Rev. Izzy Harbin
Matthew 12:17-21, We Need a Victory
"This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
I had this huge epiphany this week; so monumental that I am rethinking parts of my own theology to ensure that I am in alignment with what I now see as part of the saving work of Christ. Let me explain."
We are studying atonement theories and the necessity of the cross and looking this week at the atonement theory of Christus Victor. The primary premise of this theory is that through the cross, Jesus overcame, or was victorious over, sin, death, and evil. There are a number of reasons why this theory does not resonate with me. For starters, when I look at the world, I immediately have to do some crazy mind manipulation to believe that Jesus defeated sin, death, and evil through his death on the cross. It doesn’t take much to realize that sin, death, and evil still exists, all we have to do is look around at the overwhelming evidence: mass shootings, police killings, rape, robbery, domestic violence, hate crimes, and the list goes on.
A key concept of this theory is that God takes the initiative to decisively change the relationship between God and the world through the death of Christ on the cross. It places the focus of the conflict not between God and humanity, but God and the powers of sin, death, and evil. The part of the theory that pits God against sin, death, and evil only brings up more questions for me? Where did sin, death, and evil come from? Can we build a theory of atonement on the story of creation and the fall of man if we understand that story to be a myth?
These questions lead me to another reason I don’t like this theory. Christus Victor still puts God in an awkward position of needing to reconcile God’s own creation to himself. I cannot escape the idea that if God is the creator of all things, then God created the circumstances upon which creation became, entered into, or found sin, death, and evil. This concept will always seem strange to me.
What hit me squarely between the eyes, though, is that Christus Victor reveals to us what it is we most want and need from the one we worship—we need a victory.
So much of our lives are steeped in the ick of the world. We find ourselves trapped by shame, guilt, hatred, fear, greed, and self-centeredness. When we have an experience of the Divine, it gives us a glimpse of what hope looks like, what the world could be if we lived more compassionately toward one another. Sadly, we struggle to find our way in a world that revels in darkness. We need a victory.
When we see Jesus upon the cross, we want to create meaning out of this horrible act of violence. Our brains want to right the wrong, to fix what seems like a huge miscarriage of justice. We create for ourselves the perfect victory solution. We need a victory. We need something greater than ourselves to life us up and out of the ick of the world. We need God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit to show us what real hope looks like and that life is actually worth living. We need a victory. To say that Jesus defeated or overcame sin, death, and evil means that we, too, have a chance to defeat or overcome these things in our own lives, with the help of Christ.
With Jesus on our side, we can defeat our addictions, we can learn to be patient and tolerant of others, we can even learn to be compassionate. We can lay down our anger, set aside our pain, be healed of physical and mental maladies, and find hope. It is the hope that we are looking for. No one, and I mean no one, want to slog through life without hope, even if hope is knowing that on pay day, I get tacos for supper. There has to be a reason for living. Most of us exhaust the worlds reasons—they simply are not good enough or lofty enough to matter—but the hope that Christ brings to us, that matters.
So, while this theory in its academic form does nothing for me, the value it has on our lived experience may be necessary for our salvation. After all, it is hope that ultimately saves us from the drudgery of this world.