(this was the launching email, that started the conversation):
Ed writes: Christianity is based on a kind of a competition between God and Satan.

There's about six ways that this doesn't make sense...

He let his son come to earth, be human, and die for man's sins.

But he knew all the time that he wouldn't really lose his son, that Jesus would ...be up and walking around again in three days.Cheap trick! What kind of martyrdom is that?

(This was my response to the above email by Ed)
just a brief response on the 'martyrdom' conversation...

As a serious student of the God of Truth (who is not afraid of my questions or doubts) and the God of Love (who typically melts most of my sporadic fits of arrogance or rebellion by His demonstrations of love to me in my life), I have pondered that 3-day question for two decades...here's what I have distilled from those years of 'brooding' over this issue.

1. First of all, it's really WORSE than just a three day issue--it's actually only a three-HOUR separation between God the Father and God the Son! All the data that we have points out that from the start of the crucifixion (6.am) till noon, Jesus is suffering the "normal" crucifixion pain, but is taking care of people's needs as he always did--in spite of his pain and discomfort: he provides a home for his mother, forgives the thief on the cross, prays for his tormentors with the "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing", etc. (What a role model for Christians today! We often let the average woes of today dilute and/or kill our efforts to help others!) Up to the noon hour, we only see a normal crucifixion there.

But at noon, something dramatic happens. The sky goes dark and Jesus cries out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!" The Son is separated from the Father for the first time in eternity...this continues for only three hours...and at 3.00pm Jesus wills himself to death. He cries 'it is finished' (the Greek phrase actually has a technical meaning in those days of 'paid in full'--it was so used when people were released from debtors prison and their unpaid bill was stamped 'paid in full'--same phrase). And then he decides to die and gives up his spirit. So those three HOURS are the only slice of time in all of eternity that the Son experiences brokenness in his relationship with his Father.

2. When I then try to understand 3hrs vs. eternity issues, I quickly run across the problem of how God 'experiences' time...The old crusty Scholastics sometimes argued that God experienced time all at once, much as a entire landscape is visually experienced simultaneously, even though it is quite distributed. If, as they suggest, universe-time is like a mural on a wall that God experiences ALL AT ONCE, and experiences it ETERNALLY (not the old " I'm through with that day, I'll move on to experience the next day"), then the Father is still "experiencing" that grief now...it's a bit heavy, and we tread on shaky ground here (logically speaking), but this experience is slightly mirrored in humans (made in the image of God) when we recall a past experience and 're-feel' the pain or joy therein...

3. A specific incident in my personal life brought this out very vividly when my oldest daughter (now 18) was only a week or so old at a doctor's visit. The nurse had to prick her heel for a tiny drop of blood to check something. As I watched that brief, brief moment, I saw the face of my precious newborn--delight of my delights--register pain for the first time on her face. I heard her wail of torment, I saw her tears of shock and violation, I saw her trust in the universe questioned. It only lasted 5-10 seconds, but those seconds were so intensified, so magnified by my love for her, that there was nothing else in the universe but that pain...even now as I write this, my heart hurts at the memory, and tears fill my eyes before this screen, and my fingers tremble at the keyboard. How much more must the cries of a perfect Son, loved and delighted in and 'played' with at creation, when magnified by such a boundless love as the very definition and source of Love, create "a hole in the heart of God" that is so un-correlated to the length of time of the wail?! This made me re-evaluate over time my then assumption that those three hours were like any other 'normal' three hours in the history of the universe!

4. So, subsequently I pondered the 'contents' of those three hours, and why was the God-Man (who came to earth specifically for those three hours) terrified at the prospect?! He, of all Persons in the universe, was smart enough to have argued the three-day (or three-hour) point in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, when he wrestled with his impending sacrifice. But the agony in the garden, with tears, and sweat, and such psychological/emotional torment that he begged His Father to save the world in some other manner...why such torment? His personal death was no big deal to Him nor is it to us his followers. But three hours of becoming the very ugliness of sin, the very hideousness of rebellion against Love, the very fragmented reality of moral failure...this was the very anti-matter of his character...the thought of becoming the very thing you hated most, the very thing that enraged moral sensibilities of the whole world... The scripture is very clear in II Cor 5.17-21--"God made Him to be sin for us, that we might be made morally pure in Him." So something was very, very bad about those three hours (to use understatement).

