I just watched the film Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood, the story’s protagonist, was his usual distinguished yet brutal self; only Eastwood can pull off bloodshed and violent language with such elegance. In the movie, he is a racist, arrogant white guy who ends up defending his Hmong neighbors. He resents them, yet learns to see them as human beings struggling as he does. The plot sounds a little predictable, but it isn’t because unlike a Hallmark mini-series, Eastwood never really overcomes his racism. He just moves it aside as he grows to love his neighbors. His character becomes less a transformed racist than a reluctant samaritan. His begrudging love of the Hmong family eventually ends in an ultimate sacrifice–he willingly dies for them. The only way to save them is to die and he does. They are redeemed through his death which was the direct result of his love.
I struggle with the death of Jesus. There are many ways to understand Jesus’ death. The one Christians tend to espouse most quickly is the atonement theory. The atonement is a doctrine that describes how human beings can be reconciled to God. It refers to the forgiveness of sin through the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion. Jesus died for our sins and therefore we can now live.
Hmmmm. Do you believe that? And if so, why? I’m not saying it isn’t true. I am asking rather, that we all give it some thought. Here are my questions: first, if Jesus’ death wiped out the penalty for sin (it’s not as if human beings stopped sinning) then why do we still worry about salvation, being saved, “accepting” Jesus, etc.? Second, does this sound like a God of love? “Sending” a beloved son for a brutal death to fulfill a formula? And finally, is God really so limited that God would send a person to save people? Is that really an all powerful God? Truthfully, it doesn’t even sound that smart.
I am not saying Jesus was not our Savior. I believe he was and is. I am not saying he wasn’t God’s son. I am saying that Jesus was much more than our ticket into eternal life.
This week we read the text from John 3:16. The big misunderstanding in Christianity is that John 3:16 is about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Our understanding of the formula–Christ suffered, died, rose and now humanity is back in relationship with God is more medieval than it is Jesus. Instead, John 3:16 is about relationship and community and the sacrifices that one makes for both. John 3:16 is a statement of God’s overwhelming and redemptive love not a careful recipe for the salvation of some.
How we understand Jesus has a lot to do with who we are as Christians. We need to really explore our long held beliefs about Jesus. So in the spirit of exploration, watch Gran Torino which I think is a fresh version of John 3:16. Watch it and tell me what you think.
See You in the Pews!
Sent from my iPad