I started this Lenten Call to Resist series as a public way of rejecting the theological sadism of right-wing Christianity, which sees God as damning all humanity except those who believe in Jesus, the “perfect sacrifice,” sent by God to die in our place. This is an ancient theology of retributive justice, based on Anselm’s medieval satisfaction theory of the atonement. It points to a God who cannot (or even worse, will not) freely forgive human sin, who needs someone to die for divine honor to be restored and to be reconciled to humanity.
Since this is a foundational belief of the Christian Right, which helped elect Donald Trump to the presidency, it makes sense that its true believers support the scapegoating of Muslims, harsh policies toward immigrants, unconditional support for aggressive (and even deadly) police actions, unrestricted access to guns, punitive laws (such as the death penalty), and military policies based on domination, violence, and war. Policies such as these are consistent with the view of a wrathful and punishing God, who can only accept those who, under fear of hell, are willing to jump through a series of theological hoops that, in my mind, are too small for a compassionate thinking person to get through.
On the other hand, the God I have come to know through Jesus is a God of restorative justice who reaches out in love to everyone, regardless of creed, social standing, or background and invites them into a reconciled relationship with God, self, others, and creation itself. Like Jesus, God reaches out to us, offering forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love. Jesus did not preach his healing, saving message for his early disciples only, but for all. He did not simply reject the world’s values, demonstrate his vision of an inclusive community based on alternative values, challenge the governing authorities, and stand firm in the face of death for his early followers alone, but for those who would come after. He lived faithfully and died “for us.”
Those of us who hear the Spirit’s call are invited into a process of truth and reconciliation. It involves facing and coming to terms with our history, our past, our immersion in whatever culture and milieu we find ourselves, and our current participation in social sin and institutional evil. This reconciling process of “salvation” also involves accepting ourselves and the apparently limitless willingness of Divine Love to accept us as we are.
This is not exactly a get out of jail free card. For Love to be effective in my life, I must do my part. What is my part? Here’s how twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich put it:
“You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” By simply accepting that we are accepted as we are, we are set free from guilt, shame, and pre-patterned bondage of the past. This crucial choice sets us free to start anew, to enter a new way of living that includes openness to the ongoing transformation of our lives.
The way I have experienced this process goes far beyond anything that I could work out on my own. Fortunately, God’s restorative justice is always at work. Like the Prodigal in Jesus’ parable, I am always welcomed home.
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