Friday, April 6, 2012

Jesus as the Great Scapegoat

I don't talk of this very often in church meetings, since it is radical in that setting and would not be understood by many, but I view Jesus' "role" much more symbolically than the vast majority of Christians. I can't comprehend a "physical" atonement, but I am fine with that possibility. I can appreciate it and count it as a great concept. However, I gain more meaning from seeing Jesus of Nazareth as the great scapegoat.

Most of you probably are aware of this, but in ancient Israel on Yom Kippur the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on the head of a goat, and the goat was driven from the community into the wilderness - carrying the people's sins from them, so the people could be "right with God". The goat and the sins it carried were allowed to "escape" from the community; thus, it was known as the "scapegoat". This goat, having been a domestic goat and having escaped into the wilderness, inevitably died as a result of being chosen as the people's scapegoat. (see Leviticus 16:8,10,26.)

I choose to see the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth in the light of the scapegoat. I believe the great High Priest (God, the Father) symbolically laid the sins of his children on the head of the great Scapegoat (Jesus, the Christ) and allowed that scapegoat to be driven from and killed by the community. As a result, nobody needed thereafter to suffer for others' sins - to be a sin-scapegoat. As a result, we in the LDS Church can say that "mankind will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression" - but we also can speak of a Savior and Redeemer who has "taken our sins upon Him" and allowed us to repent (become right with God).

I see most of the things we learn from the life of Jesus in this same light. For example:

1) Is political oppression the great evil from which mankind needs to be delivered? No, the great evil is interpersonal oppression and lack of love. Fix that problem, and political oppression ceases.

2) Is it enough to wait on the glory of the hereafter and ignore the suffering around us (or even gloify that suffering in others from the relative comfort of our own judgment seats)? No, God works among the poor and needy to alleviate their suffering in the here and now - because love is a verb that must be shown to be real. The hereafter will take care of itself, but we are called to change the world into a heaven on earth - even amid earthly oppression.

3) Will we have bodies in the here-after similar to those we have now, only with changes that will make them immortal, as a result of the resurrection of Jesus? (In other words, did Jesus really rise from the tomb in a physically unique way - allowing us to rise in the same way?) I don't know, but I love and accept that concept even if I can't understand it literally, since I am open to the idea that ALL matter is "tangible" to those who can "see" it - AND because of the wonderful symbolism of valuing our mortal bodies as potentially eternal.

I want Jesus to have been the Son of God - my Savior and Redeemer - a real, living person who was humanity's great scapegoat - but that is largely because I absolutely LOVE the symbolism I find in his life and the power that symbolism gives to my life.

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