Posted by: adventlife | September 13, 2012

Redemption in Spite of the Cross: My View About the Cross and God’s Forgiveness, by Nic Samojluk

One of the most enigmatic questions connected with the Christian faith is: Why did Jesus die? The most common answer is: He offered his life that we might have forgiveness for our sins. He paid the penalty for our sin and rebellion. This answer contains a precious kernel of truth, but it does not tell the entire story of redemption, and it threatens to blame God for the death of Jesus. Why not consider that we have access to forgiveness and redemption in spite of the cross?

Some Problems with the Christian View of the Atonement

Did God plan the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Was this a requirement for the forgiveness he wanted to offer to sinners? Is it true that God could not forgive our sins unless someone paid the price for our redemption? Did God say: “I want to forgive, but I cannot unless the price is paid. This is what I will do: I will send my Son, and if humans agree to kill him, then the price of the penitent sinner will have been paid, and I will be free to offer forgiveness to him!”

If this is true, then it logically follows that it was God who masterminded the death of his Son, and the blame for the death of Jesus is partially shifted from humans and the Devil to God. God becomes an accomplice to the greatest injustice ever committed in human history, and the Devil deserves some credit for the forgiveness offered to sinners.

The True Meaning of Forgiveness

Is there an alternative explanation for the death of Jesus? I believe there is, but before I try to explain my view of this controversial issue, let me comment on the true nature of forgiveness.  My dictionary defines forgiveness as the forfeiture for the payment of a debt. If this definition of forgiveness is correct, this means that forgiveness is granted without the payment of the moral debt.

Let me illustrate this as follows. Suppose I am guilty of a moving violation and a friend of mine volunteers to pay the court imposed monetary fine. Would it make sense for the judge to say to me: “I have decided to forgive you for your infraction because your friend has already paid the fine”? How can God grant forgiveness and then demand the payment of the penalty? Doesn’t the payment of the penalty destroy the true meaning of forgiveness? Doesn’t genuine forgiveness make the payment of the debt unnecessary and superfluous?

Contrast Between Civil and Criminal Law

This suggests that the legal theory of atonement makes no logical sense; but there is more, it also violates our understanding of criminal law. If I am guilty of a civil offense, the law allows for anybody to pay the fine for my infraction; but if I am guilty of murder, no one is allowed to pay for my crime. I am the only one who must suffer the consequence of my action.

The Problem with Prophetic Predictions

How can we get out of this dilemma? Can God offer true forgiveness without the payment of the penalty? Could God offer forgiveness without the death of Jesus Christ? Would there have been hope for the human race in the event the Jews had refused to kill their Messiah? Was not the death of Jesus predicted in Scripture?

The answer to this question is “Yes,” the suffering and death of the Jewish Messiah was predicted, but it was also predicted that he would sit on King David’s throne and that God’s chosen nation would enjoy an incredible prosperity and a glorious future under the rule of the Jewish rightful Messiah and King. How can we interpret these apparently contradictory predictions about the future of the Jewish Messiah and the destiny of the Jewish nation?

Contingent Prophetical Predictions

The answer lies in the nature of predictive prophesy. We see this illustrated in the classic case found in the book of Jonah the prophet. God predicted the total destruction of the sinful city of Nineveh, but the prediction failed because the people repented of their sin. This means that God’s warnings and promises are contingent on human response.

Another example is found in the promise God made to the house of priest Eli, who failed in disciplining his sons in the performance of the sacred work connected with the Sanctuary and God’s promise to him and his posterity was voided by the Lord:

New International Version (©1984)
“Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.’ But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. [1 Sam.2:30]

The principle implied in this story is that what the Lord promises is subject to the fidelity of those the Lord is planning to bless. The prediction is not set in concrete, but rather contingent on human behavior. God’s promises and threatening are dependent on the future behavior of his children and his prophetic predictions are conditional and subject to change in response to human conduct.

This basic truth is also seen in the promises made to the children of Israel when they were ready to enter into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Their future would be subject to their behavior, and their checkered history attests to the truthfulness of this fact.