5. As to the 3 hours themselves, the theology tells us that during those Jesus 'paid for the sins of the whole world' (John the Baptist made this clear when he called him the Lamb, which takes away the sins of the whole world). What did this entail? The concise statement is that God the Father, who had loved/enjoyed/delighted/ fellowshipped with the Son at the most intimate of levels (they actually shared the same essence--the trinity doctrine) for all eternity, suddenly turned his back on His Son, and for three hours poured His awesome wrath out on His Son (instead of on us, incredibly!). So one component was the abandoning His Son (to save the world), and the other was the very active outpouring of judicial punishment upon Him to generate the 'paid in full' comment.

Now the thing that amazes me (and humbles me) about this 'wrath' deal, is that I understand that wrath to include all the dimensions of sin's effects (psychological fragmentation, broken relationships, even the eternal consequences the bible describes under the topic of 'hell', etc.) for a very, very large number of people, concentrated into three hours! When you understand that sin has some kind of eternal, full-blown, fully-unleashed consequences, this concentrated experience of mega-multiple 'hells' on a Person of infinite purity and infinite sensitivity takes on a staggering, and unfathomable weight! (The very strong apocalyptic images of God's judicial wrath in Revelation--however one interprets that book--indicate a very serious intensity of this wrath.)

Well, this "brief" response turned out longer than I planned...but you probably get the ideas...we do have some data about that time period, and we do know that something much, much larger than '3 hours' happened there. We know that love does strange things, and the fact that the Father and the Son would agree to experience--with infinite extension and intensity--the horrible effects of OUR actions, instead of making us bear those consequences ourselves--this is the Strangest Thing of All! Such love...

Anyway...there are still unresolved questions in my mind, but the above thought-lines seem to help me understand the point and magnitude of the Cross, without exhausting its awesome significance...maybe they will you too...I would be happy to interact farther on this point, since God typically leads people-in-honest-dialogue into truth more 'quickly' than people-in-themselves(!)...glenn
(this was a response, not from Ed, but from another person-Antony-who participated in the conference notes:)
First let me say "good show" a very well thought out response. I see you have done your home work on this. I 'll have to do some of the same a find if I can find any points to counter with to develop a more in depth discussion. ( although what you said was as about "in-depth" as I have seen.) Get back to you soon.

My only question for now is " What if he didn't die on the cross"

T.
(this was my response to tony...)
Anthony...

thanks for considering my reply (I am perhaps presumptuous to assume you were replying to ME--your post is not addressed to me...but the Re(#) sorta matched)...

Having worked on this so long, I already KNOW some of the weaknesses in my position...(and all positions do have weaknesses, to be sure--and one has to pick the view that has the smaller number of weaknesses in quantity, quality, and severity--a philosophy of science thing)...most in this case have to do with the nature of the logic and interface between the finite and the infinite...such as...

"If an infinite God-man, could suffer an infinity of pain in a single instant of time (by virtue of his infinite nature), then why would it take THREE HOURS to pay for the sins of the world, even if each sin does have 'infinite/eternal' consequences?!"

