Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The death of Christ and his shed blood

Thinking again of the death of Christ and his shed blood:

All who have read C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, understand that Aslan, Lewis’ animal character representing Jesus, dies on the ancient stone table for the sake of Edmund who has betrayed his own siblings and friends. The White Witch reminds Aslan that she has the right to the blood of anyone who betrays another in Narnia. She refers to it as the magic that goes back to the dawn of time. In the end Aslan allows the witch and her wicked cohorts to kill him in the place of Edmund. But Aslan is restored to life, the kind of life that is vibrant, eternal and bodily. When his two human friends, Lucy and Susan, after watching him die find him alive they ask what it all means. Aslan’s answer:

It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and death itself would start working backwards.

This quote is Lewis’ accounting of the death of Jesus Christ, and he leaves it filled with mystery by referring to it as magic centered in the stillness and darkness before “Time dawned.” And that is what we are working with when we discuss soteriology, the theology of salvation. The death of Christ, the blood of Christ, the atonement, they are matters much like the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. They are shrouded within mystery. When speaking of them we must put fences around them which allow us to say some things about them but prevents us from saying other things. And some questions about them cannot properly be asked because the answers are hidden in God’s mysteriousness.

So some questions about the death of Christ, such as “how could his blood save us” or “how could the death of an innocent victim save sinful humanity” are unanswerable. On the other hand a question about the fairness of Christ’s death can be answered.  It lies within the context of the biblical understanding of the Trinity. If the begotten Son is one in essence with the Father, although distinct from the Father, then it is God who takes on flesh and dies a human death. But we know that because scripture tells us that it is so. It is God’s decision—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The questions, which ask for instruction, can be answered. For example, “How can I be saved?” That question waits in faith before the authority of scripture.  The ‘how does this work’ questions belong to a worldly, sterile and overly materialistic generation.

The difference can be seen in the questions asked by Mary and Zacharias in Luke’s birth narrative.  Zacharias is asking a how does it work question about Elizabeth’s coming pregnancy. “We are old” he suggests, “Give me an explanation for how that can occur,” to paraphrase.  Or as he actually said, “how will I know this for certain?”  Mary is asking for instructions; her question is already fed by faith. “How can this be since I am a virgin?” And the angel tells her but doesn’t explain to her or to us for that matter, the technicalities because they are hidden in God. We only know that the Holy Spirit came upon her and “the Most High over-shadowed” her.[1]

Many authors fall into this dividing line. Some write in faith asking only how to obey; others seek to explain everything. Christian authors tell their stories filled with the reality of mystery and redemption, without attempting to explain how redemption works. Flannery O' Conner was a master at providing eccentric pictures of mystery, reality and redemption. She in fact stated that she was always writing about the Incarnation for people who did not believe in the Incarnation. She did not explain her stories, no author should, but showed the reader, with words, salvation as well as damnation.

In “Parker’s Back,” O Conner’s main character is so covered by tattoos that he has only one empty place left on his back. To hopefully, finally, please his stern and religious wife he has an Orthodox iconic picture of Christ placed on his back. When Parker returns home, his wife sees the face of Jesus and doesn’t know who he is. When Parker asks her why she doesn’t recognize the picture she angrily and tellingly says, “It ain’t anybody I know.”

When Parker insists that it is God, his wife’s words deny the Incarnation, “He’s a spirit no man shall see his face.” In the end, beating Parker she sends him out of the house:

Parker was too stunned to resist. He sat there and let her beat him until she had nearly knocked him senseless and large welts had formed on the face of the tattooed Christ. Then he staggered and made for the door.

She stamped the broom two or three times on the floor and went to the window and shook it out to get the taint of him off it. Still gripping it, she looked toward the pecan tree and her eyes hardened still more. There he was—who called himself Obadiah Elihue—leaning against the tree crying like a baby.

The Incarnation, Jesus ‘divinity, his life, his death and bodily resurrection, denied in any part weakens the believer and the Church.  We kneel before the mystery of the Incarnation which includes the blood he shed for our redemption. We stand with strength before the authority of his word—“the sword of the Spirit.” The Reformed, Puritan writer John Flavel in his book, The Fountain of Life, writes of the blood of Christ:

Out of this fountain flow all the blessings that believers either have or hope for. Had it not been for this, there had been no such thing as justification, adoption, salvation, peace with God and hope of glory, pardon of sin, and divine acceptance these and our best mercies had never been. A man, as one saith, might have happily imagined such things as these, as he may golden mountains, rivers of liquid gold, and rocks of diamonds; but these things could never have had any real existence, had Christ not offered himself a sacrifice to God for us. It is “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,” that purges the conscience from dead works, Heb. 9:14, that is, from the sentence of condemnation and death afflicted by conscience for our sins.

[1] The understanding about the differences between the questions of Mary and Zacharias can be attributed to Father Patrick Henry Reardon in the 2012-13 winter devotional, The St. James Daily devotional guide.  I have enlarged on the idea.


Dave Moody said...

Brilliant. Thank you Vi. Zechariah and Mary as types seems so true. Blessings to you and Brad...

Viola Larson said...

And blessings back to you Dave.