Apocalypto not only prompted the fear question. It also got me thinking about an item that I think I have mentioned on this blog before but have never devoted a post to it. I may have even discussed it with some of you who are reading. It continues to bonk itself around up in my head so I am going to expand on it here. It doesn’t have all that much to do directly with the story line of the movie but is more of a side issue.
The basic question is this: Are those people, in this case the Mayan tribes, doomed to hell just because they do not know what we know about God? Are those tribes, and other people like them, really just unlucky that they were not born into a day and age where they were wealthy white people and able to hear the name of Christ and because of not hearing that are doomed to hell? I have a hard time, a really hard time to be honest, understanding how a merciful and grace giving God who loves his creation and who is this very moment at work redeeming his entire creation would punish a soul of his creation for being unlucky. Does it even make sense that he would do that?
Maybe I am limiting God too much. Can’t he save anybody he wants to save? And doesn’t he make it obvious that he wants to save his entire creation? Could he have touched, in some way, those ancient Mayans and the American Indians and all of those people I grew up thinking were “pagan.” Could they have been relating to him in their own way, communicating with him, understanding him? Is he not simultaneously all over his creation reaching out to it and redeeming it? Why is it necessary to think that he is only redeeming his creation through wealthy white folks who speak English and come from Westernized cultures? Maybe we are not as important to this process as we have made ourselves out to be. Maybe he is not dependent on us doing this work. Maybe he is in the world doing his own thing in redeeming other souls in ways we do not even comprehend.
I suppose a discussion of the 7 theories of atonement is appropriate somewhere in here where I am bringing up the idea of redemption, but I am not sure where it fits. I will put it here. The only theory I was even aware of until the last year was number 1, and I am not so certain it is the most correct one. Maybe they are all correct in a way. I will list them here just for your reference.
- Substitutionary Atonement – God’s wrath, directed at us because of our sin, could only be satisfied by the death of Jesus who replaced the OT sacrifices with his perfect self-sacrifice.
- Ransom – Because of our sin we belong to Satan, and God buys us back with the death of Jesus, then turns the tables on Satan with the Resurrection.
- Christus Victor – We are dead in our sins, destined for the grave, but Jesus’ death and resurrection triumphed over death itself, enabling us to be made alive with Christ.
- Perfect Penitent – We are all in need of repentance. God will forgive us out of the goodness of his heart if we do, but we can’t really repent perfectly. We always hold back and always fall into sin again. Jesus is the perfect penitent in our place, and so secures our forgiveness. This is supposedly the favorite theory of CS Lewis.
- Moral Influence – Jesus’ self-giving love, expressed in his death on the cross, leads us to love God and love others fully, giving our lives back to God.
- Powerful Weakness – By becoming vulnerable and submitting to death on the cross, Jesus shows us God’s love for us, as well as the nature of His Kingdom.
- Embodied Betrayal – Our sin is a betrayal of God, and he showed us that in the only way adequate, through his physical torture and death at our hands.
These are as presented in the Brian McLaren trilogy, and I found them written out in this fashion on Radical Congruency, http://www.radicalcongruency.com/20060423-7-theories-of- atonement. I think it is pertinent to the discussion here because it brings to the forefront the idea that we do not know God and his workings nearly as cleanly as we think we do. I had no idea that the atonement could be thought of in all these ways, but here they are. And how can one person with any absolute certainty know that his way of the 7 is the most right? He can’t. So couldn’t God be working in ways that we are not aware of? Do we really think we have God all figured out and neatly packaged in our systematic theologies?
The theories of atonement also relate to the discussion by bringing to mind the question of how much redemption does the work of Christ really do? No matter which of the 7 you subscribe to, does redemption start at the point of the cross? Or does the work on the cross reach back in time to the beginning? Or does the work of the cross reach out into the future infinitely? Will everyone be given a chance to chose The Creator at some point as CS Lewis suggests in The Great Divorce, which would truly make it for everyone, or do you have to be fortunate enough to hear the name of Christ while you are living in this physical dimension and chose it while here? Why do we limit God’s ability to redeem us to this physical aspect of our lives anyway? And you know what, maybe, just maybe, his work on the cross offers redemption to everyone at every place and at every time. I would sure like to think that it does.
So I think I will close with this. One of my in-laws recently made a statement that goes fairly close to this: The Bible is just an instruction book to tell you how to get to heaven. This was said in a very matter of fact manner as if this was core truth and that there wasn’t much point in considering it differently. Karmen was the one who was actually there when it was spoken, and she is the one that related it to me. But you know those situations where you have a good enough understanding of the people who were there that you can actually create in your mind what you imagine is exactly how it went down. This is that kind of situation so I have a pretty good idea of the way it did go down. This particular in-law grew up in the church in a specific denomination to which he remains typically unquestioningly devoted and believes wholeheartedly in what it says is truth. I don’t think he realized that he had in essence reduced the Bible to a series of hoops to jump through.
If God really did intend for the message of the gospel to be in essence a series of hoops that we all have to jump through to get to him, then he really does seem like the big bag police man in the sky who is waiting to strike me down when I sin and is looking for reasons to exclude me rather than include me. That is the image I came to know over the first 38 years of my life. But if God really does want a relationship with me as much as I now think he does, then it seems to me that he is looking for every possible excuse to redeem and include me and that it is much harder to get away from him then I once thought. I want to believe that this is the God I am coming to know.
Looking back over this piece it seems a little disjointed. Maybe some of it doesn’t fit together real well. But when I think about this, all of these ideas find their way into my head over and over again. I have trouble putting them together, but they are all connected in some way. I thought that writing them down may help me get a better on them. Maybe I will have to keep writing them down to get them organized. Sorry for the length. And Dad and Mom, don’t be scared.