[Although one could perhaps approach this with the math concepts of an infinite number of points in a finite length interval, I personally don't put a lot of weight on these types of finite/infinite arguments, since most of them strike me as linguistic 'sleight of hand.' Our notions of infinite (and actually, even of 'finite') are too fuzzy and imprecise to build tight arguments around the relationships of those concepts. We have enough problems understanding, at a very basic level, how an eternal and infinite God could 'attach himself' (notice the imprecision in the word choices?) to a human nature (as in the God-man Jesus Christ)--if I were not thoroughly convinced intellectually that God had broken into history and communicated that concept to us, I would judge the concept to be meaningless. Alas, as it is, I have spent too many time-slices of my life studying and pondering the issue of "did God deposit information about Himself in history?"--with the result that I am intellectually 'trapped' in the core cognitive map of the historic Judeo-Christian worldview (with some modifications of course). So I am forced to grapple with the content of that communication and when it gets into the precise nature of the God-man's nature, I run out of IQ points pretty quickly!--and He seems so much more interested in growing my character, improving my life, challenging my complacency, forcing me to constantly re-think what I know and believe, and driving me to share his love and care with other people--than in satisfying my almost infinitely-detailed curiosity! Anyway...]

Other difficulties in my position surround the relationship of the three hours to the subsequent death. The data is very clear that He 'died for our sins' (not just suffered)...although both statements are asserted clearly in the documents. One might construe my position that he suffered for our sins--up until he uttered the 'paid in full' remark--and that the subsequent death would have had no bearing on the payment for sin (i.e. if our moral failures had been taken care of before his death, then his actual physical death had no relationship to it--and the data is clear that it did).

[Now I suspect that you already see that this argument even 'feels' weak, and it seems that way to me as well...the worldview position is that evil has consequences that express themselves through the process of time. In this case, the three hours of suffering at the hands of his father (spiritual death) would be followed in time with physical death...this makes the most sense of the data, as far as I can tell--trying to keep an honest heart and conscience about this issue.]

The REAL concern I have about my view is about my level of precision. When we deal with one of the Three-Persons-in-One-Divine-Nature becoming human and becoming One-Person-with-two-natures (divine, human), we can barely even state this--much less explicate it very much farther. In other words, I have a general and yet fuzzy notion of a God who became man, because I can see it demonstrated in the life of Christ--who claimed to be God, acted like God, expected people to treat him like God, and yet hungered, thirsted, ate, slept, bled, etc....He seems to have recorded in human language that this fact was true (but didn't explain it--probably due to our limitations)...but we/I don't seem to be able to penetrate much farther into the 'nature' of this union, in spite of millennia of the best theological minds we could produce. And most of the theological writings done on this subject leave me with an uneasy feeling that they have committed the folly of 'over precision'--similar to the old wave-vs-particle dogmatic debates in photonic theory.

So, needless to say, if I have a concern about developing overly-precise statements about His person, I probably also have the same concern over me developing overly-precise statements about His death. Again, the data is surprisingly clear--Due to His 'unreasonable' love, the God-Man suffered and died for the moral aberrations of his human creatures. I'm not sure how much more I can say about it--I can develop the various different images the Bible uses to point out specific beautiful aspects of that act (e.g. buying us from the slave-market of sin and setting us free, sheltering us from the future judgment of a God justly outraged at the violence, coldness, and selfishness of men--toward themselves, toward others, toward their Maker).

Anyway...(all the above was preamble--can you believe it?!)...your real interim question was "what if he didn't really die?".

This question could mean a couple of different things...
1. What is the data that leads me to believe that he actually died on the cross? (Historical data question)

2. Are there alternate ways to explain that data, and still leave it open that he might not have died? (Historiography question)

3. What would be the consequences in time and the universe if he didn't actually suffer a redemptive death on the cross--a similar question to 'what if' he would have turned back at the Garden on the night before his death? (A theological question)

[Questions 1&2 clearly are related, and #3 is only tangentially related]
For brevity, let me do a summary statement on each first (and you can probe for more detail, should you so desire)...
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1. The Data for Christ's death on the Cross:

A. Many non-biblical writers describe the fact of his death in their professional histories. These ancient writers came from distinctly non-Christian circles --Roman, Greek, and Jewish--(and hence have no obvious bias to 'make the story up' or to accept it uncritically from the reports of others). A short list of the more famous of these authors includes Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus--all writing in the 1st and early 2nd centuries--all very close to the data.

