I just finished reading a really good book by George Pendle entitled Death: A Life. It is the fascinating first-person recounting of the life of Death (you may know him as the Grim Reaper), from his infernal birth in hell to finding his purpose in Creation in the Garden of Eden, and his work all throughout human history. I found it to be both hilarious and thought-provoking.
One scene in particular struck me as insightful. At one point in the story Death finds himself in heaven before the throne of God. When Death complains about the anomaly of Jesus not staying dead, God replies…
“Through His death” – the divine light gestured at Jesus – “all mankind shall be redeemed.”
“But He didn’t even die,” I squeaked.
“Yes, I did,” beamed Jesus. “You saw Me.”
“You winked at me,” I countered. “That’s not dying, that’s pretending. And besides, if You were dead, why were You running around asking everyone in Jerusalem to poke their fingers into Your side?”
“My son’s sacrifice,” boomed God, who didn’t seem to be listening to me anymore, “has saved mankind from original sin.”
“He paid for the sins of mankind through His blood, through His sacrifice.” Jesus was just sitting there grinning; the argument between the two of them was forgotten.
“Through the sacrifice of His blood,” boomed God, “the torture of His body, He redeemed mankind through His sacrifice. Do you understand, Death? Do you understand the meaning of sacrifice?”
Something inside me snapped.
“What is it with You and sacrifice?” I shouted. “Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice! Don’t get me wrong, I love dead things, they’re my whole Life, but You’re obsessed. Why can’t You do anything without something dying first? Do You get some kind of perverse pleasure out of that? Why do You want everything to die before it reaches Paradise? And why do You insist on showing Your power and majesty through earthquakes, disease, and flooding? Why are You always killing things? What is it, exactly, that You’ve got against Life?”
I love that scene! If you read the book, you’ll see how it fits into the overall story. But, I just love that scene for its own sake. Why, you ask? Because it does such a great job of simply asking honest questions about some of the things that people actually believe about God.
I already spent a good amount of time in this blog of fleshing out my view of Christ’s atonement (if you haven’t yet had the chance to read that series, please do). So, I won’t go into that here. But let’s all take a few minutes now to just be honest about how ugly that understanding of God is. “What is it with You and sacrifice? … You’re obsessed.” A huge chunk of the Old Testament (especially the Pentateuch) is God’s commands about sacrifices. “Why can’t You do anything without something dying first?” Both Jesus and all of those poor animals in the Old Testament had to be killed before God would forgive people. Really? “And why do You insist on showing Your power and majesty through earthquakes, disease, and flooding?” I think we’ve all heard some preacher or theologian chalk up every new catastrophe to God’s divine will or judgment. “Why are You always killing things?” How many times have we heard, “It was his time” or “God called her home” after someone dies.
I especially love that last question, “What is it, exactly, that You’ve got against Life?” For being the sort of God who is supposed to be all-good, all-loving, and the Lord of life, God seems to be doing more than His fair share of killing. It’s almost as if He doesn’t even like Life much, isn’t it?
Like I said, I don’t want to offer an answer at this point (you can read the atonement series, if you really want my take on this). For now, I just want us to be uncomfortable with this picture of God. Let’s just sit with that for a while… at least long enough for us to wonder if maybe God’s not like that at all.
In the meantime, go out and get yourself a copy of Death: A Life. It’s a great read, especially if you like irreverent satires with dry humor and a touch of Judeo-Christian mythology and theology.1 Enjoy!
1: Another great book that fits in this style is Christopher Moore’s, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. It does a great job of drawing on various theories of the “lost years” between Jesus’ childhood and ministry, and blending them into an extremely moving and entertaining tale.