Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Harry Potter as evil as we want it to be

Recently in the Young Adult class at our church the leader brought up the evils of Harry Potter books. The idea was that magic in the books is something demonic whereby Satan is trying to make it appear that evil is used to fight evil. Perhaps a novel interpretation among the anti Harry Potter crowd and not even logical if you take the meaning of Jesus when He said:

(Mat 12:25-26 NIV) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

Adventists have generally followed Steve Wohlberg’s understanding on the issue, here her explains in a nutshell the problem.

In a nutshell, What's wrong with Harry Potter?

Wohlberg Answers:

In the midst of fun and fantasy, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels make witchcraft appear cool and exciting, especially to teenagers. It doesn’t matter that these novels are only “fictitious stories.” Stories are powerful. They influence both individuals and society. Just look around. “Wicca” (a religion that practices witchcraft) is exploding in popularity among kids, teens and adults. Even nine-year-olds are frequenting Wicca websites, lighting candles, casting spells, joining covens, and practicing so-called “white magic.” The Harry Potter craze and Wicca’s growing popularity go hand in hand. Harry’s last name is “Potter.” A “potter” molds clay, which is exactly what’s happening. Make no mistake about it, the Harry Potter books (along with other magic-made-fun films and TV series like Charmed, Buffy, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch) are whetting kid’s appetites to check out real witchcraft. The biggest danger is witchcraft itself, whether “black” or so-called “white.” Unknown to Wiccans themselves, it’s all a doorway to the demonic. Witchcraft itself (and the supernatural forces behind it), this is what’s wrong with Harry Potter

See also: Harry Potter and the Bible by Richard Abanes.

However there are other views such as these expressed in a Worldnet Daily article:

But even some Christians are endorsing Harry Potter. In a November 1999 broadcast of his radio series "Breakpoint," author Chuck Colson commended Harry and his friends for their "courage, loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for one another – even at the risk of their lives." Colson dismissed the pagan practices as "purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls and turn themselves into animals – but they don't make contact with a supernatural world. … [It's not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns."

And popular Christian publication World Magazine reviewed book one of the series in May 1999, calling it "a delight – with a surprising bit of depth." Author Roy Maynard assured World readers that "Rowling … keeps it safe, inoffensive and non-occult. This is the realm of Gandalf and the Wizard of Id, not witchcraft. There is a fairy-tale order to it all in which, as Chesterton and Tolkien pointed out, magic must have rules, and good does not – cannot – mix with bad."

Christianity Today presented this editorial:

You may have read newspaper accounts and heard radio reports of how Christians are fighting school boards over having the books in libraries. As a concerned parent, what should you do?

We think you should read the Harry Potter books to your kids.

First, we should all be suspicious of the media's hype of Christian parents objecting to the books. Reporters love the dialectic of first presenting the Christian stick-in-the-mud who objects to or is outraged by something, followed by the "reasonable" person who demonstrates how to be both moral and fun-loving. What remains unreported is that many Christians—such as Charles Colson and Wheaton College literature professor Alan Jacobs—enjoy and defend the Potter series.

Second, Christians should never apologize for rigorously scrutinizing what influences our children. A major scandal of our day is how seldom this happens. Modern witchcraft is indeed an ensnaring, seductive false religion that we must protect our children from (see "The Bewitching Charms of Neopaganism"). But the literary witchcraft of the Harry Potter series has almost no resemblance to the I-am-God mumbo jumbo of Wiccan circles. Author J.K. Rowling has created a world with real good and evil, and Harry is definitely on the side of light fighting the "dark powers."

Third, and this is why we recommend the books, Rowling's series is a Book of Virtues with a preadolescent funny bone. Amid the laugh-out-loud scenes are wonderful examples of compassion, loyalty, courage, friendship, and even self-sacrifice. No wonder young readers want to be like these believable characters. That is a Christmas present we can be grateful for.

Reflecting on the concluding book Christianity Today’s Alan Jacobs writes:

The key theme of the whole series is the opposition of death and love: the devastation wrought by those whose fear of death causes them to shun love as a weakness, and, in contrast, the rich rewards in store for those who will not allow the fear of death to block love, who know that love risks all for the beloved. Preceding the events of the first book are the sacrificial deaths of James Potter, in a vain attempt to save his wife and son, and of Lily Potter, in an equally vain attempt to save Harry. In the fourth book of the series the deaths resume: Cedric Diggory in that one, Sirius Black in the next, Albus Dumbledore in the sixth. In this final installment the named dead exceed a dozen, and many more remain unnamed. Among those whom Harry knows and cares for, all of them, in this book and in the previous ones, die for someone they love, or for something they believe in.

