The meaning of Jesus's death

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Here is a quote from Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book Putting Away Childish Things:

It is true, Jesus was killed. But not by his Father, who supposedly sent his only Son to his death and sacrificed him. Neither is God reconciled by this death, nor are we redeemed by it. Jesus was murdered by men. A person who lives in solidarity with all the poor and dependent--in this sense Good Friday means remembering someone who sympathized with everyone--will be seen by many people as siding with the enemy. And so in the world of murderers that we live in, a person like Jesus was placing his life at risk.

Redeemed from what, actually? Redeemed from more murders? That would be something, at any rate. But who is redeemed from murder by murder? And the murdering went further: It was for God, with God, in the name of God. Neither does murder redeem, nor does anyone's suffering, in itself, make other people better. There is no salvation through death....

...The Christian view that he died for others' sins creates new problems. It is not in fact the case that God's anger fell on Jesus vicariously instead of on us, and that he died vicariously for our sins, as we are always being told. Jesus never died for but simply because of the sins of human beings.

In the effort to give Jesus' death a meaning, one can only produce nonsense. This comes from trying to justify a murder that can't be justified, since no murder can ever be justified. Invoking God and God's will can't straighten out human crimes. Christians shouldn't glorify a gallows. They should sensitize themselves to the terror of the death penalty, of war, of violence, of torture, of military retaliation. Since they can no longer prevent the murder of Christ, they should at least not consent to it after the fact. And, not least of all for the sake of Christ's death, they should not consent to the violent death of any person in the world. So far as they can, they should prevent every such death.
(pp. 284-285)

7 comments:

SocietyVs said...

I like what you did to the site - very nice.

I am not sure what to think of the whole writing posted - in one sense I can dig it - in another sense it moves away from the atonement idea? I guess I am caught in that a little bit at this point.

What I really do like is the point that gets made at the end - concerning endorsing murder and proactively trying to move away from any position like that - I appluade that idea. That is workable and can mean a lot.

But I am not sure God murdered His son - but allowed such things to happen (as is the course of this world sometimes). I think Jesus, according to some gospel ideas, knew this was coming - maybe because of the mood of the situation he was facing but also because this was his mission anyways to see through (being the Messiah). The big question being - what was that mission?

That's where we get into various atonement ideas - but I think Jesus was a very inclusive figure and the point of his 'mission' seems to be inclusion into the community of God for all peoples...which means the Gentiles in this case. To me the atonement seems to be about removing the 'veil' and allowing access to God to all in a very open and symbolic fashion.

Frank said...

It is not that murder redeems, but self-sacrifice does. Jesus taught us how to live... but he mainly taught us how to die (I believe John Dear wrote that somewhere).

So in other words, he didn't die as payment for our sins so that we don't have to involve ourselves, but rather to show us how its done so we could follow, too.

This isn't to say that one person's love isn't enough to spill over and affect others, in effect impacting their lives (ie their journey (ie their destiny (ie saving them)), too.

Jesus brought death to life. But make no mistake--the death was real. The evil was real. The injustice was real. His resurrection wouldn't mean as much if they weren't (literal or non-literal resurrection both apply here).

This quote does a good job of liberating the crucifixion from some kind of divine puppet show, in which the characters were just robots doing what God commanded, but I think it falls short on seeing meaning in Jesus' death.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think what Uta Ranke-Heinemann was getting at was the idea that God needed for (and planned for) Jesus to die in order to satisfy some kind of divine requirement for sacrifice.

If Jesus knew his death was coming, as you suggest, Societyvs, then maybe it was simply because he knew very well that his inclusive message was going to have consequences in the face of Imperial might. Being a prophet has consequences. Jeremiah almost got himself killed centuries before for actions at the Temple that were not unlike what Jesus did. The difference is that Jeremiah has friends in high places who were able to save him. Jesus did not.

Frank, you might be right that it falls short in seeing meaning in Jesus's death. I agree with your comment that says "but rather to show us how its done so we could follow, too." Of course, when we follow, it can have very scary consequences. How many of us are willing to pay the gruesome and horrible price that he payed?

OneSmallStep said...

**Jesus taught us how to live... but he mainly taught us how to die (I believe John Dear wrote that somewhere).**

This is a tangent, but can we use "us" in both instances? Presumably, the "us" who is dying is the selfish, sinful portions, and thus the "us" who is living is the original created aspect. Yet if the sinful part dies, and the original created aspect comes to life, can we still say they are the same person? If so, is it "us" who Jesus taught to die, or a fake self?

**How many of us are willing to pay the gruesome and horrible price that he payed?**

It depends -- does the outcome get the last word? Or is there something better after the outcome?

Frank said...

can we use "us" in both instances? Presumably, the "us" who is dying is the selfish, sinful portions, and thus the "us" who is living is the original created aspect. Yet if the sinful part dies, and the original created aspect comes to life, can we still say they are the same person? If so, is it "us" who Jesus taught to die, or a fake self?

Yeah, some would say that death we are talking about is when the "self" dies, which is this shame-based creation of ego and pride, allowing the natural spirit to flow (which is in line with what you're saying).

But I don't think Jesus is ruling out dying (meaning actually dying). Jesus does a nice job of not telling us exactly how much giving we should do. He nicely leaves that one wide open, but there doesn't seem to be a limit to the amount of giving that is suggested by the example of the cross. And like MS says, who really wants to go there??

D said...

I think this post is right on.

While I think the atonement idea has worth for many people, I think we need to realize that there is more than one way to understand Jesus and his death. I don't think we'll ever be able to jettison substitutionary atonement. It is a gateway drug so to speak that allows newcomers to the faith to deal with their guilt.

The job of the church, though, should be to provide a path way to deeper understandings.

Personally, I think Jesus' atoning work happened well before his death. His atoning work was his life. We have focused on his death and resurrection so much that we forget that it is but one tiny piece of the enigmatic figure of Jesus. The far more earth-shattering thing about Jesus is the way he lived, not the way he died.

Mystical Seeker said...

His atoning work was his life. We have focused on his death and resurrection so much that we forget that it is but one tiny piece of the enigmatic figure of Jesus. The far more earth-shattering thing about Jesus is the way he lived, not the way he died.

I agree. This is one of my pet peeves about the Nicene Creed (and similar creeds). These creeds jump right from his birth to his death, and make no mention of how he lived or what it was about his life that led him to die under Pontius Pilate. To me, this really puts all the focus on the wrong thins. His death mattered, as far as I am concerned, only insofar as it was the inevitable outcome of his prophetic life and message.