Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why a blood sacrifice?

Seriously. This is one question no Christian, no pastor, and no church has ever been able to satisfactorily answer for me – and it was a question on my mind even during my most devout years. Why is God so bloodthirsty?

More and more it just seems like a reflection of dominant cultural norms at the time of the writing of the Bible. Think about it: if the Bible were penned today, would anyone write a sin/salvation story that required a blood sacrifice?

20 comments:

Jonathan Blake said...

I'm right there with you. Blood atonement seems like just some archaism from the days of magical thinking when sacrificing an animal could propitiate the angry gods.

Heidi said...

It's a good question. You might be interested in a recent fiction work that came out portraying God as something OTHER than a bloodthirsty tyrant - The Shack:

www.theshackbook.com

It's a VERY different picture than you or I grew up with...gives a lot to think about.

Also, a former pastor (he left the organized church) did a series of talks called "Transitions" - they're kinda preachy, but again, he quibbles with the bloodthirsty/blood sacrifice thing. You might be interested.

http://lifestream.org/transition/transition.html

He says: "The cross was not the sacrifice God needed to love you, but the cure we needed to live a peace in him. As we look at the cross from God’s perspective, we will see that his work was so much greater than mere punishment of sin could ever achieve."

Just some things to think about...I enjoy reading your blog, I've struggled a great deal with my faith for many of the same reasons you have. I'm not quite where you are, although I've ditched church/organized religion and think that most of what we were taught growing up was wrong. My current line of thought is - maybe it's the CHURCH who got it wrong, and fed us this bullshit...maybe God isn't actually who they told us he was.

jennypo said...

Why is God the one who gets blamed for being bloodthirsty? He tells us what sin requires - and then he pays the price - but somehow he's the bloodthirsty one... Do you think maybe we're missing something here on a conceptual level?

I think our problem is that we've been brought up on Disney, and we're all-too-content to let God be merely magic.

Slapdash said...

Jenny, wow that's a pretty wholesale dismissal of a big and real question.

God SET UP the whole system; he created the need for blood payment of sin. He could have set it up any way he wanted. If you are going to argue that no, it's we humans that got ourselves into trouble and somehow, "magically", the only thing that can get us out of trouble is blood sacrifice - God can't effect it, change it, overrule it - then it means that sin/punishment/death is BIGGER than God and God is therefore not omnipotent.

And, depending on your theology, Jesus only paid the sacrifice for a small minority of people who will get to go to heaven because of it. (Leaving out the vast majority of humans who have ever lived...and sending them to a fiery hell forever and ever.)

So - God requires bloody payment of sin - first, for thousands of years through animals, then with a human/flesh sacrifice - but it only covers some people (if they believe in it the right way), and the rest get burnt to a crisp.

At least, that is the mainstream Christian story. Unless you are a universalist and don't believe in hell at all? Which still begs the question of why God created a bloody system in which he had to commit suicide to effect that which he wanted to?

Sorry for the harsh words, I'm in a mood today. :)

jennypo said...

Slapdash,

I can take harsh, don't worry, but I do apologize if I really sounded dismissive. Honestly, though, if we stretch our heads for two seconds outside of the schlock that pop-christianity wants to ram down our throats, we can see that it doesn't follow logically that a God who is forced to sacrifice himself can be the same God who "set up the whole system". Something doesn't fit there.

Although we did not create the system either, we have, with our choices, leave God with no real alternatives in the way he had to deal with it. I am stating this baldly, but I don't think I'm overstating it. Remember that Jesus, in the garden at Gethsemane, prayed that if there was ANY other way, for God to let that cup pass from him. The answer was silence. Look here, now. Either God is NOT Love, or God doesn't get EVERYTHING he wants. We can't have it both ways.

The next question is, then, is it possible for God to not get everything he wants and still be omnipotent? God cannot be omnipotent and have limited power. The only way that his power could be limited is if he made the choice to limit it himself. The only reason he could have for limiting his own power is the sharing of that power. Why, then, would God ever want to share his power?