See also: Redeeming Harry Potter Looking for God in Harry Potter What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?

What some people frequently miss about books, especially fictional books is how they deal with choices and just how they open the world of ideas to people. Ideas that the author may not even overtly deal with and leaves the reader to ponder the situations in the light of their own lives is one of the greatest values of literature. Of course the people who think that a fantasy world is reality and that their literalism must be read into the books lose that ability. In literary terms they are not capable of suspending disbelief. A science fiction book which involves star travels at faster then the speed of light such as the Saga of the Skolian Empire series by Catherine Asaro have little meaning if you the reader constantly says “no the physics really don’t allow for going faster then the speed of light”. If traveling faster then the speed of light were thought of as being the realm of Satan, because well if he is out there doing all we say he is doing he must really be traveling faster then the speed of light, than the people may be like those who reject Harry Potter because it supposedly espouses evil as a means of fighting evil.

Books depend upon the reader suspending their disbelief so that the book can tell a story from a different world, place, time, history, creature etc. A good book creates discussion of those who have read them. There is no discussion of a book with someone who refuses to suspend disbelief and frankly that has been a problem for Adventists as well as other Christians with the Harry Potter series. Can a person ponder the religious (see J.K Rowling on religious undertones interview) implications of a book they fear to read? Apparently, but then when they talk about the book it has little in common with the book the actual readers read. Which is a functional disconnection, it is the easiest thing to do to condemn and criticize, the Pharisees did that to Christ in Matt 12 above. Yet modern Christianity really needs to move beyond the devil behind everything, because it makes us look foolish and possibly more importantly shows our own foolishness.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A response to Chris Lewis interview

Earlier today I replied with a comment on the Spectrum blog of Jared Wright's review of The Character of God Controversy. This book is supposed to deal with some type of movement in Adventism which purports that God does not kill. My comment was as follows:

I have read discussions where some people have submitted the idea that God never kills but I don't know the names of any particular Adventist pastors or leaders or scholars who hold to that view. Maybe it is my own lack of knowledge but I would be interested in knowing who this book is really addressing.

The Character of God is a big issue in A. Graham Maxwell's theology but I have never heard him or read that he says God never kills. Does this book express who believes the God never kills concept? As you only have to produce one instance to prove the position false I just don't think there is sufficient acceptance of this view in Adventism. I think it is a method used to try and discount the more Moral Influence views that are held by many Adventists. Such as Maxwell's "larger view". But those are not based upon God never kills. They are based upon the idea that God did not kill His Son (God does not kill God) so that the death paid the penalty for humans sins.

There are many examples where in life it is not unjust to kill, to assume that such is not the case for God is not too credible in my opinion.

Jared answered that he was about to put up an interview with one of the authors of the book. True to his word he posted the article How the Book was Inspired. It appears my assessment was accurate. The book is actually an attempt at shoring up the Penal Atonement theory under the guise that those not holding Penal Atonement views hold the idea the God never kills. I will interline in red some comments, the question is in bold black and Dr. Chris Lewis statement is in green:

Question: It is evident from reading that both you and Steve Wohlberg care about how God is depicted. What misperceptions about God do you hope the book will help in clearing up?

Answer: It appears to me that many people do not understand how a loving God could still be loving and yet punish or destroy. How can a life-giving God take life?

Unfortunately, these issues are too often handled by “reasoning” from our sometimes inaccurate understanding of things like sin and wrath - using analogies to understand these issues instead of simply taking God at His Word and then trying to study more deeply to understand the “why” behind what He says. If an author or speaker uses an analogy that “makes sense” to us, should we base our definition or understanding of sin or wrath on that analogy instead of basing it on how God defines these ideas in His Word?

Another of these reasoning is wrong arguments; you can tell this will not go well. What is interesting is that reasoning is the only thing we really have words on a page do nothing for us, they must be interpreted and applied and that can’t be done without reasoning. Secondly analogies are the primary method of communicating that the Bible writers used. I could exhaust you by giving examples of Bible analogies so I won’t do that but it is something that is too obvious to be contradicted intelligently. Thirdly the Bible is not God’s Word. At best it contains some of God’s words. When people say they simply take God at His word what they really mean is that they interpret something from the Bible in a fundamentalist way. To study more deeply they mean to accept the fundamentalist view and try to explain the fundamentalist view; that is the why. In other words they start with a particular presupposition and all study is designed to affirm that presupposition.

