“You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ~ Anne Lamont
The longer I read the Bible and study the theological writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, the more I come to understand both: how easy it is for us to create God in our own image and how important it is for our spiritual health that we stop doing this. I find that Easter is an excellent time to reflect on the very subject of how our understanding of God is skewed by our inclination to assume that God thinks just like we do.
Case in point; traditional Christianity would have us believe that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice, taking upon himself the punishment that humanity deserved for its sins. This sacrifice is called substitutionary atonement. Further, humanity was in this state of sinfulness because of what we have inherited as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This sin has caused a separation between humans and God, and made them deserving of punishment. Through Jesus’ death, he made it possible for humans to be reconciled with God and obtain salvation.
"Sacrifice, punishment, deserving, repayment, death." These are strong, even harsh words. Frankly, I don't
think I can attribute them to God. So many other words, such as angry, jealous, and vengeful, are attributed to God in the Bible. However, I simply don't see this as the true nature of God. Rather, it feels this way to us when we have cut ourselves off from receiving God's love. When we understand God's true nature and realise that we have engaged in more than a little projection, we must start to question these old explanations for Jesus' death.
In the New Church we reject the idea of substitutionary atonement. Instead, we believe that Jesus came into the world to overcome the power of evil and restore spiritual order. In the many years before Jesus was born, humanity had become deeply corrupted by sin and spiritual darkness. Evil had so infested humanity that it was threatening to infest heaven. Jesus came to fight against the forces of evil and restore the balance of spiritual power. In so doing Jesus restored to humanity the freedom to understand the difference between truth and falsity and the freedom to will good over evil. Through his life, teaching, victory against the most severe temptations, death, and resurrection, Jesus overcame the power of sin and death and opened the way for humans to be saved and restored to a right relationship with God.
One last question to ponder is “why,” why did Jesus have to die, particularly in such a tortuous manner? One answer to this question goes back to the idea of freedom. Humanity had to be free to entirely reject God’s love, in order to love at all. Reflect on this question; If God simply waved His magical godly-wand
and made everyone love Him, would it really be love? Can anyone truly be in a mutual loving relationship that even one partner did not choose? A secondary reason for Jesus’ torture and death is that it was a physical manifestation of the spiritual harm humanity had done to the Word, breaking, twisting and falsifying every single word to suit our own selfish and base desires. Breaking the Commandments isn’t simply breaking some “rules.” Breaking the Commandments is doing harm to the Lord. Of course none of us can harm the Lord in any way, but we can harm our relationship with the Lord, we can cut ourselves off from receiving love from the Lord.
God does not punish, He does not seek vengeance or retribution. Those are human traits and we were created in His image, not the other way around.