B. The New Testament documents assert and describe explicitly both the fact and the manner of the death. Of course, these documents are 'religious' as well as historical and therefore must be critically examined before one can accept their historical witness as reliable. My analysis is that they ARE reliable as historical witnesses. The data that leads me to believe this is:
(1) All historical references to places, times, government, customs, leaders, events, currency, etc. prove to be historically accurate with what we know today.
(2) Any alleged religious bias would probably falsify 'miracle stories' not the ignominious execution of their King as a common criminal!
(3) The documents were written so close in time to the actual events (some within a decade!) and we have literally thousands of scraps of these early copies today.
(4) The emphasis in the teachings of Jesus on both truth and on the historical work of God lends itself to historical honesty and fidelity in their writings.
C. The Old Testament predicted his death clearly (e.g. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22), and was incredibly accurate on other predictions of his life. The OT predicts the place of his birth, his words and actions on the cross, his betrayal, the price of his betrayal(!), etc. between 500 and 1000 years before he lived. (That these documents were written long BEFORE His birth is universally accepted, esp. with the findings from the Dead Sea Scrolls).
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2. Are there alternate ways to explain that data, and still leave it open that he might not have died? (Historiography question)

The position that Jesus did not actually die on the cross (he merely fainted) has historically been known as the 'swoon' theory. It originally appeared during the so-called Enlightenment. The position generally maintains that Jesus was crucified, fainted on the cross, revived in the tomb, somehow escaped, and was misunderstood by his followers as having 'risen from the dead.'

The probability of this being true is extremely minute. For us to accept this as being true, we would have to come up with convincing answers to the following questions (among others):
1. How would we explain the wholesale belief by the early secular historians that he did die?
2. The professional centurion executioner told Pilate that Jesus was dead. How could he have been mistaken with his professional experience?
3. The centurions at the end did not break Jesus' legs because he was already dead. How could they have been mistaken?
4. How could Jesus, after being up all night, beaten repeatedly, nailed to a cross, covered with 75 pounds of burial spices, tied up in grave clothes, buried in a cold, damp tomb--how could he have revived with enough strength to roll away the stone single-handedly (with wounded hands and feet), overcome the entire Roman military guard, and then escape, without detection by his enemies--the entire Roman and Jewish establishment?!!
5. Why would Jesus, who consistently preached for us to tell the truth with honest heart, assert that he had 'risen from the dead' if in fact, he knew he had not?!
6. Etc.--you get the idea. It is actually more difficult to reconcile all the data to THIS position, than to the 'normal view' that he did, in fact, die.
[Notice that some of this depends on resolving the 'is the NT reliable' question in #1--hence the interconnection I mentioned.]

[Actually, I can think of one other theoretical position--that they killed someone else other than Jesus on the cross, and thought it was him. I have never seen this view advanced--for obvious reasons!]

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3. What would be the consequences in time and the universe if he didn't actually suffer a redemptive death on the cross--a similar question to 'what if' he would have turned back at the Garden on the night before his death? (A theological question)

[This question is considerably more complex than the other two, so I will defer on this one for a while...if this IS the exact question you were raising--and hence that I wasted your time with all this discussion --let me know and I'll dive in sooner!

Hope this helps you in your spiritual journey!

