Chapter 5: Dying to Live
Bell describes Jesus’ death and resurrection. He critiques certain descriptions of the sacrifice as being overused, and I really like the multiple angles he gives to the most important event in history, summarized as:
What happened on the cross is like…
a defendant going free,
a relationship being reconciled,
something lost being redeemed,
a battle being won,
a final sacrifice being offered…
an enemy being loved.
If your cultural background is such that the battle metaphor of the conquest over death doesn’t resonate with you, try the “redemption” metaphor from the “world of business and finance and economics,” or the “justification” from the “world of courtrooms and judges and prosecutors and guilt and punishment.” (Maybe the Life of Pi narrator who thought it “didn’t make any sense” just needed to hear it from another angle.) The cross is so “massive and universe-changing” that it can be understood through a variety of perspectives. Beautiful and inspiring stuff.
Then Bell talks about all the symbolism of death leading to life. Good stuff. Almost traditional stuff, even. In fact, the whole chapter is so non-controversial it almost feels like the bookends about Eminem wearing a cross (“Did Eminem stumble upon this truth?) are stuck there to keep things a little edgy.
Chapter 6: There Are Rocks Everywhere
OK, now that Jesus’ death and resurrection are firmly established, Bell is ready to step on some traditional toes and suggest that through this Jesus might save some people who don’t look like traditional Christians. He references the story of Moses striking the rock to give water to the Israelites, and Paul’s interesting statement in 1 Corinthians 10 that “that rock was Christ.”
Christ is mentioned nowhere in the story. Moses strikes the rock, it provides water, and the people have something to drink…
Paul, however, reads another story in the story, insisting that Christ was present in that moment…
Jesus was there. Without anybody using his name. Without anybody saying that it was him…
Bell extrapolates from this story that Jesus can be involved without people knowing he’s involved, which is how he explains the verse I’ve always thought was the toughest hurdle for non-traditionalist salvation doctrine: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14) Bell cleverly explains that Jesus doesn’t say that “those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him,” so that’s how people can only be saved through Jesus but it still be possible for people from other religions to get into heaven. And let’s not forget Jesus’ cryptic words from John 10: “I have other sheep, which are not of this pen.”
It reminds me again of C. S. Lewis – this time in The Last Battle, of a passage that confused me as a child for its un-traditional vibe:
The Glorious One [Aslan] bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…. Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him…
In general, I’m with Bell on a lot of it: Christians focusing too much and too narrowly on whether or not people are “getting in,” the idea that we might be surprised at who is there and who isn’t (“I never knew you!”), the idea that only God knows who is truly saved, etc, etc. And while I would never rule it out as a logical or theological impossibility, I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of… Jesus as a secret agent.
Can you really go from Christ being present in a rock (could it just have been a metaphor?) to arguing that Christ saves people who don’t know him? Sure, “Father, forgive them” even though they didn’t ask for it… but can you really follow Christ without knowing you’re following him? I don’t know.