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08
God without Sacrifice and Punishment
December 8, 2010

It seems that it is almost impossible for human beings to contemplate or understand God (or the gods) without there being elements of sacrifice and punishment involved. When we look back at ancient religions throughout the world (Middle East, Africa, Europe, Central America, China, India etc.) we recognize the universal nature of this instinct at play. Every religion that I can think of has as one of its central convictions the need to appease, mollify, cajole, placate, the divine for blessing and favour. When that blessing or favour does not come it is assumed that some basic offense has occurred. A kind of punishment is at work. This punishment must be appeased through sacrifice.


When we turn our attention to the Bible we notice that the themes of sacrifice and punishment are very much in evidence. This is especially so in the Old Testament. The basic story of the Old Testament is how Israel constantly frustrates and offends God’s intentions for them. There is a constant theme of punishment and sacrifice that runs from the beginning of Genesis through to Malachi, the last prophet as Israel is raised up and brought down through the events of history.
Not that this is the only theme at work in the Old Testament. There is also the slow awakening of Israel to the true nature of God as a God of love and fidelity. A God whose main interest is to bless and bring life.

In the New Testament the two story lines are inverted. The Gospel or “Good News” is now that the God of Israel is actually the God of all people and that this God is a God of love. The themes of restoration and rebirth are at the forefront of this growing understanding inherited from the Old Testament. While the themes of sacrifice and punishment are still in evidence in the New Testament their importance is diminished. It is critically important to recognize that Jesus is seen and understood as the one and final sacrifice for all eternity. Whatever the validity of sacrifice and punishment is for an earlier time the death and resurrection of the Son of God clearly brings an end to any kind of understanding going forward. The time of sacrifice and punishment is over.


It is quite sad to me to think that Christianity, rather quickly, re-embraced the older understanding of sacrifice and punishment and brought it back into its core belief system. It seems to me that it has completely missed out on the central purpose of the Incarnation which was to restore to us the true face of God to our understanding and to return to us the perfect knowledge of God as a God of love.