Monday, January 16, 2012

How Jesus Literally, Physically, Saved My Life

Writing in defence of his atheistic beliefs, the comedian Ricky Gervais points out that Jews, Christians and Muslims are all nearly as atheist as him. 'I don't believe in 2870 gods,' he quips, 'and they don't believe in 2869.' 

And he is right.

Because four thousand, three thousand, two thousand years ago, pretty much every culture in the world believed in hundreds of different gods. 
Mesopotamia.
Egypt.
Canaan.
Assyria. 
Babylonia. 
Persia.
Greece.
Rome.
Throughout the narrative of the Bible, tracing through millennia of history, the nations and empires rise and fall. And each one believed in a pantheon of gods.

There were gods of cattle, gods of crops, gods of the sea, gods of fertility, gods of the sun ... 
The list goes on.

The gods were distant. Disconnected. 
The gods were demanding. Dictators. 

Take the Babylonian gods for example.
These gods fought amongst themselves and created the world out of war and violence.
These gods created humans to be their slaves.  
To do the work they did not want to do. 

What's more, throughout history there has been an unrelenting belief that the gods are angry with their human slaves. 
The gods demand human blood. Human life.
They demand the ultimate sacrifice. Child sacrifice.
It is chilling, isn't it?
Heartbreaking. 
And it is so, so, so wrong. 

Throughout the Biblical narratives, there is a gradual earth-shattering revelation that the god of the Israelites is not like the other gods of the human imagination. This god, called 'Yahweh', did not create the world out of war and violence, but peace and love. Yahweh just spoke and there was. 

In the shocking famous account of Abraham and Isaac, the most shocking part is not that the god of the Israelites asks Abraham to kill his son. It is that Yahweh stops Abraham from killing his son.
In place of Isaac, Yahweh provides a lamb.
And the lamb is sufficient. 

In the most dramatic way possible, the god of the Israelites makes his point. 
Love is absolutely repulsed by the spilling of human blood. 
To Yahweh every human life is valuable. So so precious.
Every human is a masterpiece of creation.
Created and crafted in the image of the one God - the only God.

Love is absolutely repulsed by the spilling of human blood. And the one God Yahweh is desperate for the whole world to grasp this. But the dramatic story of Abraham and Isaac, passed down through the generations, was not enough. It did not stop the practice of child sacrifice. It did not stop the Israelites from killing their own children let alone the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians... 
Even the Kings of Israel lay down their own children in the flames. (2 Kings 16:3, 21:6)

Centuries before Israel had a King, before Israel even had its own land, Moses had cried out, 'Don't let anyone among you offer a son or daughter as a sacrifice in the fire ... Yahweh hates anyone who does these things.' (Deut. 18:10-12)

But centuries later the Israelites were still asking, 'What can I bring before YahwehShould I give my first child for the evil I have done? Should I give my very own child for my sin? (Micah 6:6-7)’ 

And Yahweh replied: no, no, no, no, no! 'I never commanded it. It never entered my mind that they should do such a detestable thing. (Jer. 32:35) The sacrifice I seek is justice and mercy; humans walking humbly with their God.' (Micah 6:8)

The first Christians were incessant in their insistence that human sacrifices were no longer needed - incessant in their belief that even animals were no longer needed as a sacrifice for sin. The ultimate sacrifice had been made, they claimed. There had been a definitive death that had defeated 'the power of sin just once - enough for all time.' (Romans 6:10)

And whether or not you agree with their belief that Jesus' death was the ultimate sacrifice 'enough for all time', there can be no doubt about it, the beliefs of the early Christians changed the world. The spread of their beliefs all but eradicated the practice of child sacrifice from the world. 

One of the words we translate as 'hell' is the Greek word Gehenna. It literally means 'The Valley of Hennom'. This was an actual, physical place. It was a place where flames rose high, a place where children were sacrificed to the Canaanite god Molech.

So, through the beliefs of the early Christians, through their changing of the world, 
Jesus literally, physically, rescued us from burning in hell.
Jesus literally, physically, saved my life.