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?
We 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:
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)