so-called “enemy,” Satan. Despite that, many have embraced this diabolical image of God—maybe because they haven’t really thought about what they believe. They simply believe.

Have you thought about it? Say “Amen” if you:

  • Worship and adore a father who doesn’t tell all of His children how to get back home.
  • Admire violent, vindictive dictators.
  • Relish the opportunity to be with someone who solves problems by killing and torturing people.
  • Love it when someone is unfair, threatening or judgmental.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.