All too often I feel like our Christian theology sets up the Jesus story as God's "Plan B." That version of the story goes something like this: God created everything, including people. God gave people free will. God wanted us to be in right relationship with Him, but we abused our free will and destroyed that relationship. Uh, oh! God's plan was ruined! God needed to start all over with a new idea, a "Plan B." Plan B, then, is Jesus on the cross, often understood as the sacrifice to placate a justly angry God.
The problem with this story is evident from the first page. How could an all-knowing God not have seen sin coming? Surely, surely we must assume that in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, God knew how the story of humans and our free will to be -- or not be -- in relationship with God would unfold.
In this version of the story, Jesus is Plan A.
The key to unraveling Plan A is to see the underlying pattern of election in God's Master Plan. In the Plan A version, God recognized that we humans generally would fail in our God-given mission to steward creation. So God's plan included calling a little group of humans, a remnant of the whole bunch of us, to carry on with the Plan. That remnant is called the nation of Israel. God calls Abram, whom he renames Abraham (Genesis 12), and from his seed and stock, God raises up a nation who will do what all of humanity was meant to do -- stand in the gap between God and the rest of creation.
Notice, God's plan was not for Israel just to be God's chosen people, but for Israel to be God's chosen so that they could intercede between God and the rest of humanity and the rest of creation (see, importantly, Isaiah 49:6). Israel's election is for a purpose, to fulfill God's original role for all of humanity. But just like the rest of humanity, Israel itself decides to go its own way (see, for example, the indictments contained in every prophetic book in the Old Testament). Once again God's purpose goes unfulfilled.
Or so it seems. God has a final move.
Out of the remnant Israel, God will raise up one faithful Israelite, that is, one human, a new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), to do what humans were meant to do all along -- to bridge the gap, to intercede between God and humans. This One, the final remnant of all of humanity, will be anointed like a king to stand at the head of the nation and of the human race. He will be a king who functions like a priest; by definition, a priest stands in the space between Man and the gods and offers some sacrifice from the earth back to heaven, thus restoring any discord in the relationship between them.
Thus do we come to Jesus.
For Entering In...
- Spend a few moments in the quiet becoming present to yourself. Notice how it feels to be in your body to be here, now.
- Invite God to be present with you. Notice what it feels like to be in God's presence.
- Theology is the study of God. Every one of us, when we consider God at all, is engaged in doing theology. Our theology, whether we're atheists or theists, Buddhists or Christians, monotheists or pantheists, matters. It defines how we think about God, ourselves, and the world. With that in mind, reflect on these questions:
- How have you come to your personal theology, your understanding of who God is and what God has done and/or is doing in the world?
- Are you acquainted with the stories of Israel in the Old Testament? If not, consider reading through one or more books, beginning with Genesis (skipping over the genealogies, if you prefer) and Exodus and the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. These will give you a flavor for some of the more engaging pre-historical and historical narratives. Choose a translation of the Bible that resonates for you.*
- The Bible is often called the story of the history of salvation. Having taken some time to reflect on temptation and our personal and collective sin, what are your thoughts about our need for salvation? How have you come to understand the problem of sin for you personally or for the world? Or do you see it as a problem?
- It has been a week since we began this Lenten journey together. As you consider the time you have spent in prayer, reflection, and writing:
- Have you been able to set aside some daily quiet time for yourself? If so, how has that been for you? If not, why not?
- Is there anything new you have learned about yourself? About God?
*If you would like more suggestions about where to start in reading from the Bible, e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.