Sometimes, the scenario runs like this:
You have God and Jesus and the Undeserving Masses
and Satan, of course.
Then, there are the angels, the apostles, and the Holy Spirit
to complete the scene.
God is outrageously angry with the Masses
for all the wrongs they have done
(Never mind foreknowledge and omniscience
which should have tipped God off
as to the likelihood of the turn out,
and don’t waste your time wondering
what’s God got to be angry about,
knowing all along what was coming,
or why we let God get by with it
without saying he shot himself in the foot,
and brought it all on his own self–
which is what we would say about ourselves
if the shoe, so to speak, were on that foot).
But, not to worry.
Jesus is quick to thrust himself between God’s fury and the Milling Horde
just in time to prevent their everlasting destruction.
“No! Take me!” he shouts,
giving himself up for the sins of us all.
And, sometimes it plays out like this:
God is dressed in a business suit,
like a high ranking government official,
maybe the head of the IRS,
wishing that things could be different,
and sorry that it has come to this,
but the Law is the Law, after all, you know,
and penalties must be imposed,
or what would people say?
But, Jesus steps forward,
in a corporate kind of way,
with a compromise proposal,
presented formally and with style,
suggesting that something might be worked out,
if the system could be satisfied
with one pure death in place
of the tarnished payment
of so many sordid lives.
Then, sometimes, it goes like this:
God is anguished and torn,
the helpless victim of inner conflict,
pacing the floor,
the mutually exclusive requirements
of Justice and Love.
Preoccupied and distraught,
“My Justice Side says, ‘Kill them all!’,
and, surely, they deserve it,
but my Love Side says, ‘Don’t be like them!
You’re bigger than that!
Grant them full pardon!
Let them know who you are!’”
At the very moment God is about to collapse
beneath the weight of the un-choose-able choice,
Jesus knocks politely and enters to say,
“I have a plan that will satisfy your Justice
and express plainly your Love.”
No matter how the opening scene is depicted,
in Act II, the disciples come forward
to declare to the people
the great miracle of their deliverance
which lays dormant and un-actualized
until they hear what has been done
and believe it is so.
Believing is the activating agent
making The Deal operative
in the lives of the people,
getting them off the hook
and out of harm’s way–
and it doesn’t matter what Jesus has done
if they don’t believe he did it,
which, if you think about it,
changes absolutely nothing in the
deal God has made with the people:
The people still have to please God
by doing what it takes to be pleasing,
i.e., believing with all their heart
that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.
The burden remains on the people.
But they don’t tell it this way in Sunday Schools
or in the sermons.
The people aren’t delivered
until they believe they are,
and Satan can still win
by keeping them in the dark,
and hiding them from the truth,
sending Deceivers to distort
the disciples’ message
so that the people think the wrong things
and miss their chance.
And, the angels all stand on tip toe,
jostling for viewing portals,
holding their breath,
wringing their wings,
crossing their fingers,
shutting their eyes,
afraid to look,
while the Holy Spirit
strives to work mystic wonders
to break Satan’s spell
and save the whole show,
or the predestined portion of it
(this part is somewhat murky,
even in the ancient manuscripts),
before it’s too late and it’s all over
because time is running out,
even though there is eternity to play with
and what could the hurry possibly be?
Well, that’s the gospel truth
which has been passed down from the apostles,
systematized by the theologians,
and preached by the preachers,
in one version or another
through long centuries of making things perfectly clear.
Yet, no matter how often
we hear it presented,
or see it enacted
in manger scenes
and Lenten Services,
we cannot ignore the obvious,
or avoid the inescapable conclusion,
that it has all the earmarks of an early draft
of a Rube Goldberg cartoon,
and realize that someone with all eternity to work with
could surely have come up with something better.