Teenager Electrocuted – Christians Rejoice

August 30, 2011

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.



  1. I only wish this were a parody of PST. . . It’s unbelievable that so many people fail to see the absurdity of PST and (especially) this video.

    Regarding PST specifically, I do think there are verses that appear to support it, though. I don’t know what to do with those…

    • Nate, I know what you mean. There are some verses that are hard not to read that way, but I think it often has to do with the fact that we are so used to reading things through “justification by faith” lenses. The answer may lie in properly situating the verses in the context of a pending judgment on Jerusalem & the Roman empire. I’ve found Andrew Perriman’s blog helpful in shaping my thinking in that direction.

  2. Oh gosh…how I wish this were not real.

    The old Evangelical ghost still occasionally haunting me explains, “But the electrocuted teen didn’t stay dead: he arose and now reigns victoriously!” But this robs the metaphor of its potency: if you think of the father and son saying, “Hey, it’ll be fine — it’ll hurt for a few minutes, but everything will be back to normal in a few,” the emotional weight of the father’s decision is lifted.

    And besides that, who is executing the teen? The “law”? Isn’t the father supposed to be the judge who handed down the death penalty? If so, why would he not just deliver a punishment less excruciating and spare his son the minutes of misery? Why is he bound by some law in the first place? So much wrong…

    Oh, and thanks for the shoutout.

    • I felt that same ghost when I was writing this post. Am I over-reacting? Am I just a sap who can’t deal with the reality of the cross? Is it all okay because Jesus was God so it was actually a self-sacrifice?
      But I come back to the same question you ask (and Puhalo asks implicitly): Why would God be bound by some law that prevents him from forgiving without first demanding violent punishment? And if punishing someone else is sufficient to satisfy that law, doesn’t that make it seem as though the law is about nothing more than vengeance rather than justice?

      • Exactly! Maintaining that the Father’s murder of his own perfect Son was not really horrific because that Son was willing and was going to get resurrected anyway actually exposes the hollowness of the ritual. What was that charade about, anyway? Did God lose some sort of bet?

      • So where do we go? Christus Victor? I like that it puts human evil, rather than God, in the role of executioner. Do you lean in that direction?

      • I definitely like Christus Victor, with death as executioner and God as executioner of death; I also have affinities with Moral Influence theory. I think the truth may be a good concoction of the two: as we follow Christ’s example of a life defiant of sin, death, and violence, we overcome as he overcame.

        Actually, though, I’ve come to be content with the fact that they’re all metaphors (penal substitution being a singularly deficient one), and recognizing that whatever part Jesus played/plays in reconciling us to God, that’s on God’s end. I think our end of the bargain is enough to keep me busy. 🙂

  3. “I don’t know” — the only truly honest answer theology can offers sometimes. 🙂

  4. (My first comment didn’t take. Attempt #2.)

    Thanks for sharing this. I find the notion of substitutional atonement disturbing because it distracts people from the evil and trauma of suffering. When a story about the suffering of an innocent is glorified, as it is in Christianity, it can lessen sympathy for real-life innocents who are suffering. Don’t even get me started on the idea of “redemptive” suffering . . .

    • Ahab, your comment got me thinking for a while. I think the problem I have with the penal substitution theory is different. I’m troubled by the picture it paints of God. But I can’t say that I have difficulty with the notion of substitutional suffering, by itself. There are anecdotal stories from the Holocaust of men who stepped forward and offered to take the place of those chosen to die. I think those stories deserve to be celebrated as examples of incredibly selfless love. And I don’t think they blunt the horror of the Holocaust at all. So I don’t find the idea of Christ dying for me unpalatable. It’s the idea of God demanding a blood sacrifice that gives me pause. Have I misread you?

      • No, you haven’t misread me, and your observation is valid.I just worry about the implications when suffering under oppression is seen in a certain light.

      • Well stay tuned, I think my next post will have us singing from the same hymnal 😉

  5. Again still reading through the blog backwards. I have to point again to the historical perspective, and ask why do we bother to theologically struggle with pst? I understand why some do, of course. But doesnt it make more sense to simply observe it as a historical vestige of a primal tribal ritual? Historically it is undeniable that blood sacrifice was a fundamental ancient rite. Scapegoating was around in the bronze age in parts of the world near and far to the ANE. Christianity interpreted Jesus’ death within this view, which shouldnt surprise us given the initial following within the Jewish community. Why try to justify it, rather than accept it as a historical vestige?

  6. I hope these verses will clear some of this up, Jesus did indeed die as payment for our sin and I hope each person who reads this will accept his love and salvation by asking Jesus to be their Lord and savior.
    Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
    Rom 5:6 For we yet being without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
    Rom 5:8 But God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
    1Pe 3:18 For Christ also once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, indeed being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit;

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