The End of the Law

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“Many Protestants readily acknowledge that they are justified by faith and not by “keeping the law” (Gal 3:11), yet they turn around and define sanctification, holiness or the Christian life in terms of keeping the law (usually delineated as a set of cultural taboos).

If Christ is the end of the law it means he is the end, there is no turning back to the law in order to establish either our own personal holiness or as a basis for what constitutes authentic Christian community. The only law left is the law of love.”

Hardin, Michael. The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity With Jesus

OMG all the men (it’s always men) who created their own set of laws and tried to tell me they were from God himself! They tried to soft-pedal it by calling them “convictions” or part of their “covenant” and then padding it with a bunch of scripture references based on their self-interested interpretation. The author above states a few pages earlier:

“…so many laws we have are little more than the legislation of personal or cultural taste. Yet we all too frequently make our own personal convictions into universal law. And so any time anyone violates our laws, we get offended… the term sin is relative to the cultural prohibitions that seek to stem mimetically orginated community crises… when we realize that we have died with Christ, that we are both victimizers and victims, we can then move beyond our Adamic existence grounded in violence.”

Violence. It’s our natural response to rivalry. Rivalry is our natural response when we desire the same thing that someone else does or has (“mimetic desire”). And violence due to rivalry only ever ESCALATES. There is no off button… the oppressed becomes the oppressor who then becomes the oppressed again, ad infinitum. Violence is only quelled for a while when there is a scapegoat to put all the blame on. But soon another scapegoat will be needed. THIS is the historic sacrificial system we see around the world and across history… and it ALWAYS requires fresh scapegoats.

We see it in today’s papers and on the news. The current president regularly defines scapegoats to cast blame and redirect rivalry and violence away from those like himself. But his opposition is no better because they in turn scapegoat the president. Our entire electoral system is built on this.

Scapegoating is how we do business. It’s how we raise our children. It’s how some view races, genders, sexuality, affluence or poverty. It permeates almost every aspect of our man-made religions (and there isn’t a single religion that isn’t man-made – not a one). We humans are the ones who demand sacrificial systems, not God. Humans created the sacrificial laws and rules and leveraged the dead-end of scapegoating to protect their ways.

What happened at Jesus’ execution was a complete subversion of sacrificial systems, yet most teachers who read the Bible miss it because they are so embedded in this human way of thinking… as the author above pointed out earlier as well:

“The way out of this dilemma is to follow the logic of Paul’s subversion of the sacrificial process. Robert Hamerton-Kelly points out that, “The major new element is that Paul inverts the traditional understanding of sacrifice so that God is the offerer, not the receiver, and the scapegoat goes into the sacred precinct rather than out of it. Christ is a divine offering to humankind, not a human offering to God.

In the normal order of sacrifice, humans give and the god receives; here the god gives and humans receive. The usual explanation of this passage is that human sin deserved divine punishment, but in mercy God substituted a propitiatory offering to bear the divine wrath instead of humanity. We must insist on the fact that the recipients are human, otherwise we fall into the absurdity of God’s giving a propitiatory gift to God.

The second point to note is that not only the order of giver and receiver is reversed but also the spatial order. Normally the offerer goes from profane to sacred space to make the offering; here the offerer comes out of sacred space into profane, publically to set forth (proetheto) the propitiation (hilasterion) there. These inversions of the normal order of sacrifice mean that it is not God who needs to be propitiated, but humanity, and not in the recesses of the Sacred, but in the full light of day.”

The point of this is that if one insists on translating hilasterion as propitiation then one must also take into consideration the subversion of the sacrificial principle. There is therefore in this passage no justification for arguing that God’s wrath must be propitiated. We humans are the ones who need to be appeased…

His death ends once for all any relationship we have to texts that authorize violent retribution. “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14) because he has “abolished the law with its commandments and regulations” (Eph 2:15). He has abolished the hostility in all human relationships that are broken because one side is able to accuse the other (Eph. 2:16). Paul reckons that what gets nailed to the cross is not our sins (he never says this), but the law which accuses us of our sin (Col 2:13-15) thus forever ending its accusatory power and ability to judge who can be part of the community and who can be cast out.”

