A church that has taught that God required a sacrifice to placate his anger, and that Jesus died in our place because God couldn’t love us until justice was done, has misunderstood who God is. God is love. He always was and always will be. To say that God could only forgive me once Jesus had died makes his forgiveness conditional – and therefore not love. And God is love. God had already forgiven me before Jesus died. Jesus didn’t die to satisfy God. I was the one who needed Jesus to die.
In the beginning, humanity stopped listening to God, stopped loving and receiving love; and in the space left behind, we forgot our true selves, our real identities. Our heart was scarred and we no longer mirrored God. In the absence of experienced love, we felt fear. With such scarred hearts, to survive in the middle of that fear we learned to experience anger; and that anger was turned inward to hate ourselves and outwards to hurt each other. So we judged ourselves and each other, and that judgment was without love or compassion. So Cain judged Abel and sacrificed his brother to calm his own anxiety and fear.
In place of sacrificing each other, God used the development of animal sacrifice as a means of identifying a deeply ingrained pattern in every human heart. The pattern of scapegoating, of blaming and making ourselves feel better by judging the other, created a means of survival in a loveless and judgmental, violent world. But those who encountered God as he really was understood that God never actually wanted sacrifice. He wasn’t interested in blame, in violence. He wanted us to know love and forgiveness as we forgave those who’d mistreated us. And yet people kept on killing because they were following the practice but not following the person. As the people of Israel said to Moses, ‘God scares us. You listen to him and you tell us what to do. We don’t want to know God.’
There are many in the Kingdom of God who aren’t in the church and there are many in the church who aren’t in the Kingdom of God, who don’t want to know God, who just want to be told what to do, who want to keep on violently sacrificing and who haven’t understood what the cross is all about. God wanted to give us a picture that we would all understand, the killing of a lamb. He saw that, left to our own devices, we would go on killing each other, so he gave us a lamb to kill instead – until one day he gave us himself to kill.
The act by which God was crowned King of the Earth, the Messiah, the Anointed One, wasn’t in a great palace but was outside the city, in a place of common execution, on a cross. God’s coronation was the end of violence, the end of scapegoating, the end of having to hold onto anger. I can now let go of my need to be right, to blame, to find a scapegoat, and I can be emptied of everything that I felt I needed to protect. My scarred heart can be softened. God can replace my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. My response to follow Jesus is to understand that his consent to become the human one, to become the way that God takes into himself all our anger, our fear, our need to scapegoat, means that my true self no longer needs to scapegoat, to judge, to be violent in response to anyone or anything. God is never angry at us, his children.