Could it be that the God who is Love decided to reproduce Love at a great cost, and created beings who, in order to love, had to be able to choose, and in order to be able to choose, had to have the power to choose love? The alternative of love is evil, which also is a kind of power, although by nature it is less than love. Evil is what is bloodthirsty. Choice is what gives it authority and power, and since that choice was given by God, it cannot be withdrawn by God unless he undermines himself. The only way for a God who is Love to preserve the power of Love AND set us free from the trap we've fallen into is to sacrifice himself to satisfy the demands of evil.

Let's go back here - why should God have to satisfy the demands of evil? Because he is the one who gave the power to choose. As we choose selfishness over Love, evil gains a moral right over us that is rooted in God's own power and nature.

Is there another possibility that doesn't leave us with a nonsense-god who is both bloodthirsty and sacrifices himself?

OneSmallStep said...

Actually, if you read some of the Jewish sites, a blood sacrifice was not the only method of forgiveness, nor was it required before God could forgive.

http://outreachjudaism.org/jesusdeath.html

http://outreachjudaism.org/questions.html

The other thing with the blood atonement is that it's not just that the sacrifice was required, but that when standing before God's presence, one does so covered in the blood of Jesus. If you think about that picture long enough, it seems to be a scene out of Stephen King's "Carrie."

There's also the difficulty that God's justice is woven into the idea of a blood sacrifice, and can only be fufilled through the sacrifice of a person to be punished in everyone else's stead.

Jenny,

** in order to love, had to be able to choose, and in order to be able to choose, had to have the power to choose love? **

What I'd get stuck on here is by all accounts, God cannot choose to do evil and still remain God. Yet God also is the biggest source of love. If love requires the ability to choose evil, what does that say about the nature of God's love?

**Why is God the one who gets blamed for being bloodthirsty? He tells us what sin requires - and then he pays the price**

This would go back to the idea that God can only accept someone if they're covered in the blood of Jesus and that His justice demands a blood sacrifice in order to be satisified.

jennypo said...

What I'd get stuck on here is by all accounts, God cannot choose to do evil and still remain God. Yet God also is the biggest source of love. If love requires the ability to choose evil, what does that say about the nature of God's love? (OneSmallStep)

There is one important difference between us and God that is the hinge on which this problem swings. God is not a created being. His nature is to love. If it were not, he would be another being, but not God. He is God, and he is powerful, BECAUSE he is love - and love just happens to be the most powerful force in the universe. He is love first, which is what makes him God. Because God was not created, he is not controlled by another being even though he does not choose. We, on the other hand, were created by God. The options were these: he could make us perfect but not loving, or he could make us innocent, with the power to choose and to love. Do you see the difference? If we were made as God was not made but is, then we would be made as his drones, not as personal, unique beings in the same way that God is. But the fact that God's nature is to love doesn't mean that he is controlled by another, because nobody MADE God to be that way.

This would go back to the idea that God can only accept someone if they're covered in the blood of Jesus and that His justice demands a blood sacrifice in order to be satisified. (OneSmallStep)

It's not quite that simple, OneSmallStep. What's more, it can't be, and make any kind of sense. God's holiness doesn't allow sin to coexist with him. But the Bible is clear that it is sin and evil that both give and require death. Since blood represents life, the spilling of blood is a demonstration that sin's dues have been paid.

If you could convince me that God could choose whether or not sin required death, then you could convince me that he is not worth knowing, because the kind of God who would sacrifice himself out of stubbornness belongs to the realm of magic and fairies and trolls. That kind of a God is completely nonsensical.

Instead, he is the most real and reasonable person I know. The better I know him, the more sense everything makes.

OneSmallStep said...

Jenny,

My apologies, but I often see in your responses that love is only love if it is chosen. Or it's only best demonstrated if it is chosen. You said earlier that in order for these created beings to be able to love, they had to be able to choose. Love's very worth seems to be tied into the ability to choose ... and yet God does not have this choice. So how can God's love then possess any worth, if He cannot choose? It's like two different definitions need to be applied to the same word 'love.'

If I can try and re-phrase your response, you say that God -- as uncreated -- has a nature to love. If He lacked this nature, He would not be God. Because He is not created, He is not controlled by anything else, even though He does not choose. But since we are created, we could've been created perfectly but not loving, or make us innocent with the ability to choose and to love.

