I recently watched a video of Jim Carrey, yes the actor, who is involved in a ministry called Homeboy Industries. Mr. Carrey was speaking about God’s love and salvation. Several things he said made my ears perk up, but one thing in particular caught my attention. “Ultimately,” he said, “I believe that suffering leads to salvation.”
The reason that this particular statement caught my attention is because I had also just read a meditation by Fr. Richard Rohr, Salvation as At-One-Ment. Now of course, “At-One-Ment” is the word Atonement broken down and is literally the meaning of the word. I’ve also used this explanation of salvation through being made one with God in a few sermons. But Fr. Rohr also brings in the component of The Incarnation. Some of what he had to say follows:
"Franciscans never believed that ‘blood atonement’ was required for God to love us. We believed that Christ was Plan A from the very beginning (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18). Christ wasn’t a Plan B after the first humans sinned, which is the way most people seem to understand the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Mystery of Incarnation could not be a mere mop-up exercise, a problem-solving technique, or dependent on human beings messing up. The Incarnation was not motivated by a problem but by love.
Did God intend no meaning or purpose for creation during the first 13.8 billion years? Did the sun, moon, and galaxies have no divine significance? The fish, the birds, the animals were just waiting for humans to appear? Was there no Divine Blueprint (‘Logos’) from the beginning? This thinking reveals the hubris of the human species and our tendency to anthropomorphize the whole story around ourselves.
The Franciscan view grounds Christianity in love and freedom from the very beginning. It creates a coherent and positive spirituality, which draws us toward lives of inner depth, prayer, reconciliation, healing, and universal at-one-ment, instead of any notion of sacrifice, which implies God needs to be bought off. Nothing changed on Calvary, but everything was revealed as God’s suffering love—so that we could change!
Jesus was precisely the ‘once and for all’ (Hebrews 7:27) sacrifice given to reveal the lie and absurdity of all ‘sacrificial’ religion. But we perpetuated such regressive and sacrificial patterns by making God the Father into the Chief Sacrificer, and Jesus into the necessary victim. Is that really the only reason to love Jesus? Is there no wondrous life to imitate?
This ‘being saved by his death’ language allowed us to ignore Jesus’ way of life and preaching, because all we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. This is no exaggeration. The irony is that Jesus undoes, undercuts, and defeats the sacrificial game. Stop counting, measuring, earning, judging, and punishing—ways many Christians are very well trained in—because they believe that is the way God operates too. This makes the abundant world of grace largely inaccessible—which is, of course, the whole point. It is and has always been about love from the very beginning."
What is at stake here for me, in the different theologies from Fr. Rohr and Mr. Carrey, is the difference between living and dying. Yes, Jesus’ death on the cross was sacrificial, but the point of it was to be the last, “once and for all” so that we could LIVE.
Our way of life as followers of The Way should imitate Jesus’ life and ministry, not his dying. If we ignore the way of life we are ignoring what Jesus said when asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Of course Jesus’ answer was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
That is what The Incarnation was about ― Love. And it is what incarnational living is about.