Redemption, Atonement, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m reading a book, “Honest to God”, by the Bishop of Woolrich, John A. T. Robinson, printed in 1963. One of the premises of the book is to challenge people, religious and secular to rethink their image of God. Printed in 1963, the Church, that I know, still struggles to reimagine God and free itself from old dogma. Steve Jobs, told the graduating class of 2005, Stanford University, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
Is “someone else’s thinking” why people are leaving the Christian Church in 1st world nations around the globe? Does the old orthodoxy of God, being “out-there”, a white male in a flowing white gown and beard, who actively participates in the world, obsolete? Does the idea that God had a plan to save humanity from HIS wrath and it required a human sacrifice, ring hollow to the ears of Christians today? Do the Atonement theories of Anselm created in the “dark” ages reflect more of that time period than the teachings expressed by Jesus about our loving, gracious creator? Has orthodox theology reflected ancient cultures’ understand of God and the gods, that we need to eliminate, so that new life will spring from the Church? Happy Easter!
Today marks the 50 anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The New York Times ran his obituary today, the actual one they printed on April 5, 1968. The obituary concludes with words of King from a speech he had given in 1964;
The possibility that he might someday be assassinated was considered by Dr. King on June 5, 1964, when he reported, in St. Augustine, Fla., that his life had been threatened. He said:
“Well, if physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”
Martin Luther lived a redemptive life. One that continues to unfold within the struggles of humanity. God did not plan it, order it, or cause it to happen. Jesus lived a redemptive life. One that continues to unfold within the struggles of humanity. God did not plan it, order it, or cause it to happen.
Jesus’ redemptive life was not part of a plan to appease God for the behavior of Humanity. Jesus’ redemptive life is part of God’s unfolding presence in our world to bring to light, life, love, hope, reconciliation and grace. Jesus’ redemptive life can inspire the “better angels of our nature” to flourish, calling some to lay down their lives for a loving humanitarian cause or for other people directly. That is the highest calling a person can have.
Our theology that expresses a God who cannot forgive humanity without some type of atonement forgets that Jesus himself understood God as a forgiving God as he expressed from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. Before Jesus died, Jesus lived and taught his understanding of God as loving and gracious.
Let’s get back to what Jesus taught….it will redeem us.