Making the Connection
Dalya is part of a movement in Israel, known as the Women in Black … a group that protests while wearing black and holding black signs resembling hands across which are written “Stop the Occupation” in Hebrew. She is a Jewish woman opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank … a bold position for a woman to take.
She tells of a time when her husband had come back from war in 1967 and they made a pilgrimage to the Western Wall (what is sometimes called the Wailing Wall), and she noticed the significant changes that were happening there. She realized that people were being evicted from their homes. Arab/Muslim people being displaced by Jewish people.
Gathered there were a group of Muslim women who were praying and keeping vigil, and she found herself just standing with them … praying her prayers. When the women there asked why she, this Jewish woman, had joined them, she simply replied, “I came to stand with you.”
During this season, we focus a lot on the crucifixion, and we talk about the sacrifice of Christ. Theologically, we often think of this as what is formally known as “penal substitutionary atonement.” Jesus came to take away our sin much like the sacrificial animals that were slaughtered in temple worship. He took our punishment so we don’t have to experience it ourselves.
I think this theological position completely misses the point of incarnation … God born as us. Jesus did not come to die FOR us … Jesus came to die WITH us. God comes in Jesus as an act of solidarity, and you and I are called to carry out that work as “the body of Christ” in solidarity with others.
One of the key reasons we have so many people who have left the church is that the idea of “penal substitutionary atonement” no longer makes sense. They still experience all the suffering in their own lives and in the world. They see people die, and they know that they themselves will one day die. They understand that their actions have consequences and that the consequences of sin are rarely magically erased, and they wonder about a God who just lets all this happen and about a church that continues to defend a doctrine like this.
They have stopped waiting on a God to wave a hand and watch it all disappear. What if they are simply looking for a God who will come stand with them amidst their grief and sorrow … amidst their suffering and their dying?
A friend taught me years ago that the best way to understand atonement was to break it apart into smaller words. Jesus comes for the purpose of “at-one-ment.” Jesus reminds us that God comes to stand with us, and when we are “at one” with God, just perhaps we can face our brokenness and our suffering a different way.
God who Stands With Us: May we experience the power of “at-one-ment” with you … through Christ who stands with us. Amen.