One truth that is taught throughout the Bible but that is denied in the theory in question is the truth of the atonement of Christ. It gets at the reason of why Jesus came to earth and died.

Here he introduces the real reason for this book.

My children have a series of musical CDs with Scripture set to music, and my daughter’s favorite is Isaiah 53. She has the chapter memorized. Whenever she has the CD playing or when I hear her singing the chapter while she plays, I am struck by how simple and plain God is in His Word on the subject of the atonement.

Unfortunately Isaiah 53 is at best a foreshadowing of some Atonement ideas. It was not written about the atonement nor is most of it used in the New Testament to speak about the atonement. Surely you would expect the New Testament the part of the Bible given the name “New Testament” because it speaks of the atonement and a new and better way to use those Old Testament sections from Isaiah 53…but they do not.

Central to this topic is the concept that God’s law simply cannot be set aside. A part of that law is the decree “The wages of sin is death.” Paul was quoting God when he wrote Romans 6:23. Notice this clear statement from Review & Herald, May 7, 1901:

The fiat has gone forth, "The wages of sin is death." The sinner must feel his guiltiness, else he will never repent. He has broken the law, and in so doing has placed himself under its condemnation. The law has no power to pardon the transgressor, but it points him to Christ Jesus, who says to him, I will take your sin and bear it myself, if you will accept me as your substitute and surety. Return to your allegiance, and I will impute to you my righteousness. You will be made complete in me.

Here he takes Ellen White as the authority and interpreter of the Bible and specifically the sentence fragment so typically used. “The wages of sin is death”, why people use only the first phrase and ignore the second I cannot understand but the second shows that “the gift of God is eternal life” So it is not saying that you sin therefore you die or someone has to die for you. It is saying that sin has results and they are death but God gives a gift and that gift is eternal life. The idea that a law cannot be put aside is also a problem. Who creates a law that has more power then the one who created the law? The Bible stories are filled with miracles which are clearly breaking the laws of the natural world. I suppose that is why these people so often take only the fragment of Romans 6:23, without doing that they have nothing to make God subservient to His own laws. So they take that part of the verse and remove it from the context and say that we are all condemned to death by God’s law. However in context you are only condemned to death if you reject the gift of life that God offers for then you are only left with the consequences of sin which is death.

It is so very simple. None of God’s law can be set aside if the universe is to be kept safe. It is the way it has to be, whether we understand why or not.

It is so simple that you don’t even need to understand it. It matters not that it makes no sense. How can anyone say that none of God’s laws can be set aside when we have texts such as:

(2 Cor 5:19 NIV) that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

All those stories about forgiveness in both the old and the New Testament, forgiveness is not about punishment first, take a look at the stories, clearly forgiveness is based upon the idea that one does not hold the wrong done by someone against them.

Now read Isaiah 53 through again from start to finish. Don’t skip any verses. Why did it please the Lord to bruise Him? Because He knew that by God in human flesh dying, He could justly forgive sinners.

Well, no you don’t really find that God could forgive sinners because God bruised Christ. That would not be forgiveness by the Biblical definition nor is that what Isaiah 53 reveals.

“(Isa 53:10 NIV) Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”

Nowhere do you find that text repeated in the New Testament. In fact 5 times in the New Testament it says that men caused Christ death. Not once does it say that God caused His death. Not once does it say that God bruised Christ, crushed Christ or even that Christ paid a penalty. When the New Testament does quote Isaiah it refers to His suffering but not the suffering that was God caused:

(1 Pet 2:24 NIV) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

(1 Pet 2:25 NIV) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Does anyone really believe that the flogging of Christ heals us because God caused the whip to fall? No we are healed by seeing the character of God revealed in the life of Christ and we are moved to return to God. This is not written as penal atonement theory. That has to be created by taking Old Testament foreshadowing and carrying it to a conclusion that the New Testament writers did not use. Entirely understandable in Old Testament times when everything was caused by God, both good and evil but the Bible writers did progress in understanding and in their knowledge of God. So why go back to the more primitive concept of God?

Why was Jesus “satisfied?” Because by faith He saw the millions who would be in heaven because He was put to death for their sins. God showed that the law cannot be set aside in order to pardon sinners. The penalty must be carried out. That is justice. No one, including Satan, the accuser of the brethren, can accuse God of not being just, because God took the full justice of the law upon Himself in the form of the Son.