However, are you really saying that God can only make us capable of loving another person if He gives free will, as well? That love is only capable if free will is attached? IF we are to say that part of being made in God's image and likeness is the ability to love, then that ability should be the same for both parties. We love in the same way God does. Our means of loving is the same as God's. Yet our means is tied to free will -- the very free will that God lacks, because God is constrained by His very nature.

Why is it impossible for God to make humanity as He is -- lacking the ability to choose evil -- and that someone translates into drones? There are thousands of ways to express love or compassion or mercy. We could each still be personal and unique beings even without the ability to choose evil.

And nowhere am I saying that God's lack of ability to choose means He's controlled by anything. I'm simply pointing out that if you connect the idea that love is only possible if free will is also given, then what does that do to God's love.

This would go back to the idea that God can only accept someone if they're covered in the blood of Jesus and that His justice demands a blood sacrifice in order to be satisified. (OneSmallStep)

**But the Bible is clear that it is sin and evil that both give and require death.**

Okay -- but that still doesn't mean that God must meet those requirements. If God is incapable of simply eradicating sin without meeting the requirements, then sin has more power than God does. That would make God lack omnipotence. Are you saying that God can't choose sin's requirements? That God must fufill what sin requires? He's stuck, essentially, by the demands of sin? That puts sin and God on equal footing. Although I think you're saying that the blood spilt shows that God's dues in terms of sin have been paid.

I'm also unsure how the idea that God's justice demands a blood sacrifice is non-sensical, when you argued in an earlier post in your blog that God has to punish sin, which is why Jesus accepted the punishment, which is what God's justice required. I'm thinking of your post "Why Jesus had to die." Or the discussions I've had with you and your sister in the sense that Jesus had to die to satisfy God's justice -- "Why Hell instead of House Arrest."

jON said...

hmm. perhaps in our ifrst-world lives lived apart from death and blood we may be able to conceive of writing something where blood is not required. but we have been able to successfully remove most of ourselves from blood and death. but these things still exist. we just aren't the ones who drain the blood from our cheeseburgers anymore. :-)

as to the question at hand, i simply have a one line response to throw out. for consideration. not because i have an answer, just a thought.

perhaps there is something important in trading life for life.

jON said...

actuall, now that i think about it, tool has a hidden track on their "undertow" cd which ties these two thoughts together.

"this is necessary. life feeds on life."

Nate said...

In the time when the blood sacrifices were required, animals were the materialism of the times. You were determined rich by how many of which livestock you had. By taking the best animal you owned to be killed, and given to God, showed that you honored God above your riches. Because once the animal was killed, you could not get it back. It was given to the priests.

Also, God is not bloodthirsty. Each time He blasts the Israelites or other peoples, He has valid reasons. For other peoples, it was normally to preserve the faith in himself. For the Israelites, He normally sent prophets to tell them that if they contiued in their current ways, that he would punish them, and they would kill the prophet. THEN they got punished. They were some really boneheaded people.

jennypo said...

OneSmallStep,

Just wanted to let you know I'm not ignoring you. I am working 2 jobs and I have houseguests this week, so I'm running behind, but I'll be back. I liked your last question because it was nice and specific, but I want to do it some justice.
:)

Slapdash said...

Hi folks, my apologies for the radio silence. I've been overseas and not on email for a few days.

I will read comments and respond in the next couple of days... in the meantime, keep the conversation alive! It's all interesting, and helpful.

Nate said...

You know a gracious host would at least throw out a bag of chips while she goes galavanting around the world. So in your absence, my favorite, Cool Ranch Doritos. Eat up everybody.

Slapdash said...

"You know a gracious host would at least throw out a bag of chips while she goes galavanting around the world."

You're right. I should have left some homemade guacamole behind. Oh well. I hope you shared the Doritos, like a good guest. :)

Slapdash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slapdash said...

The comments here have really made me think. Let me try to call out a few specific things:

jennypo: "The alternative of love is evil, which also is a kind of power, although by nature it is less than love. Evil is what is bloodthirsty."