New International Version (©1984)
Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law–the blessings and the curses–just as it is written in the Book of the Law. [Jos. 8:34]

Applying the Contingency Principle to the Life of Jesus Christ

Can we apply this basic principle of correct biblical interpretation to the life and death of Jesus Christ and to the predictions made about the future of the Jewish Messiah and King? I believe we can, and we should. On one hand we find in the Old Testament promises of a glorious future for God’s chosen nation under the leadership of the promised Messiah; on the other hand we have the prediction of his suffering and death.

Likewise we find apparently contradictory predictions about the future of the baby which would be born to Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here is one of them taken from the first chapter of Luke:

New   International Version 1984

30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Jesus was destined to be crowned as King of the Jewish nation and sit on David’s throne.  But notice that in chapter 2 of the same book a totally different outcome was predicted for Jesus Christ:

New   International Version 1984

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The Choice Between Two Alternative Futures

In one case the Jewish Messiah was expected to be crowned as the King of the Jews, but in the other one a sword would pierce the heart of Mary. How could this be? How can we explain such diverse fulfillment of what was promised? Here is my answer: Both predictions were contingent on the human response of those who had been chosen by God to be his representatives on earth. The Jewish leaders were free to choose one of the two alternatives.

Had they chosen to welcome Jesus as the promised Messiah, Jesus would have been crowned as their King, and, according the Ellen White, Jerusalem would have eventually become the capital of the entire world. And let’s not forget that when the people welcomed Jesus on the occasion of his triumphal entry to Jerusalem, Jesus apparently was ready to act as their King. His first act as their King was to cleanse the Jewish Temple.

The Jewish Leaders’ Choice

What was the Jewish rulers’ reaction to Jesus claim to his father David’s throne? They demanded his death and with this action they sealed their nation’s destiny. The Romans eventually came and destroyed the city and the Temple they had in such high esteem.

This explains Jesus enigmatic behavior following his triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. Instead of rejoicing with the people who were shouting Hossanahs, he wept over the sacred city with a sad lament:

New   International Version 1984

41As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Thus the glorious future promised to Israel under the rulership of their Messiah did not materialize and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed a few decades later. The sacred Temple was razed to the ground, and it is estimated that one million people perished as a result of the wrong choice made by the Jewish leaders.

Who Masterminded the Crucifixion of Jesus?

What can we say about the reason for the death of Jesus? Was this masterminded by God in his attempt to find a legal way to be able to offer forgiveness to repentant sinners, or was this the outcome of the free choice made by the leaders of the Jewish nation who were under the malefic power of the Devil, that Old Serpent, who was a deceiver and a murderer from the beginning?

We Christians usually show a preference to the legal view of the atonement. We teach that God could not offer true and genuine forgiveness without the payment of the penalty for their guilt forgetting that true forgiveness cancels such payment. If God needed the death of the most innocent being in the universe to enable him to forgive repentant sinners, then why all the effort made by God and Jesus to convince the Jewish leaders that he was the true Messiah?

Think about all the miracles he performed with this objective in mind. He healed the sick, he fed multitudes with a few loaves of bread, he walked on water, he raised the death, and he came from the tomb followed his death. On top of this, God sent an angel to Pilate’s wife warning him not to condemn an innocent man to his death. This is evidence, I believe that the one responsible for the plan to have Jesus killed was not God, but rather his archenemy. It is high time that we stop blaming God for the suffering and death of God’ Son.

What About the Texts Connecting Jesus’ Blood to Forgiveness?

New International Version (©1984)
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. [Matt. 26:28]

New International Version (©1984)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. [Eph. 1:7]

The Blood of Jesus a Symbol for his Words

Following the feeding of the multitude, Jesus made a spiritual declaration to those who followed after him motivated by the expectation of material blessings which his listeners misinterpreted.

New International Version (©1984)
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. [John 6:53]

The people were not interested in spiritual blessing, for which reason they interpreted Jesus’ statements in a literal manner. Then Jesus explained to them the spiritual meaning of the blood symbol:

New International Version (©1984)
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. [John 6:63]

The power to cleanse the soul from sin did not reside in the blood of Jesus, but rather in his words, the same words which brought the world into existence. The words which created the first Adam, could recreate the human soul in his own image one more time. The blood was a mere symbol of said powerful words Jesus had spoken to them. This is the reason Jesus could say before his death:

New International Version (©1984)
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. [John 15:3]

This is a clear evidence that the power to cleanse the human soul moral pollution does not reside in the physical drops of blood Jesus shed on Calvary, but rather in the creative power of the one who brought our world into existence. And this is also the reason that Jesus could say to the paralytic before his crucifixion: “Your sins are forgiven.”

