It took me awhile to get here, but as every student knows, late April-early May is not the best time for any student. Early we summarized the most popular views on the crucifixion, the Ransom and Satisfaction theories. I was recently introduced to two appealing alternatives: the Influence and Participation theories.
The Influence theory suggests that, again, humankind is seperated from God by sin. Alone, we can’t get around that sin and into the prescence of God. God, wishing for communion, commissions Christ to live among us, teach us, and ultimately demonstrate the most profound exercise of love. These actions, when accepted and recognized as coming from God, engage us in a new mind, an enlightened spirtual state, and we are able to accpet God’s mercy and leave sin behind. This theory is different from the Ransom and Satisfaction theories in that nothing changes about God’s nature, our nature, or theologically when Christ dies. The cruxifixion is just one in a series of revleations about the Divine-Human relationship. For me, it also solves some of the troubling elements of the previous theories, most notably it explains the righteousness of the Old Testament fathers, and how they participated in communion with God without knowing Christ’s sacrifice. Also, God does not have to answer to anything outside of himself; he isn’t bound by some sort of celestial law of balance. The Influence theory values both God’s voluntary action to reach out to humanity and our decision to reach back. While actions are predestined by divine love, they are not demanded of the universe (the universe that divine intent ordered, interestingly enough).
I find that the Participation theory (the one posited by Rev. John) does not function as a solitary approach, but as a compliment to the Influence theory, I think it makes for a powerful perspective. The Participation theory suggests that Christ died so that he could participate in our suffering, proving himself to be a caring, empathetic, and sympathetic God as well as a just one. Dr. Hanks had a helpful, if tragic, illustration for this idea. He told the story of a pastor whose parishoner lost a young child. The little girl had suddenly run into the street and been hit by a car: it wasn’t the little girl’s fault, it wasn’t the driver’s fault, it was just something that happened and could not be undone. At the funeral, the pastor appraoched the obvioulsy distressed father who said, “Pastor, please don’t try to tell me that this was God’s will and it will all work out to be okay. I’ve heard it enough today.” The pastor replied, simply, “Why would I say that? I don’t know how this is going to work out. All I know is that God lost a little girl today too.” That, understandably, was infinitely more comforting. One of the most appealing aspects of an incarnate God is that he intimately knows the difficulties of daily life: of disappointment, love, and loss. Rev. John suggests that the cruxifixion in an extension of this; Christ knows every aspect of humanity — including brutality and death. Most importently, he engaged willingly in extreme suffering to lessen the gap between us and him, uniting us in the most frightening unknown. Violence is the most prolific and universal characterizations of humanity’s falleness, and Christ submited himself to it — for no other reason than relationship. Like I said, I don’t think I could hold this theory alone, but stand it next to the Influence theory, and you have the makings of a helpful, consistent, enlightening understanding of Christ’s sacrifice.
These posts have obviously been the barest bones of thought. There is a lot more to be said, though I’m probably not the best one to say it. I’m just finding myself asking questions and I’m blessed enough to be surrounded by people with insight. God isn’t intimidated by our questions and doubt — I think he is proved more relevant in the face of them. I’d love to hear any additional comments.