This is kind of silly as there is literally no place which holds to substitution of the innocent for the guilty as an appropriate form of justice. Even the Old Testament forbids punishing the innocent. But this fits the fundamentalist presupposition. The idea that God punished Himself to pay the penalty that He required instead of simply forgiving makes God less then reasonable. But then again reasoning is looked at poorly as the author stated in the second paragraph of his answer. In essence he is saying God can’t forgive unless He punishes and since He can’t punish the guilty or they would all be killed He must punish Himself. Is there any wonder that Christianity is the butt of so many jokes about unthinking people?

But God is also merciful. Where the mercy comes in is where God says, in essence, “For the safety of the universe, I cannot set aside My law, but what I will do is take the penalty Myself so that I can extend pardon to the guilty.” The plan formed by the Godhead was for the Son to die the death required by the law, for us. If we will accept that death in our place, by faith, it is ours. It is as though we had received that death sentence, yet lived to tell about it.

Hmmm wouldn’t it be easier for God to forgive as He instructs us to forgive? Or is mercy not abundant in forgiveness?

The bottom line is that only One equal with the law, i.e., the Lawgiver, could pay the penalty and satisfy the justice of the law for us. Some say this shows God to be barbaric. I believe that it instead reveals a God that is just, and [yet] and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

Oh my, the Law is equal to the Lawgiver. How could that possible be that a written set of ideas is equal to the creator of the ideas. Never. Now is God barbaric to punish Himself and rewrite His law about punishing the innocent? I would not call that barbaric I would call it irrational. Using the authors terms instead of saying God is barbaric I would say that the author has painted God as a berserker.

The reason we don’t understand that this truth shows us how loving God is, rather than describing a barbaric God, is that we also misunderstand the law. To the degree that we misperceive how bad sin is, we also misperceive how good the law is. Sin and the law are opposites, for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).

I have to agree with him a little here. He does not have a clue when it comes to understanding the law. I doubt he understands sin either.

I am glad Jared was able to read the book he reviewed I doubt I could stomach the nonsense that they have produced. And yet it will be published by Adventist publishing houses and sold at the Adventist bookstores to the gullible because frankly it follows the fundamentalist line of thinking and that has once again found prominence in the Adventist church, sadly.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Same sex marriage and the Roman Empire record

The Spectrum Magazine website has been giving a lot of attention to the upcoming same sex proposition in California. For some reason they think it is a religious liberty issue. It is something we learn to expect from the political left which operates that site.

I was reading an article in my local newspaper entitled: Milestones in GLBT history

The author states:

“While Massachusetts and California have recently legalized same-sex marriage, it is hardly anything new. In fact, the earliest recorded same-sex marriages occurred during the Roman Empire. A number of same-sex unions took place during that time — almost 2,000 years ago.”

Wow that is amazing 2000 years ago there were same sex marriages, does that mean that if one wants to promote same sex marriage they are promoting a Pagan religious ceremony since that seems to be the argument often used against those who oppose same sex marriages, separation of church and state etc.

Thanks to Wikipedia footnote 12 we find the reference to this precedent setting Roman Empire Same Sex Marriage. Since that footnote does not link to the reference and inquiring minds will want to know here is the source of growing in popularity Roman Empire and the first record of same sex marriage.

Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars The Life of Nero

28 Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freedwoman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero's father Domitius had had that kind of wife. 2 This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the assizes and marts of Greece, and later at Rome through the Street of the Images, 84 fondly kissing him from time to time. That he even desired illicit relations with his own mother, and was kept from it by her enemies, who feared that such a help might give the reckless and insolent woman too great influence, was notorious, especially after he added to his concubines a courtesan who was said to look very like Agrippina. Even before that, so they say, whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, he had incestuous relations with her, which were betrayed by the stains on his clothing.

29 He so prostituted his own chastity that after defiling almost every part of his body, he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched 85 by his freedman Doryphorus; for he was even married to this man in the same way that he himself had married Sporus, going so far as to imitate the cries and lamentations of a maiden being deflowered. I have heard from some men that it was his unshaken conviction that no man was chaste or pure in any part of his body, but that most of them concealed their vices and cleverly drew a veil over them; and that therefore he pardoned all other faults in those who confessed to him their lewdness.