The Parable of the Vineyard

I believe that we can learn from the parable of the vineyard. The owner of a vineyard had rented it to tenants and when it was harvest time he sent his servants to collect the rent. They were mistreated, so the man decided to send his own son thinking that those evil men would show some respect to him. The tenants instead decided to kill him with the hope of remaining in possession of the vineyard.

The lesson I want to draw from this parable is: The owner of the vineyard did not say: I am sending my son with the hope that those evil men will kill him but rather with the expectation that his tenants would show respect to him. This illustrates to me that God was not hoping that the Jewish leaders would kill Jesus, but rather that they would treat him out of respect towards God.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

We can draw a similar lesson from the parable of the prodigal son. When the repentant son came back home, the father did not say to him: “Wait a minute! In order for me to forgive you for your offense, we need to take care of some legal matters. We will need to punish your little brother for your sin and then I’ll be legally able to forgive you and take you back as my son.”

If suffering was the price for sin, then the father had already suffered more than enough during his son’s absence. Love causes pain and anguish when a son rebels and leaves the security of his home. Pain and suffering is the natural result of love when there is a rupture in the loving relationship between a father and his children.

Ellen White’s View of the Atonement

Someone stated that we can find in the writings of Ellen White all the theories of atonement ever advanced by theologians. Here is one of them which resonated with what I am suggesting in this paper:

“Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. When there came upon Israel the calamities that were the sure result of separation from God,–subjugation by their enemies, cruelty, and death, –it is said that “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” “In all their affliction He was afflicted: . . . and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” Judges 10:16; Isaiah 63:9. {Ed 263.1}

I conclude from this that if we were to add all the pain God was subjected to as a result of the accumulated evil in the world since the fall of Adam and Eve, then if suffering is the result of God’s love towards his children, God must have suffered more than enough since the inception of sin and rebellion, and there was no legal requirement to add to this the physical suffering of God’s Son in order to pay the penalty for sin and offer forgiveness to sinners.

If the Law demanded payment of the debt in terms of suffering, then the cross represented an overpayment for the guilt of sin, since by the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God had suffered more than enough as a result of rebellion and pain experienced by those he created for his glory.

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Responses

  1. Isaiah 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (KJB)

    Not for nothing this Messianic chapter says he was led “as a lamb” to the slaughter. God knowing what would happen and sending Christ anyway relieves neither the Jews nor the Romans of guilt in his crucifixion, but his sacrifice ends the need for sacrificing lambs.

    Galatians 1:4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

    1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.

    Adventists have been very good up to now at least in beating back the Darwinian doctrine of devils, because the Bible says so. I respect your calling out of Loma Linda University on the issue of the Hippocratic Oath. I felt very good about my mother’s care at their hospital before cancer took her, because of the proper attention Adventists give to nutrition and natural solutions.

    The laws of Moses and the writings of Paul make clear that there is no forgiveness of sin without expiation. It never was that you “paid” for your sin with the sacrifice, to me it was token that you were repentant.

    Rewards and punishments follow on after the new birth, as with any caring father with his sons and daughters.

    • Trutherator,

      How do you explain the promise the Angel Gabriel made to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that her son would sit on the throne of David his father? [Luke 1:32-34] Was this promise fulfilled, and if not, why not?

      In addition, why did Jesus weep following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem lamenting that his people did not know what pertained to the peace of Jerusalem? Was not Jesus thinking about the destruction of the city in AD 70?

      Did not Ellen White state that, had the Jewish leaders accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, that the city of Jerusalem would have eventually expanded to become the capital of the entire world? How do you explain all this?

      When God predicts something, does it mean that this represents the only alternative available for men? Think about Jonah’s prediction regarding the destruction of the city of Nineveh! Didn’t Ellen White also state that God’s promises and warnings are conditional on human’s response?

      Nic Samojluk


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