Earlier today, Steve Douglas posted a video of Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo discussing Adam & Eve, original sin, and a host of other theological topics. Near the end of the video, Puhalo offered this critique of Western notions of the atonement:
The Western concept of salvation itself is violent and generates violence. It makes God the supreme child abuser, unable to forgive mankind without the torturous death of his own son.
This immediately brought to mind a video I came across last week, which is currently sitting on the front page of Godtube’s “Most Popular Videos”. Since I can’t seem to embed Godtube videos, here it is on Youtube:
Of the 75,000 people who have viewed the video on Godtube, over 13,000 have liked it on Facebook, which would seem to indicate that there is a large segment of American Christians who consider it an accurate or at least inspiring depiction of the atonement.
Personally, I find the video disturbing. Maybe it’s the depiction of Jesus as a hapless, frightened teenager being led to the slaughter like Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah. But even if Jesus had been portrayed as more of a willing participant, I still think there’s a troubling aspect to the depiction.
Would the average Christian’s reaction be the same if this were just a scene from a television show with no religious significance? If Jack Bauer decided to have his daughter gruesomely tortured to death in place of a terrorist, I suspect that most viewers would be shocked and horrified.
But when it comes to the cross, Western Christians are so accustomed to thinking in terms of penal substitution, that the image of an innocent teenager being electrocuted elicits comments like, “this video brought tears to my eyes” and, “Thank you Jesus!” I can understand rejoicing in the mercy extended to the condemned prisoner. But doesn’t the image of the teenager staring back at you from the electric chair scream, “Something’s wrong with this picture!”?
There’s something in this video that captures the problem with penal substitution theory. And I think Puhalo may have put his finger on it. Yes, let’s rejoice at the prisoner being set free. Let’s rejoice at his chains falling off (and his tattoos magically disappearing ??). But I can’t get my heart behind the notion that a violent torturous death was God’s precondition for extending such grace.