A heartwarming account, one I am sure many proponents of same sex marriage can point to proudly…or maybe just point to. As Paul Harvey says; now you know the rest of the story.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Justification By Faith…No hiding From God

Jonathan Gallagher has a good article over at Spectrum entitled: God’s Nature: The Basis for Atonement He goes over the English progression of the term “atonement” from the original “at-one-ment” to the now more popular in religious circles atonement as making up for a past wrong. One of the traditions that the Reformation laid down for us even though it makes little sense to modern Christianity with a view of unity of God and the love and acceptance of God.

One of the first comments after the article was by someone who clings to penal atonement, concluding by saying: "Covered by His Righteousness what more can we say: “Even so come Lord Jesus!” –Tom

I responded by asking what it means to be covered by His Righteousness. Most people don’t realize that this is not a Biblical concept…at least not the way it is usually used. The following is taken from one of my previous articles which hopefully will explain a little about the problem of teaching that we hide from God under the righteousness of Christ.

The doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement has very greatly changed the face of Christianity since it inception as Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement in the 1100’s. Not only has it changed the view of Christianity it has changed the way Christians view God.

I often use the following quote from the early 1900’s to illustrate the change in Christian philosophy introduced by the Satisfaction and Substitutionary Theories:

"In many of the popular sermons and hymns of the last two centuries Christ is set forth as mediator between an angry God and the condemned sinner, pleading with God for mercy, at the same time receiving the divine wrath into his own bosom and thus averting from the sinner the consequences of his sin." (The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, vol. 7 page 270)

In many ways the popular idea of Justification by Faith has also been modified by the Substitutionary theory. The Westminster Shorter Catechism describes justification by faith as: "Justification is an act of God's free grace, whereby he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone" (Q 33)

The idea as presented since the reformation is that Justification is a legal act whereby the sinner is declared by God to be righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Imputation is not a word often seen outside of Theology anymore but the basic meaning is to “credit to a person or cause”, to “attribute” something to someone else. In the popular definition of Justification by Faith (often termed Righteousness by Faith in Adventist circles) there are two aspects of Christ’s work applied to our justification. Christ satisfied all the demands of God’s justice against sinners on the cross where Christ took the penalty due those who sinned. Christ also lived the perfect life of obedience and then Christ attributes that righteousness to us.

Central to the concept of this Justification by Faith is the idea of punishment for sin. God demanded Justice in this view as R.C. Sproul writes:

"The atonement is vicarious because it is accomplished via imputation. Christ is the sin-bearer for his people, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) who takes away (expiates) our sin and satisfies (propitiates) the demands of God's justice. The cross displays both God's justice (in that he truly punishes sin) and his grace (because he punishes sin by providing a substitute for us)" (Faith Alone, p. 104).

It may be that this type of view is related to the concept of justice as known in the middle ages in Europe, where justice was seen more as punishment rather then the more Oriental view which sees justice as a return to harmony. This leads to a view that says God can’t freely forgive because the offense is so great that sin must be punished. This however is not a Biblical view, God has instructed that we must forgive, naturally forgiveness is not punishment, forgiveness disregards the hurts of the past while punishment inflicts hurt in order to force a change in behavior or to simply retaliate against the person to be punished. To punish a substitute would violate nearly every known human law but it also goes against God’s own instructions. (Exodus 23:7)

The Substitutionary theory also demands that God punish sin in the person of Jesus Christ. Something the Bible does not say. It does not tell us that Jesus suffered a punishment of God or paid a penalty for sin. Those ideas are usually read into the Bible by those who have already accepted the Substitutionary theory as truth. Clearly Christ paid a price for His actions, but as the Bible says we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). But that was not paid to God or the Devil, it is the cost of God becoming a man and submitting to men ending in his death. The price paid was by God to man, in order to reconcile man back to God. No exchange but a sacrifice made by God to end man’s hostility toward God.

In the Reformation’s view of Justification by Faith Christ lived the perfect life and was subjected to the divine punishment for our sins thus God forgives us and we are now covered by Christ’s righteousness. What does it mean when they say that Jesus was our “sin bearer”? Again the Substitutionary theory provides us with its own language. By sin bearer they mean sins were placed upon Christ who was then punished for those sins so that they could be forgiven. But that is not the New Testament meaning of how Christ bore our sins. What it does say is that He suffered by the sins of others inflicted upon him and He forgave and took away our sins.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:22-4 NIV)

…so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Heb 9:28 NIV)

The sins were those inflicted by a rebellious and self centered people. That is really the attitude that is sin. Sin is not something apart from the thinking individual. It is not something that can be moved here or there, it is the attitude of man that leads him to cause the hurt that we all see around us, ultimately caused by the broken relationship with our God. The Bible several places mentions dying to sin as mentioned above. But it usually combines that with living for God or righteousness. The implication is pretty clear the end of one way of life, sin, takes us to the new way of life, righteousness, through the change in allegiance that reconciliation to God brings in our lives.

