20 March 2004

Obscene theology?

Here is John Dominic Crossan on the theology behind The Passion of the Christ, as reported in monday's Hamilton Spectator:

It's a theory of divine violence. . . . It is a God that, rather than forgiving, punishes by taking it all out on his own beloved son. I find that theology obscene and would never want to worship such a God."

I fail to understand why I should find such expressions persuasive. There are two obvious difficulties here.

First, truth. To be sure, it is not uncommon for people to announce, in magisterial fashion, that they could never worship a god who would -- fill in the blanks -- save some people and not others. . . or send people to hell. . . or prohibit them from doing what they have a mind to do. If they were speaking only for themselves, then I suppose they would simply be expressing an honest sentiment, which is fine. But usually such statements are uttered in the expectation that they are of some significance for the rest of us as well. This is where they run into trouble. If God really is who he has revealed himself to be in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, then whether or not a Prof. Crossan is able to accept this is altogether beside the point. Truth is truth, whether we like it or not.

Second, forgiveness. Yes, God forgives. Scripture tells us so repeatedly. We are in turn told to forgive as God forgives us. But if forgiveness is not anchored in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, it lacks foundation. If we try to make forgiveness a substitute for God's judgement, then we do not grasp genuine forgiveness, which degenerates into mere sentimentality and permissiveness. But God's judgement is the very source of forgiveness. Our fear of God and our trust in his redemption are not opposites: they are intimately connected. Sin is a serious matter. Deadly serious. In receiving redemption in Jesus Christ, we are freed from something genuinely fearsome and terrible. If Crossan is unable to accept the truth of the Father's relationship to the Son, then his talk of forgiveness rings hollow indeed.

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