Glenn
(during this last round, Ed responded to my first email response...here is his response:)
Awesome response, Glenn. Thanks for taking the time. May your faith thrive. I was more or less poking fun at the "deal" of Christianity, and the schoolyard competition between God and Satan that the religion is based on. To me this is venerable mythology, powerful stuff, but not to be taken lit-er-al-ly, not by me, anyway. Your sincere reply sobers me up a bit. Still, when those Israelites sacrificed those animals all through the old testament, they did really take their best and kill them, hmmm, but then they often ate the good parts, though, while the burning entrails were making a good smell in the nostrils of Yaweh. So perhaps it wasn't strictly a gratuitous sacrifice. They were having a dinner party, the meat was killed and cooked properly by a priest, according to careful laws. The prefiguring tableau of Abraham and Isaac was an aborted, pretend sacrifice, too, come to think of it. You've been thinking about this for twenty years? Seriously, it just struck me a couple of days ago, the idea was a verse in a song, don't remember much else about it. All my life I've heard that Christ died for the sins of mankind, and …he really didn't, what you might call really "die." At least not the final, food-for-worms concept that I have of death. That may be the problem, wrong concept of death. I'm just musing here, and the thought comes to me that God was showing us that he has the power over death by having Jesus up from the grave and walking around. But at the same time it reduces the seriousness of Christ's sacrifice. And it brings up the question, if we're being so logical, that if God can overcome death so easily, and a symbolic sacrifice was all that was needed to atone for man's sins, why didn't God simply win this game back in the Garden, and alleviate all that misery? But that's an old question. What do you think of this—the beautiful passion story, the story of a hero martyr of an oppressed people, which is coming to us from way before Christ, was imperfectly incorporated into the Judeo-Christian, too-modern-and-technical scheme of things. It was layered into the rivalry (good-bad, Yahweh-Satan) concept, but it doesn't quite fit. Please excuse me, this is even more presumptuous …maybe the story would be better if Christ was still in an earthly grave and the Christians were waiting for him to arise Adamlike from the very dust to lead his people—having experienced the same scourge of death that we all have suffered all these eons. You could have a sonless God the Father in heaven awaiting the glorious day of reunion and the final wrathful destruction of his detractors …like me. Nah, you really need the resurrection, I guess. Best to all.

(this last piece is my response the ed's last email...his comments are in italics)
Awesome response, Glenn. Thanks for taking the time. May your faith thrive.

Thanks for working through it, Ed...I learned a long time ago to consider every idea that God 'brought my way' carefully, to learn and think and ask Him for an honest heart...in fact, the God I serve is, as a God of truth, not afraid of my questions. Indeed, He has dragged me kicking and screaming into so many areas of intellectual discussion, it is often I who am afraid of His questions! I Thessalonians 5.23 says "examine all things, hold fast to that which is good"--a mandate for honest appraisal and a license to biblical eclecticism!

I was more or less poking fun at the "deal" of Christianity, and the schoolyard competition between God and Satan that the religion is based on.

It would probably be more correct to talk about that competition as being a theological framework that developed out of the religion, as opposed to the basis for the religion. The religion itself is based on God's "irruption" into history in a series of events that center around God's work in bringing Mankind back to Himself...The Judeo-Christian challenge has always been to understand these events in history (the exodus, the prophetic scriptures, the exile, the coming of Christ, Pentecost)...

Actually, the competition most often addressed in the scripture is that of Man vs. God. Satan does form a backdrop, of course, but somehow man always comes out with full responsibility for his active rebellion, passive indifference, or self-serving caricatures of true relationships with God (i.e. religion!) It is interesting that in the book of Revelation, there is a period of time in which the image of Satan being chained for 1,000 years is used. During this time mankind is free from his influences, and left to their own interests and motives...at the end of the 1,000 years the Lord returns to the earth to usher in his reign of peace, righteousness, and beauty...and is met with an army of 200 million people who do not want to submit to such a rule!...although the detailed interpretation clearly escapes us, what strikes me about this story is that our own hearts--without a Flip Wilson excuse!--refuses to admit that there is a god other than ourselves! (in a practical sense, I do this myself, almost daily...as I still put 'my interests first' on occasion...so I am perhaps no better)...

On a different tact, a more philosophical and theological one, evil (and Satan as the 'lead dog' in the pack) is understood as parasitic and derivative from good. The image of man (and/or devil) shaking their fists in God's face in defiance, tend to portray those players in the same ontological realm. The reality seems significantly more complex (and certainly stranger) than that would suggest. God is somehow 'beyond' our freedom with His own freedom, and yet is also 'engaged' as a participant in the struggle of good against evil (actually, the biblical portrait of the competition is typically Satan vs. man instead of Satan vs. God)... The history of the discussion on analogical language was our attempt to state that God was like us, and yet unlike us at the same time...He is both above the battle, and in the battle at the same time...on the other hand, all derivative reality (man, angelic intelligences, biotic life, etc.) are only IN the battle...heavy stuff, actually...still working on this...the outlines seem there, but farther precision might be out of our epistemic reach...(This problem is not the sole property of Judeo-Christianity, of course, but it doesn't even exist in religions with symmetric views of good/evil, such as Hinduism--they have the different problem of differentiating the two...but maybe more on than some other time)

