A (Cosmic) Game of Chicken

November 19, 2009

First, read this: Shane Claiborne to Non-Christians via Esquire

It is kind of creepy how relevant that article from Shane is to a discussion I had tonight. A group of four of us (Myself, Mark, Karl, Michelle) gathered in the house of two people who are volunteering at EBM to watch a section of The Gods Aren’t Angry and to talk afterwards about it. Little did we know what we were getting into. I think C.S. Lewis once described friendship as two people saying “Oh really? I thought I was the only one.” Tonight it was four of us, and it was strange to be in a room with people whose thoughts were so in synch with my own. At one point one of the guys turned to me and said, “You’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s said something like that. Thank God, because when I say it people look at me like I’m mad.”

So wait, what were we talking about?

Appeasement and sacrifice. In the segment of the talk that we watched, Rob Bell describes the paradox of the altar, and how it arose out of good intentions. People understood that they were somehow beholden to powers and processes beyond their control, and they attempted to appease those powers. (I particularly liked that in this part, all of the revelations were worked out by the women, and the men just hunted. Wonderful.) But what’s the problem of an altar?

It always demands more. Have a great year? Give more to the altar in order to show the powers you appreciate the generosity. Have a bad year? Give more to the altar in order to make up for whatever mistake had been made earlier to invoke the anger of the powers.

And it begs the question: Aren’t we still doing this?

Think it through, we haven’t really gotten over the altar problem, have we? Except now, in Christian circles, we’ve made the cross/Jesus/God the altar. Mark went on to describe the crucifixion as what I liken as a cosmic game of Chicken, instigated by humans. It’s God saying, “No. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know why you’re doing it. You’re going to kill me, and I will not be provoked by this.” In the end, looking at what transpired then, isn’t always humans who blink first?

In this reading, dying on the cross doesn’t get people into heaven, but what does it do? It shows boundless love. It shows God will not be wrathful. You are free. You do not need to be ashamed; you certainly don’t need to fear appeasing God, because God doesn’t need to be appeased. Michelle marked this, wonderfully, as a return to the Edenic conception of humanity’s relation with God. A repentance in the truest Hebrew sense of the word.

Where does this leave a Christian, then? So often our mindset is “I have to go spend time reading my Bible. I need to go pray.” They’re obligations to a lot of folk.

WRONG!

These are not obligations, because these don’t appease God. This kind of stuff doesn’t change God, it changes the person performing the practice. God is already well pleased with you, and nothing you do can improve that attitude of God’s, so chill. Spiritual practices are things you get to do, but if they were prerequisites to entry into the Kingdom of God, wouldn’t that negate Jesus’ declaration that the Kingdom was already among us? Wouldn’t this just inaugurate a gospel of shame, in Mark’s words? A contradiction in terms if there ever was one. No, no; the good news of this gospel helps us recognize how radically free we are, and if your gospel does not free you then it is not good news.

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3 Responses to “A (Cosmic) Game of Chicken”

  1. Katie said

    Good article, and a thoughtful post, Chris. Refreshing/encouraging for my frustrated heart.

  2. Jessie said

    haha, we JUST talked about this in my bible study this week. i feel like the anthem in my life (and in the lives of the ladies i meet with) recently has been, “God’s not pissed.” it’s so liberating and true. and i feel like it took the first twenty years of my life to figure that out.

  3. Mom said

    I guess maybe we DO agree with each other on this topic after all! Yeah!

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