Sin and Atonement [Part – 4]
Now let us turn to the act of the Crucifixion itself. Here we are confronted with another insoluble dilemma. Jesus, as we are so insistently told, offered himself voluntarily to God the Father and was made the scapegoat for the sins of all humanity, provided, of course, they believed in him. But when the time of acceptance of his wish approaches nigh and at last the glimmer of hope for sinful humanity is beginning to appear like the dawn of a new day, as we turn to Jesus expecting to observe his joy, his happiness and his ecstasy at this most eventful moment of human history, how profoundly disappointed and manifestly disillusioned we are. Instead of finding a Jesus impatiently awaiting the hour of jubilation what we see instead is a Jesus weeping and crying and praying and beseeching God the Father to take away the bitter cup of death from him. He severely reproached one of his disciples when he caught him in the act of dozing off after spending such a fateful long day and suffering through a dark gloomy night which bade ill for him and his holy master. The Biblical account of this incident goes as follows:
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gesthemane, and said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.’
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak’.
He went a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ When he came back, he again found them sleeping because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matt 26:36–43)
Alas as the Christian story unveils itself, the prayers and beseeching of neither Jesus nor his disciples were accepted by God the Father and willy-nilly, despite his strong protestations, he was at last crucified. Was he the same person, the same prince of innocence and paragon of sacrifice who so bravely volunteered himself to take the burden of all of mankind’s sins on his shoulders, or was it a different person? His conduct, both at the hour of the Crucifixion and during the Crucifixion itself, strongly casts shadows of doubt, either on the identity of Jesus Christ or on the truth of the myth spun around his person. But of that later. Let us now return to our critical examination where we left it.
Some other questions which arise from the last cry of agony by Jesus Christ are as follows: Who uttered those deeply pathetic and touching words? Was it Jesus the man or was it Jesus the ‘Son’?
If it was Jesus the man who was abandoned, by whom? And why? If we accept this option, it would also have to be taken for granted that till the last, Jesus the man retained a single independent identity which could think and feel freely and individually. Did he die at the moment of parting of the soul of Jesus the ‘Son of God’ from the body of the man he had occupied? If so, why and how? If it was so and it was the body of the man which died after the soul of God deserted it, then the question would arise as to who got revived from the dead when the soul of God revisited the same body later on.
Again, this option would lead us to believe that it was not Jesus the ‘Son’ who was suffering but the person of Jesus the man who cried out in such agony and he was the one who suffered while Jesus the ‘Son’ looked on in a state of total indifference and apathy. Then how can he justify the claim that it was he, the ‘Son’, who suffered for the sake of humanity and not the man in him?
The other option is that we presume it was Jesus the ‘Son’ who cried out, while the man in him, perhaps hopeful to begin a new life for himself, watched on in uncertain expectancy of the realisation that along with the sacrifice of Jesus the ‘Son’, he, Jesus the man, whether he liked it or not, would also be slaughtered on the altar of his innocent cohabiter. What sense of justice ever motivated God to kill two birds with the same stone is perhaps another mystery.
If Jesus the ‘Son’ it was, and it was him indeed according to the general consensus of Christian churches, then the second question arising out of the answer of the first would be about the identity of the second party involved in that monologue of Jesus (Matt 26:39,42). We have two options open to us.
One, that the ‘Son’ was addressing the Father, complaining that he was abandoned in the hour of need. This inescapably leads us to believe that they were two different persons who did not coexist in a single mutually merged personality, equally sharing all attributes and putting them into play simultaneously with equal share. One appears to be the supreme arbiter, the all powerful possessor of the ultimate faculty of taking decisions. The other, the poor ‘Son’, seems to be entirely deprived or maybe temporarily dispossessed of all the domineering characters which his Father enjoyed. The central point which must be kept in focus is the fact that their opposite wills and wishes nowhere seem more at odds and at variance with each other than they were during the last act of the Crucifixion drama.
The second question is, would these two distinct persons, with individual thoughts, individual values and individual capacities, feel pain and agony if they were ‘two in one’ and ‘one in two’? So another question would require many a long dialogue between theologians regarding the possibility of God being able to suffer pain and punishment. Even if so, only half of God would suffer while the other half was incapable of doing so by design or by the compulsion of His nature. As we proceed further in the shadowy world of this twisted philosophy, light begins to get dimmer and dimmer and we find confusion heaped upon confusion.