To me this is venerable mythology, powerful stuff, but not to be taken lit-er-al-ly, not by me, anyway. Your sincere reply sobers me up a bit.

I don't have enough data about your background, but the nexus of concepts you have heard over the years about this stuff MAY BE totally useless and/or mythological--and SHOULD NOT BE taken as reality. That doesn't mean that there might not be a reality out there that COULD be taken lit-er-al-ly...the stuff I have been working through and pondering, and in some cases experiencing, has certainly moved me to be convinced of the reality of the struggle and of the transcendence of God...

Still, when those Israelites sacrificed those animals all through the old testament, they did really take their best and kill them, hmmm, but then they often ate the good parts, though, while the burning entrails were making a good smell in the nostrils of Yaweh. So perhaps it wasn't strictly a gratuitous sacrifice. They were having a dinner party, the meat was killed and cooked properly by a priest, according to careful laws.

Actually, you show more familiarity with the data than most believers I know! Most of the sacrifices were DESIGNED by God TO BE feasts--called covenant feasts--in which man and God celebrated their relationship and shared each others joy. It was to be a time of worship AND fun...a time of drawing close to one's Lord and celebrate his goodness to, and with, his people. (There was a category of sacrifice that was not allowed to be eaten...the burnt offerings...these were designed as object lessons on the seriousness of presumptive acts of evil...these acts precluded fellowship with a God of integrity.) The vast majority of the sacrifices were of this festive, joyous, non-morbid character, and this festive element (deliberate) did not lesson the seriousness of the sacrificial motif. The priority was always to be there: God blessed his people with crops and herds (and enough peace in the land to enjoy these), the people then gave the best 'back to God' for His disposal, God then shared part of the best with his vocational servants (the priests) and with the community of worshippers. When the Israelites reversed the order and gave the less-than-best to the Lord, he called them to account (Isaiah)--their act was an act of dishonesty before the people as to what God had done for them...their feasting did not mean an aborting of the sacrifice, but rather the fulfillment of it.

The prefiguring tableau of Abraham and Isaac was an aborted, pretend sacrifice, too, come to think of it.

Strangely enough, the example of Abraham is the closest example in the bible to the "I'll get him back, so what's the big deal" suggestion! Hebrews lauds abraham's faith by explaining that he knew that God had promised the messiah through his son, and that God had told him to kill his childless son. The inescapable logic (of a man undaunted by the strangeness of the method) what that God would bring his son back to life--in order to fulfill the messianic promise to the world. What is missing from this account, though, is any description of what Abe FELT as he marched his precious son up Moriah, and tied him to the altar, and raised the knife--the anguish toward his son, his doubts about his God, his worries over the future, his confusion over the apparent conflicts...all of these are unrecorded, and it is his faith in a God who had seen him through so many crises of the past that shines forth.

In light of this, "pretend" is probably off the mark, but "aborted" could be seen as applying. Although it should be pointed out that there were sacrifices that were simply 'thrown into the air' without any bloodshed...the sacrifice of Isaac is typically seen in this fashion, much in the same way I 'offer' my time, my family, my hidden agendas, my resources to my Lord daily..a la Roman 12.1-2.

You've been thinking about this for twenty years? Seriously, it just struck me a couple of days ago, the idea was a verse in a song, don't remember much else about it. All my life I've heard that Christ died for the sins of mankind, and …he really didn't, what you might call really "die."

(He did actually 'die', he just did not stay dead for very long...the same will happen to those that die very close in time to the eschaton.)