I'm pondering this. Are love and evil the only choices? There's no in between? What does "choosing love" look like - is it choosing divine love, or is it more everyday love, showing concern for people around you? Is it bound up in belief of God? What does belief have to do with love? I know lots of people who don't know/believe in God who exhibit love all the time. Does that count for anything, or are they fundamentally still choosing evil because they are not aware of/not accepting of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross?

jennypo: "love just happens to be the most powerful force in the universe."

I would love to believe this; in an emotional, idealistic sense it sounds beautiful. But looking around me, wow, evil sure seems to rule the day more often than not. Maybe in some "end of the age" moment, love will finally eradicate evil... but then wouldn't you expect that the author and embodiment of love would also release everyone and everything from the yoke of evil, and hell? Isn't THAT love? True, unconditional love? Maybe that does reflect your beliefs, jennypo - are you a universalist? It is *not* consistent with the evangelical views I was brought up with, and I just don't believe that God's respect for choice is so great that he would allow people who he allegedly loves, to be thrown into hell. Honestly, I think the whole reverence of "choice" is a pretty modern, made-up thing that is not corroborated in the Bible. If it is, please point me to verses that support this notion.

jon: "perhaps there is something important in trading life for life."

This gave me pause. Care to elaborate?

nate: "Also, God is not bloodthirsty. Each time He blasts the Israelites or other peoples, He has valid reasons. For other peoples, it was normally to preserve the faith in himself."

So genocide of Israel's enemies was a good thing, and deserved, so the Israelites wouldn't lose their faith? Tell that to the slaughtered women and children.

This begs the question of what constitutes a good act, and whether God ordering atrocities upon his created beings is, in fact, good. Doesn't seem terribly just to me, and it begs the question addressed in my more recent post about Zoroaster and the good/evil polarity that seemed to consequently develop in Christianity: trying to call God's actions in the OT good sounds more and more to me like revisionist history. The authors of the OT books did not seem to be bothered by their God doing evil stuff - they weren't bound up trying to show him as only good. And what do you make of the verses saying God is the author of both good and evil?

I'm not trying to quibble with your belief that the God of the OT is good and just. I simply no longer believe it myself.

jennypo said...

OneSmallStep,

This response is way too late, but here it is anyway...

You are right. I am indeed saying that our choice of love is different from God's nature of Love. That is because when we choose love, we are choosing something outside of ourselves. God is not. Love does not exist outside of him. It is not merely that it is God's nature to love - God IS Love. He does not take on love as we do; he is the Source of all love.

There are limits on what God can and may do. This doesn't make him less than omnipotent, for the reason that the limits are not imposed by anything outside of God, but by what he is. If he were not limited by what he is, then he could be inconsistent, untrustworthy.

God's responsibility to both punish and eradicate sin is different from the consequences of sin. The consequence of sin is the rise of the power of evil - and ultimately, that also means death. That is WHY God has to deal with sin; it is not simply the WAY he has chosen to deal with it.

Even God cannot force you or me to love him. And yet, if we do not choose Love, we lose Love's power to protect us from evil.

jennypo said...

Are love and evil the only choices? There's no in between? What does "choosing love" look like - is it choosing divine love, or is it more everyday love, showing concern for people around you? Is it bound up in belief of God? What does belief have to do with love? (Slapdash)

Love and evil are not, as we like to think of them, two extreme ends of a continuum. Just as darkness is not a "thing" in itself, neither is evil. There is light and lack of light. There is Love and lack of love. The lack of love is evil.

Choosing love is not bound up in a belief in god. Many people believe in a god, and have not the most basic concept of love. Others don't even know that the name of Love is also God. However, anyone who chooses love will eventually come smack up against God, just as anyone who comes to know God will be faced with love's great imperatives. They are one and the same, but I do not say that one needs to know that they are the same before coming to know the One who is both God and Love.

Choosing love can look different depending on what you know of love. If you know only a little, it might not look like much. If you know a lot, then you are responsible for what you know. Regardless of what we know, love requires the best and the most beautiful of what we have. It is never easy, and never cheap. If you know that God is love, then choosing love will necessarily involve God. If you don't know that God is Love, then choosing love may not, in the beginning, involve any knowledge of God.

