BUT NOW…Reflections on The Meaning of Christ’s Death.

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But now the righteousness of Godhas been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to itóthe righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ† for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show Godís righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-25)

The righteousness of God is revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus. What is the righteousness of God? Is Paul referring to Godís moral perfection? While the phrase means nothing less than this, it certainly means much more. Paul is referring to Godís fidelity, Godís trustworthiness, Godís ability to mean what he says and do what he promises. Godís creative intentions have not come to fruition and Godís special people Israel have been dragged into the mud and mire of the sin along with the rest of the nations. It seems as if evil will have the last word. As things have been so they shall be. BUT NOWÖGodís faithfulness has been revealed. Where? How? Through the faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus said no in the wilderness to everything Adam and Eve said yes to in the Garden (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). In the wilderness where Israel chose disobedience and death, he choose life (Dt 30:19). Through Jesus, the second Adam healing and holiness would came (Rom 5:12-21), and not just to Israel, but to the whole world (Ep 3:1-6), indeed to the whole cosmos (Col 1:20, Rev 21:5).

The righteousness of God, Godís covenant faithfulness and unswerving love are revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus is the climax of the covenant (10:4).† In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see God refusing our refusal. In Jesus we hear Godís Yes to us, a Yes that will always be greater than our No, even at great cost to God.

In and as Jesus Christ God steps forth as our prophet, priest and king. Through Christ our prophet in and through the Spirit we are delivered from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from duty to choice (Jn 1:9; Jn 1:17-18; 1 Cor 2:13; Gal 5:1; Ep 5:8 Rom 8:4). The Father sends the Son, empowered by the Spirit,† to be our Priest, who as priest and victim makes the sacrifice that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Is 53:3-5; Is 53:11; Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; Jn 1:29; Rom 5:9; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:19-21; Gal 4:4-5; Eph 2:13; Col 1:20; Heb 9:7, 12-14, 18-25; Heb 10:4, 19; Heb 11:28; Heb 12:24; Heb 13:11-12, 20;† 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 Pet 3:18; Heb 7:26-27; 1 Jn 1:7; Rev 1:5; Rev 5:9; Rev 7:4; Rev 19:13). Christ our Shepherd King brings us back from our wanderings, delivers us from bondage, and gives us the Spirit to make us new and fit us for citizenship in his Fatherís Kingdom. (Mt 6:10; Mt 12:28; Mt 13:34; Mt 25:34; Mk 9:1; Mk 14:25; Lk 11:2, 17-20; Lk 13:29; Lk 15; Lk 22:29; Jn 20:22; Ac 1:8; 1 Cor 15:24, 45; Eph 2:2;† 2 Pet 1:11; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 2:14; Heb 12:28; Rev 1:6; Rev 5:10; Rev 12:10).

There are aspects of the story of Jesus that are scandalous to the modern mind, not the least of which is Christ’s substitutionary, vicarious death for sinners. We can perhaps take comfort in knowing that the message of the cross was no less scandalous in the first century than it is in ours. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, is worth quoting at some length here:

the propitiatory effect of Jesus’ death…[when] seen as the result of God’s overarching and overwhelming mercy and love, and in which the persons of the Trinity are held in extremely close union, is not subject to the critique he has leveled against what increasingly looks like a bizarre (if sadly still well known) caricatureÖ The sense which penal substitution makes it does not make, in the last analysis, within the narrative of feudal systems of honour and shame. It certainly does not make the sense it makes within the world of some arbitrary lawcourt. It makes the sense it makes within the biblical world, the Old Testament world, within which the creator God, faced with a world in rebellion, chose Israel – Abraham and his family – as the means of putting everything right, and, when Israel itself had rebelled, promised to set that right as well and so to complete the purpose of putting humans right and thus setting the whole created order back the right way up. And the long-promised way by which this purpose would be achieved was, as hints and guesses in the Psalms and prophets indicate, that Israel’s representative, the anointed king, would be the one through whom this would be accomplished. Like David facing Goliath, he would stand alone to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. It is because Jesus, as Israel’s representative Messiah, was therefore the representative of the whole human race, that he could appropriately become its substitute. That is how Paul’s logic works. ‘One died for all, therefore all died,’ he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5.14; and thus, seven verses later, ‘God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin,’ he concluded seven verses later, ‘so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (5.21). And it is within that argument that we find the still deeper truth, which is again rooted in the dark hints and guesses of the Old Testament: that the Messiah through whom all this would be accomplished would be the very embodiment of YHWH himself. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5.19).

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ became like us that we might become like him, that we might look, and live and love like him. In Christ God became our vicarious substitute.† God became sin and judged sin that we might be freed from its destructive grasp. Free from sin and free for God, we the called community of atonement are to be the righteousness of God in and for the world God loves. We are to be the sign, foretaste and instrument of the Fatherís kingdom through the power of the Spirit that reminds the world that God has not given up on it, that Christ will return to right every wrong and wipe every tear, to truly make all things new. Bearing witness to this glorious hope with our lips and our lives is our commission, calling and privilege. Thanks be to God.

What are the implications of Iowa’s Supreme Court Decision On Gay Marriage?

gaymarriageThe Iowa Supreme Court made history today by upholding a district court’s previous ruling concerning section 595.2 of the Iowa code, which states the marriage in Iowa is defined as a union of one man and one woman. The decision strikes the language from the Iowa Code that limits civil marriage to a man and a woman. It goes on to direct that the “remaining statutory language be interpreted and applied” in a way that allows “gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.”

Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal commented on the decision:

ďToday the dream becomes reality Ö and Iowa constitutionís promise of equality is fulfilled. Iowans have never waited for others to do the right thing. Iowa took its place in the vanguard of the civil rights struggle, and we couldnít be more proud to be part of this.Ē

When one frames the debate in terms of civil rights and equal protection as the Iowa Supreme Court did, one is left wondering why polygamy would be ruled out under such logic. Piece’s like this one written by Slate’s William Saletan which argue against the similarity between the two seem to actually establish it. Saletan’s friend Charles Krauthammer asks “If, as advocates of gay marriage insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one’s autonomous choices,” then “on what grounds do they insist upon the traditional, arbitrary and exclusionary number of two?” Saletan’s response:

“Here’s the answer. The number isn’t two. It’s one. You commit to one person, and that person commits wholly to you. Second, the number isn’t arbitrary. It’s based on human nature. Specifically, on jealousy.”

Saletan then goes on to argue that polygamous unions have innate problems that traditional partnerships don’t. They are more unstable and thus more apt to break down, and they go against the natural order of things. But opponents of gay marriage make the same arguments and are often able to marshall empirical data to support it. While the famous Dutch Study that found that men in the Netherlands who were in “steady partnerships” still had on average eight sexual partners per year is problematic for a number of reasons (click here for a summary of them), other studies like The Social Study of Sexual Organziation which make similar points seem more reliable. But statistics and studies aside, do we want to base legislation concerning marital unions on perceptions of the order of nature or on sexual practices of some groups that† some find disturbing? Isn’t this exactly the sort of rhetoric social conseratives engage in to the chagrin of most advocates of gay marriage? Do gay marriage advocates now want to conveniently start employing it?

It may seem absurd and abstract to challenge the logic of Supreme Court decisions like Iowa’s on the basis of the possible claim to the right to polygamy. But I recall just last year having a conversation with a Saudi Arabian friend studying law in the United States about this very question. He asked me how in America, the land of religious freedom, he was not free to practice polygamy, something not all proscribed by his Muslim faith. Could he appeal Iowa’s code on the same equal protection logic? Do we have the right to redefine marriage along the lines of gender but restrict participation in the institution to couples? Can we tell my Muslim friend that gays and lesbians have the right to demand that we redefine marriage on grounds of sexual orientation but that he does not have the right to request the same redefinition along religious lines?

Yes. We do have this right legislatively. We can as a people make laws that define civil marriage, and in my opinion we ought to define the institution in such a way that provision is made for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian couples. But we ought to do it carefully through deliberative legislative bodies that include the voices of all the people through their elected representatives. This allows us to make careful distinctions and to define the institution in ways that make sense and benefit the common good. It also allows us to innovate and redefine tradtional understandings all the while ruling out things like polygamy. Making space for gay marriage through judicial action may not safeguard such possibilities, and also serves to create the sort of backlash we saw with California’s Proposition 8.

Accomplishing good political ends by good political means is always difficult and tries the patience of the most forebearing souls, as Max Weber reminded us in his masterful little lecture “Politics as a Vocation”, which concludes as follows:

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth –that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.

Does “Religion” Exist?

religion-hinduism-muslim-islam-christianity-buddhism-confuscius-sikhismJonathan Z. Smith on the existence of “religion”:

If we have understood the acrheological and textual record correctly, man has had his entire history in which to imagine deities and modes of interraction with them. But man, more precisely western man, has had only the last few centuries in which to imagine religion. It is this act of second order, reflective imagination which must be the central preoccupation of any student of religon. That is to say, while there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena , of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another as religious-there is no data for religion. Religion is soley the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy. For this reason, the student of religion, and most particularly the historian of religion, must be relentlessly self-conscious. Indeed, this self-consciousness constitutes his primary expertise, his formost object of study. (Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown, xi.)

In other words, as far back as we can conceive human beings have fashioned gods, worshipped them, engaged in cultic practices and the like. But human being have not reified a universal concept like religion and then categorized the aforementioned activities under it. It’s interesting that modern theologians like Barth and Schmemann both consider religion to be at the heart of the Fall, namely human disintegration of God from the rest of life. This may be how the Fall plays out in modern life, but to postulate this experience as universal seems difficult to say the least.

Why Christians Need Jews

star-of-david-cross-in-silverRosenzweig claims that the Jew “converts the inner pagan” inside the Christian because it is the living presence of the Jews that checks the Gnostic tendencies resident in Christianity.

Before God stand both of us…Jew and Christians, laborers at the same task… It is only the Old Testament that enables Christianity to defend itself against [Gnosticism], its inherent danger. And it is the Old Testament alone, because it is more than just a book. The arts of allegorical interpretation would have made short work of a mere book. If, like Christ, the Jews had disappeared from the world, they would denote only the Idea of a People, and Zion the Idea of the midpoint of the world, iust as Christ denotes only the Idea of Man. But the sturdy and undeniable vitality of the Jewish peopleóto which anti-Semitism itself attestsóopposes itself to such “idealization.” That Christ is more than ideaóno Christian can know this. But that Israel is more than an idea, the Christian knows, because he sees it…Our presence stands surety for their truth. [Translation by Spengler in First Things]

Spengler in an article in First Things goes on to comment:

In the post-Holocaust world, after neopaganism nearly conquered Europe, Rosenaweig’s contention that Christianity requires the presence of the Jews found great resonance. Yet his formulation stems from a theological sociology with broader application. Pagans, Rosenzweig explained, have only the fragile and ultimately futile effort to preserve their physical continuity through blood and soil. Their hope for immortality takes the form of a perpetual fight for physical existence, which one day they must lose. Rosenzweig’s sociology of religion thus offers unique insights into the origin and nature of civilizational conflict when he argues that a pagan people, ever sentient of the fragility of their existence, are always prepared to fight to the death.

This is why torture demands a pagan ethos. One has to ultimize the enduring of one’s culture in order to be willing to do anything, including dehumanizing one’s self along with one’s victim, to preserve it.