At least not the final, food-for-worms concept that I have of death. That may be the problem, wrong concept of death.

Not necessarily wrong, per se, but perhaps too limited. Death is more or less defined as "separation" in the bible. Physical death is separation of body from soul. Spiritual death is separation of the person from God. Psychological death--now and in the future--would be the separation of the soul from itself--perhaps manifested in psychological disintegration. Relational death is separation between people such as in broken relationships, etc. The decomposition of the body seems to be only obliquely related to the central concepts in the notion of death.

I'm just musing here, and the thought comes to me that God was showing us that he has the power over death by having Jesus up from the grave and walking around.

Well, your musings here are dead on with the biblical witness. The resurrection has two main 'proof' points: (1) to show that God had power to raise the dead (without ANY mediator, slightly different from the gospel accounts of Jesus' miracles of resurrections, in which he is the mediator of the miracle); and (2) to prove that He accepted the sacrifice of Christ as the penalty-payment for our moral failures/commissions. So, your suggestion matches up clearly with this theme (1), and God's witness here is designed to prove to his people that He has the wherewithal to raise them as well, at the last day.

But at the same time it reduces the seriousness of Christ's sacrifice. And it brings up the question, if we're being so logical, that if God can overcome death so easily,

(Remember, Ed, this is the point that is under dispute--I maintain that the death was much more serious than first meets the eye, and than might ever meet our minds.)

and a symbolic sacrifice was all that was needed to atone for man's sins,

The notion of symbolic sacrifice does occur in the biblical witness, but strangely enough, in the opposite context! Hebrews and Romans points out the blood of bulls and goats are not adequate to deal with the consequences of human evil, and that they pointed to the real and ultimate sacrifice of Christ. (Historically, there literally was a theological problem before the NT as to how God could be just and accept a sub-human substitute for a human offender. There were no answers to this dispute given until the 1st century a.d. When the apostolic message preached the God-man as the substitute for man--past, present, future--the problem 'melted' away (and actually was replaced with the next one in line--a double indemnity one that surfaced in the more-predestinarian groups in history!--but again, maybe later...)

why didn't God simply win this game back in the Garden, and alleviate all that misery? But that's an old question.

Absolutely, but the even older question is 'why set history in motion at all?'--the $64,000 question...Sartre asked it in a different way--"the big question is why there is something rather than nothing"...(I am still working on this as well, but I probably stand in a long tradition of people who ponder this 'labyrinthly' and get nowhere!...I suspect that the question is somehow internally flawed, like a category-mistake or something, but that's only an intuition...more to follow....I do suspect that it has something to do with respect for objectivity-subjectivity dialectics in historical expression or some such vortex...)

What do you think of this—the beautiful passion story, the story of a hero martyr of an oppressed people, which is coming to us from way before Christ, was imperfectly incorporated into the Judeo-Christian, too-modern-and-technical scheme of things. It was layered into the rivalry (good-bad, Yahweh-Satan) concept, but it doesn't quite fit.

Several points here:
1. You are the first person I have ever met that called the Judeo-Christian position "too-modern"! We normally get all the anachronistic, tired, middle-ages, muddle-ages, dark-ages, etc. labels! (Seriously, though, I understand what you meant--modern relative to the ancient, ancient myths--not the world of today!)
2. Seriously, though, I really am not sure I understand what you are saying, and therefore do not know what data might count for or against it. You have woven a number of images and assumptions and generalizations together quite tersely(!), so I can only make some oblique comments.
3. The oppressed people are typically understood to be oppressed, through the various dimensions of evil's consequences: self-oppression, social and cultural oppression, oppression by 'nature', etc. Satan is portrayed as an enemy of man, but not often as an oppressive regime (it does show up in hint form in one or two places though).
4. Christ himself was not the originator of this story--he was only the culmination of the much older tradition (at least Abrahamic, circa 2000 B.C.) of the messianic figure (you might call him a 'hero' of sorts), so I would not be comfortable with the 'layering' suggestion--I guess I would need a better understanding of your idea, and the supports for it.
Please excuse me, this is even more presumptuous …maybe the story would be better if Christ was still in an earthly grave and the Christians were waiting for him to arise Adamlike from the very dust to lead his people—having experienced the same scourge of death that we all have suffered all these eons.