John the Baptist declared:

"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NIV)

It does not matter which sacrificial lamb is referred to here. Whether it is the Passover lamb that symbolized protection from destruction, or the scapegoat (in Jewish language lamb can also mean goat) who symbolically carried the sins of the camp out into the desert where they were remembered no more. Or any of the other Jewish sacrificial animals. The point is that here is the sacrifice (the offering) of God who forgives us and changes us. The Old Testament is filled with the idea of forgiveness, but it is never more clearly demonstrated then by Jesus on the cross saying forgive them. (Luke 23:34) Jesus the perfect man was tortured and killed, treated as if He were the worst of sinners. Yet He did not ask that they be punished, He freely offered them forgiveness, this is how God takes away our sins. Not by punishment of the innocent but through forgiveness, no longer counting man’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19) Jesus is not the substitute being punished by God for man’s sins, but the demonstration of the power, love and forgiveness of God that leads us to repentance and reconciliation (Romans 2:4)

We know that no one is righteous besides God (Romans 3:10), we know that no one is made righteous by keeping the law (Romans 3:20). So how is it, that God can say we are justified/righteous? The Substitutionary view is that God does some clever bookkeeping. The righteousness of God revealed in Christ is attributed to us and when God looks at his account book He sees not us but Christ. The reason I used “righteousness of God revealed in Christ” is because the Bible never uses the expression “righteousness of Christ”. Since as John chapter 1 tells us Christ is God, the very “Logos” became flesh and dwelt among us, there is no difference between Christ and God. In fact in Christ the full divinity of God is revealed (Colossians 1:19). But is this really what we want to say about God, that He does not really see who we are but sees only Himself? If God is our friend, a friend who is closer then a brother (Proverbs 18:24, John 15:15), how can we be content to hide from Him? Because of the Substitutionary view of the Atonement we view Christ as our friend but we have trouble seeing God as our friend. But in reality our Advocate is with the Father, and God is for us not against us (Jeremiah 29:11; Job 16:19; 1 John 2:1; Romans 8:31)

Well before anyone on earth knew of the mission of the coming Messiah, God had declared his friends to be righteous. They were declared righteous by their faith in God the same way all are justified. (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; Hebrews 11). It is the faith in God that makes man righteous. Those who believe what God has said, those who trust God. It is the restored relationship built upon the trust in God, because those who trust in God have been reconciled to God and God no longer counts their sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). The love of God compels us to come to Him, the love that we see in Christ as He revealed to us God through His life, death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14-17) Because of the one who died for us not as a substitute but as God revealing His very nature we no longer have to live for ourselves but for the one who died to reconcile us back to Him. Many often look at the paradox in the verse that says:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

Ignoring the verses just before it which tell of His love compelling us to be reconciled. As the one who died for all so that all can live for the one who died and rose again. Their old lives gone and the new creation here and living now for God. The sinless one tortured and murdered as a sinner, a curse by man on a cross, so that we can become right with God, reconciled and righteous by our faith in our God. But it was not God who treated Christ as a sinner, it was not God who killed Jesus, it was man in his rebellion who killed the author of life (Acts 3:15). All this God knew well before it was to happen, even the worst sin man could do does not stop God from revealing His glory, His power, His love and His forgiveness.

We don’t have to hide from God, we don’t have to be clothed with substitute righteousness. We can have a right relationship with God and that is the righteousness that God desires. Far different from the idea of legal bookkeeping and fictional right doing. Our faith is in the God who loves, forgives and redeems, not a faith in the God of cosmic legal fiction. A relationship that changes us producing obedience to God as the product of growing in our relationship with God. We begin by following God’s most basic command:

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:23-25 NIV)

It is the fruit of our relationship that reveals to others our life in God. But as human beings we are sin scarred and incompetent to fully live the life we desire to live as Paul declares in Romans Chapter 7. But our failures do not cause us to be cast aside as our God is not done with us. He is able to complete the good work started in us and He will not let us be snatched from His hand (Phil 1:6; John 10:28). His love has reconciled us to Him and His mind is acting upon our minds (Philippians 2:5). Trust of God leads to the restoration of our relationship to God and ultimately to the healing of our minds and bodies and that is God’s goal. All this revealed to us by Christ (Hebrews 1:2).

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 NIV)