Another problem is that whom was Christ addressing if he was God himself? When he addressed his father, he himself was an inseparable part of the Father, so we are told. So what was he saying and to whom? This question must be answered with a free conscience, without resorting to dogma. It becomes a dogma only when it cannot be explained in human terms. According to the Biblical statement, when Jesus was about to give up the ghost, he cried addressing God the Father: ‘Why have you abandoned me?’ Who had abandoned whom? Had God abandoned God?
Who Was Sacrificed?
The other problem we have to take note of is that the man in Jesus was not punished, nor by any logic should he have been punished because he had never opted to carry the load of humanity’s sin. This new element, entering into the debate, leads us to a very peculiar situation which we have not considered before. One is compelled to wonder about the relationship of the man in Jesus with the inherited propensity to commit sin, common to all the progeny of Adam and Eve. At best one can bring oneself to believe that in the duality of the ‘Divine Son’ and the man occupying the same body, it was only the ‘Divine Son’ who was innocent. But what about the man living alongside him. Was he also born out of genes and character provided by God? If so, then he should behave like the divine in Jesus and no excuse would be acceptable if he goes remiss in this or that, with the plea that he only did so because he was a man. If there was nothing of God in him, that is, in the man in Jesus, then we must concede that he was simply an ordinary human being, perhaps half a human being. Yet that human person, amalgamated with Jesus, has to be human enough to inherit the disposition to sin. If not, why not?
Obviously there is no gain in saying that being a man distinctly separate from his divine partner, he must have sinned independently with the entire responsibility of sin upon his human shoulders. This scenario will not be complete without presenting Jesus the ‘Son of God’, dying, not so unselfishly after all, for the sake of humanity but his prime concern might have been for his half brother, the man in him.
All this is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to digest intellectually. But from our point of view there is no problem. It was the innocent person Jesus the man, without there being any duality in him, who uttered this cry of astonishment and agony.
The Dilemma of Jesus
Let me once again make it clear that I do not disbelieve in Jesus but have profound respect for him as a messenger of God with exceptional sacrifices to his credit. I understand Jesus to be a holy man, going through a period of great trial. But as the narration of the act of Crucifixion begins to unfold and come to a close we are left with no choice but to believe that Jesus did not volunteer himself for death upon the cross. The night before the day his enemies attempted to murder him by crucifixion we hear him praying all night, along with his disciples, because the truth of his claim was at stake. It is said in the Old Testament that an imposter who attributes things to God which He had never said, would be hanged on a tree and die upon it an accursed death.
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. (Deuteronomy 18:20)
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed of God. (Deutronomy 21:22–23)
Jesus knew that if this happened, the Jews would celebrate with ecstasy and proclaim him to be an imposter whose falsehood had finally been proved beyond a shadow of doubt on the authority of the divine Scriptures. This was the reason why he was so anxious to escape the bitter cup of death; not out of cowardice but out of fear that his people would be misled and would fail to recognise his truth if he died upon the cross. All night he prayed so piteously and helplessly that to read the account of his agony and misery is heart rending. But as this real life drama proceeds to a close, the climax of his emotional distress, dejection and hopelessness is fully displayed in his last cry:
‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
One must notice that it was not agony alone expressed in that cry but obviously there was mingled with it an element of surprise, bordering on horror. After he was brought back to consciousness, with the help of some of his dedicated disciples who applied to his wounds an ointment they had prepared before Crucifixion and which contained all the ingredients needed for mitigating pain and healing wounds, he must have been so wonderfully and happily surprised and his faith in a loving true God would have been reinstated and revitalised in a manner seldom experienced by man in its intensity and boundlessness.
The fact that the ointment had been prepared in advance constitutes a strong proof that Jesus’ disciples were indeed expecting him to be delivered from the cross alive, very much in need of medicinal treatment.
From the above, it becomes comfortingly clear that the concept of Inherited Sin and of Crucifixion are based only on the conjecture and wishful thinking of Christian theologians at a later date. It is quite likely that it was born out of some pre-Christian myths of a similar nature, which, when applied to the circumstances of Jesus Christ, tempted them to read close similarities between the two and create a similar myth. However, whatever the mystery or paradox, as we see it, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Christian philosophy of Sin and Atonement was based on anything which Jesus might have said or done or taught. He could never have preached anything so contrary to, and so diametrically opposed to human intellect.
Sin and atonement [Part – 6]