All of this thinking is relatively new to me but it resonates deeply . It isn’t about religion. It isn’t about sacrifice. It isn’t about “Christianity” (whatever that means anymore). It’s about identifying our ways of conflicting desire that lead to rivalry that lead to violence that usually requires a scapegoat to make us feel better about ourselves when deep down inside we know that nothing has really changed.

Should the Michigan Wolverines football team beat Ohio State again someday, it won’t actually resolve anything – the rivalry remains along with all the trash-talking and scapegoating (“Oh how I hate Ohio State”).

And why hate? It’s pretty much all we know… or knew… until the final scapegoat of all scapegoats appeared once and for all, showing us how love is the only way to break the cycle of rivalry and violence by showing us the futility of our ways and how love to the point of self-sacrifice while actually forgiving everyone is the only way out.

The Litmus Test

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe…

Different sources with different views (and sometimes vested interests) can tell a completely different story about a person. Pick your any famous person and think about the different ways they are portrayed…litmustest

Now think about the way God has been portrayed. Depending on your sources, you’ll see very different depictions. Even the Bible has many different voices saying different things about God, some quite inconsistent and even contradictory.

Some simply ignore the different voices or try to “harmonize” them to make sense of them, but their arguments for me all fall flat.

Some use the different voices as a way of dismissing the entire subject, suggesting that the entire thing is a lie and even if it were true, such a God wouldn’t be worthy of worship. I get that.

If only there were some kind of litmus test to know whether or not what is expressed about God (assuming God exists) were actually true… for me, that’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the “Rosetta Stone”, the “Secret Decoder Ring”, he’s the litmus test that indicates whether an expression about God is true or not.

For some people that’s a bridge too far to cross; for others it evokes curiosity to see if these things are so. It certainly would be nice to be able to get some clarity on such a universal subject who is portrayed as…

– loving and kind to all
– a sociopath who goes too far with fiery vengeance
– endlessly forgiving and accepting
– harsh, judgmental, excited about destroying evil people
– aloof, distant, unconcerned
– one who capriciously chooses only a few to bless and rescue
– (add your own depictions here)

Here’s a test you can try yourself:

If Jesus wouldn’t do it or say it, it’s not really true about God.

For those who require a scripture verse before they’ll consider anything, try “He who has seen me has seen the Father” and “I only do what the Father does”.

So if Jesus would rather be executed for speaking truth to power and pray “Father, forgive them – they don’t get it”, it’s clear he’s not looking to scapegoat anyone (like the priests, politicians, and mob were doing). He’s not looking to kick ass and take names. He’s willing to show that this is how far love actually goes – self-sacrifice, even when it’s your own kin saying evil about you, wanting you tortured, and even dead. THAT is the truth about God (at least from the Jesus litmus test perspective).

A number of months earlier he and his disciples were walking through a rough territory and the townsfolk refused to let them stay (technically it was a racial thing going on). Two disciples wanted Jesus to call down lightning to destroy the town; Jesus rolled his eyes and said they should just walk to the next town. THAT is the truth about God (from the Jesus perspective).

In fact, you can go through the entire Bible and every time you see violence and scapegoating and judgment and vengeance… those are voices of authors who bought into an inaccurate perspective about God. That’s why the Old Testament can seem so schizophrenic at times, because it isn’t a single voice, it’s MANY… and they don’t all agree.

Consider the two creation stories (Genesis 1 vs Genesis 2-3). Very different depictions of God. In the first story it is all good and harmonious. In the second story we see the introduction of judgment, violence, sacrifice, which is then followed by more stories of victims and violence and revenge (Cain & Abel, Lamech, Noah, etc). Hate and violence can only get worse and worse. Even if one of these stories says that God told them to kill… that doesn’t line up with the “Jesus Test” so you’re better off assuming that it’s the author’s view, not necessarily the truth about God.

And how does Genesis end? With Joseph… the despised family member who was abused, sold into slavery, falsely accused, imprisoned, yet in the end he forgives his brothers and saves the entire region. Who does that look like? How well does that compare to the “Jesus Test”?

This is why people throwing around Bible verses to judge and condemn you and doing the world a disservice. They are basically proclaiming fake news about God that doesn’t match the “Jesus Test”.