The text below represents the actual contents of a personal conversation between a friar and a friend that was conducted via SMS. The contents and punctuation are exactly as in the messages, but the text has been edited slightly for clarity. You are free to agree or to disagree with thoughts expressed below, which are not presented as dogma. They are purely private expressions between friends, but we hope that this sharing leads you to ponder more deeply on what it means to be a people of Good News, with Alleluia as our song!
Friar: Just saw a 2004 Swedish movie, ‘As it is in Heaven’. The female protagonist, who is an enlightened pastor’s wife, says, ‘I don’t believe in a God of redemption, because I don’t believe in a God of condemnation.’
Friend: Sounds like an interesting movie. I whole-heartedly agree with that female protagonist! It’s high time to get rid of unhelpful (and relatively recent innovation) theology of redemption , atonement and a judgmental God.
Friar: But I like at-one-ment…
Friend: Yes – that’s a good way of looking at that particular word, except it is more often than not put together with redemption theology.
Friar: My other bugbear is ‘ransom’. Except that it sounds beautiful in hymns like ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’.
Friend: Yes. Ransom is also unhelpful. What to do? The church is so steeped in judgmental theology. I’m quite concerned – esp after my retreat and meeting the human Jesus – how to now remain quietly and yet actively in church, which is almost imperialistic in doctrine and practice?
Friar: Uh, it’s not about our ‘remaining in church’, but us ‘constantly being church’
Friend: Thanks for that rather timely reminder! Okay, back to the drawing board. That makes a difference to my line of thought. Hmm.
Friar: Ok, since you are being an excellent student, here are 2 more re-definitions
1) ‘Salvation’ : the focus is not about ‘saving from (danger/evil)’, but ‘saving of (all that is good & valued)’ and ‘saving for (a better purpose)’;
2) ‘Deliverance’ : the focus is not ‘deliverance from (a powerful foe)’ but ‘accompaniment by (a faithful companion)’ for ‘delivery to (an intended destination)’.
After all, even in the OT, Israel wasn’t ‘ransomed’. The Lord did not have to stoop that low, or to negotiate that hard. He was in charge all along, and saved them for the highest end (i.e. the incarnation, the ultimate union between the Creator and Creation) and delivered them to the place where they could live in the Holy of Holies.
Friend: Wow, thanks. It would be great if more people see things this way – broader and more inclusive perspective, allowing for non-dualistic vision. After that is the challenge of accepting paradox rather than seeing opposition in opposites.
1. ‘Redemption theology’ refers to a traditional understanding that God had to ‘pay’ for our salvation and to ‘buy back’ our freedom. This focuses on original sin, and it suggests that evil has power to ‘sell’ something to God.
Alternative, but equally orthodox alternative teachings include :
‘Salvation theology’ – In his Theology of the Body series, Pope John Paul II focused on our original innocence and on God’s of saving plan; and
‘Incarnation theology’ – Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) emphasised time and again that the Christian faith is focused on God’s love, and that the incarnation and life of Jesus is just as important as his death and resurrection.
2. The word atonement was coined in the 16th Century. It is a composite word, which was made up of three separate elements: at-one-ment, i.e. ‘uniting as one’. It was used this way in the first translation of the Bible into English by William Tyndale, and its use was further popularised by William Shakespeare.
3. ‘Church’ is not only a building or an institution. Each one of us is part of the body of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence each one of us is also the Church – each one of us is a bearer of Christ and His Good News!
4. According to the OT (Old Testament of the Bible), Israel was held several times in captivity, and each time was delivered by the Lord back into freedom. But the OT never uses the word ‘ransom’ to describe God’s action. ‘Ransomed’ suggests that a powerful kidnapper has forced someone to pay for a hostage’s release; but God is All-Powerful, and He cannot be forced, blackmailed or victimised.
5. A ‘dualistic vision’ separates everything we see in the world to be either ‘good’ or ‘evil’, e.g. ‘spirit is good’ and ‘flesh is evil’. This was the basis for some heresies in the early Church.
The Catholic Church upholds the scriptural teaching that all creation comes from God, and because God is Good, everything created by him is innately filled with goodness.
6. ‘Accepting paradox’ is the challenge to recognise that differences are good and healthy, and that everything has its appropriate time and place.
St Bonaventure, in his teaching on the ‘Coincidence of Opposites’, used the cross as a symbol of opposites in our world. He taught that all opposites are brought together by Love, which is found at the Heart of the Cross.