Well, you already pointed out that it was used as a 'proof' of God's power over death, by showing His power over one uniquely catastrophic death--the most contradictory death in all of history--the death of a God-man! (Notice also that the concept of 'proof' is central to the Judeo-Christian faith---God seems to be always "rubbing the data in our faces"--the resurrection, the experience with Thomas, the numerous NT miracles, the bizarre experiences at Pentecost, etc. In other words, His program is 'informed, grounded faith' not the 'blind faith' that is often caricatured "upon" biblical Christianity--oops, sorry for the omni-directional soapbox...no relation to our discussion here)

You could have a sonless God the Father in heaven awaiting the glorious day of reunion

This sentence has provoked such response and meditation in my life this week...In my first response to you I talked about the suffering of the Son and (accidentally) commented on the sufferings of the Father (a la my example of my daughter)...but I contemplated more the Father's heart-feelings about the entire experience of Christ on earth. I have understood for a long time that the thing that the Father loves most in the universe is His dear Son. And when he came to earth and "his own received him not" but rejected and executed and ridiculed him, I can scarcely imagine the Father's heart-feelings. (I know a little about this, when my kids would come home from school with broken hearts over senseless teasing or heartless barbs--I had no answer, only sorrow and helplessness.) This notion has brought my heart to my knees many times this week, my friend, as it brought into a little more focus the love of the Father for his creation, to bear such treatment of His delightful, unique and precious Son...and...I still sometimes treat him without the respect and consistency that such a life of love and commitment and sacrifice and suffering deserves...

This issue was brought to my attention this week in a most striking way. I was on an airline flight from Chicago to San Jose on a biz-trip, when the executive seated next to me struck up a conversation. We scraped the sky with visions of technology and business futures, and eventually the topic of theology came up. I related to this executive about the 3-day issue and where my thoughts were. When I got to the story about my daughter, he related the story of his own son, how after a typically 3-year old head-gashing accident, the father was required to hold his screaming son down, while the nurse stuck the anesthetic needle deep into the head wound. The child could not comprehend the need for that injection--much less why his father took such an active role in causing that pain. The father's face visibly paled on the airplane as he described his son's eyes--as they passed the accusation of abject betrayal to the father. According to the executive, the emotional pain of seeing his son's terror and sense of betrayal is always there in his heart.

To be sure, the Father does await a glorious day...but it is the day of the coronation of his Son as honored ruler of the universe, and victor over pervasive yet impersonal evil...He longs for the day when every tongue (mine and yours included) will admit the wonder and love of His Son...and He longs for the day when his people can walk in complete freedom from malignancy--both from without and from within...

and the final wrathful destruction of his detractors …like me.

Careful with that word 'detractors'!--we ALL fall into that category to a greater or lessor extent, depending on the consistency of our life/words! (Actually, the good news of his message was that even detractors have that option of acceptance by God, upon honesty with Him about who His Son was, and what His Son did in history.)

But as for the 'like me'...Again, I do not have enough data about you to either trust your personal assessment or to distrust it, but I suspect that the "God" from whom you 'detract' MIGHT NOT BE the real God, but one constructed by various 'religious' influences in your life...My experience in the last two decades has been that the Jesus most people reject is so far from the 'real' Jesus of the OT/NT that it would be a sin to accept that pseudo-Jesus anyway! When most people get a real glimpse of the Christ of love, gentleness, power, honesty, forgiveness and commitment to the whole person--mind, emotions, will--they often begin a spiritual journey that is characterized more by seeking than by retreating...

Nah, you really need the resurrection, I guess. Best to all.

Actually, WE need the resurrection, but...thanks again for discussion... this has been helpful to me in understanding more of the riches of His work in individual human histories...especially mine...
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