There are actually 3 meanings bound up in our word "belief". We tend to use only one, but the other 2 are far more important. The one we like to focus on is really a credulousness - the acknowledgement that some entity exists. Thus, we think that "believing in God" means my assent that God exists. Far, far more relevant is belief that is knowledge - it comes about because I either cannot or do not choose to deny what I have encountered. Third, and perhaps most important of all is belief that is trust based on knowledge and experience. These last two are the ones that God demands. The first is required in such trace amounts as to be almost nothing at all. Yes, I have to believe in the possibility of, and the supremacy of (if it does exist), a thing like love in order to search it out enough to choose it. But the one who goes looking for love may not have much of an idea what that material is that she searches for. Her belief that there IS something worth searching out is what brings her into experience - of love or God or both.

I am not really familiar with theology and its terms, but I think that universalists believe that in the end, everybody's going to heaven whether they like it or not. If that is the case, then I am not a universalist. This is not supportable if we accept the Bible in its entirety.

I do think that it is modern thinking to extract the concept of "choice" and look at it as a separate entity from love. One thing we have to remember is that our concept of God has been abstracted and reduced to the merely "magical", which requires us to pull out and re-examine a number of our relevant concepts, including love and choice.

Certainly the concept of choice as the responsibility of the individual in relation to God is something that appears throughout the Bible. That is not modern. Look at Cain, and the way God pleads with him. Look at Noah's story - those animals didn't make any choices, they just obeyed their creator. But the people were faced with a choice. Look at God's dealing with Lot, and with the Egyptians during the Exodus. (And notice that it wasn't merely the "chosen people" who went out of Egypt - it was a "mixed multitude", because the choice came down not to nations, but to individual houses.)

It is the degradation of our concept of Love that has led to the examination of the necessity of choice. Our books and movies tell us, in ways that circumvent real understanding and prevent us from scoffing as our ancestors no doubt would have, at the idea that love's essence is a mere emotionality that comes over us at random, and goes in the same way, "willy-nilly blowing" like Khayyam's wind along the waste. From this do we have even the question of love's dependence upon choice.

jON said...

just for the record i am a universalist, yet i am not sure just yet what i mean by that, so don't ask. it just seems to paint a better picture of a god who never gives up and whose love has no conditions.

"jon: 'perhaps there is something important in trading life for life.'

This gave me pause. Care to elaborate?"


this is not a fully developed idea yet, but i'll say what i can.
(furiously trying to ascribe feeble english consonants and vowels to intangible conepts...)


what if in order to break through into spiritual infinity we needed a bridge, a mediator? the mind is a powerful thing and more often than not, it is the very thing that inhibits our actions, or binds us up into all sorts of emotional negativity, or boxes us into a corner. others' thoughts and emotional manipulations may have been the root of our experiencing those things, but at the end of the day, we have the awesome ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want to.

the opinions or rules of others are really nothing at all. they only exist inside the mind, but they are powerful inhibitors indeed. i'm sure you know what i'm talking about.

with the cross in place, and god saying it covers everything for all time, suddenly, the world opens up like a flower. we need never be afraid again. trading in our old life of fear and the resulting depression and anger and outbursts and rebellious choices that come with it. trading it for a life of freedom and joy and love and security. not a "christian" life which is full of more doubt and insecurity and fear and constraint. but a real life, which you have begun to find, where you know what you believe and act on it without fear. finding yourself in a place of peace and fulfillment while doing so.

obviously, the positive things are only small glimmers at first as the old world seeks to dissuade you from your path. (why should you be happy when we are so miserable? who the fuck do you think you are?)

but in time, you will find the true life of living according to your own choices and feeling comfortable with them. it abolishes all rule and human authority in your life because you know you are secure. more often than not, when i feel boxed in and angry, i am truly angry at myself for not having the courage to tell the other person to fuck off. not in a negative way, but rather in a freeing way that realizes that another person does not define my world or my heart no matter how very badly they may want to.

and that is one of the things i think the blood sacrifice was all about, charlie brown.

it is only the tip of the iceberg, but the best i can articulate at the moment. any questions that may help me to clarify this for myself as well as you?