For the first time in my life, I’m actually achieving that ever elusive follow-through.
That’s right, we’ve succesfully landed on part two of reflections on the theological significance of the crucifixion — something I didn’t even know I had options about until last week.
I was able to participate in a mentally stimulating conversation about the crucifixion at, of all places, Sunday school. No one was more shocked than I to be having challenging, thought-provoking, intellectual conversation at Sunday school, but I forgot I was in a class led by Dr. Tom Hanks. Not that Tom Hanks, another one. We came to the conclusion that there are four ways to view to crucifixion: the Ransom Theory, the Satisfaction Theory, the Influence Theory, and the Participation Theory. The first three theories we discussed were borrowed from a sermon given by Dr. Hanks’ daughter-in-law, Rev. Stephanie Spitzer of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Gerald, TX. The last was coined by Dr. Hanks and drawn from the Lent Talk given by Rev. John (a link to the address is in the first post). In this post, I’d like to briefly discuss the Ransom and Satisfaction Theories.
The Ransom and Satisfaction theories, or some synthesis of those two, are what I believe domintates the thoughts most Christians have regarding the crucifixion. The Ransom Theory suggests that humankind’s sinful nature not only seperated us from God, but put us in Satan’s jurisdiction. Satan demanded a ransom for our souls, so Christ offered his own life — to Satan — as a substitute. Christ died, rose again, and gave each person the choice to stay in Satan’s sway or join the Jesus side. This choice is only possible because Christ died for us.
The Ransom Theory permeates Christian tradition through and through. Some read the Old Testament book of Hosea this way. God commands Hosea to return again and again to the slave-block to buy his wife, Gomer (well, golly!), out of prostitution. The name of God as Redeemer is also embued with the implications of the Ransom theory. Even C.S. Lewis’ much beloved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe echos this — Aslan’s sacrifice saving Peter from the Witch Queen and the whatnot. Some would argue this is the biblical view. I actually wonder if some theologically ambiguous verses are retroactively attributed with this view. We’ll discuss that later.
The Satisfaction Theory is very similiar to the Ransom Theory, with one difference: instead of Christ paying a price demanded by Satan, Christ is paying a price demanded by God. God (the Old Testament, God the Father, God) is absolute justice, and is unable or (just as disturbingly) refuses to redeem sinful man. Christ, God’s more compassionate self, came to earth and took our rap. Everyone wins: God’s wrath is satisfied, Christ’s desire for communion is satisfied, and we’re let off the hook.
For a lot of people, this resolve the tension between what they view as a wrathful, vengeful God of the OT and a compassionate, merciful Christ of the NT. It also means God isn’t subjected to the demands of Satan. Also, a lot a lot of people think that Scripture backs this view up.
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not completely comfortable with either of these views. They raise some problems that I feel betray the beauty of the Christian faith: they both sugest that God is constrained by some cosmic set of rules; they both suggest that these rules were set and settled in some heavenly summit that had little or nothing to do with humankind; and they both suggest that God is, among other things, a little schizophrenic. I don’t think they fully take account of the revelations of the Old Testament and, in the greater scheme, I don’t think they make a lot of sense. Like I’ve mention before, we’re told God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8), but I don’t think that means we can get lazy here. God commands that we love him with our minds (Matthew 22:37) and that we study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15). (That was the scholar in me, citing my sources.)
So, let us explore our options.