In a recent issue of The Christian Century , theologian Daniel Bell challenges the underpinnings of conventional Christianity, “God does not demand or require blood to redeem us. God neither inflicts violence nor desires suffering in order to set the divine-human relation right. In spite of its pervasiveness in Christian imagery, the cost of communion, of reconciliation and redemption, is not blood and suffering.”

In conventional Christianity, the cross of Christ is the ultimate axis mundi, the center of the universe. Conventional Christianity says God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Human beings are universally born with original sin—it is as if there is a stain on the soul. Salvation comes through believing Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by washing away the stain of sin on the human soul, so long as we believe it.

He sacrifices his life for many. He is our substitute. But for many progressive Christians, the idea that Jesus was the lamb of God who whose violent death pays off a vengeful God, just doesn’t make sense.

We have been taught to look at the cross through the eyes of a sinner.

We are told that on the cross, Jesus does something for us that we can’t do for ourselves. He bore and carried away the sins of the world. Because he was fully divine and fully human, he was like an actor (this is how Jesus is presented in the Gospel Of John ), playing the part in a great drama—and all of this was God’s plan for bringing salvation to earth.

I respectfully disagree. To believe God sent his only Son from heaven to earth to demand bloodshed for the forgiveness of sins turns God into a terrorist and Jesus into a willing victim of suicide. The world has too often absorbed the bitter fruits of pre-planned violence. How do we account for this interpretation? Blood atonement is, after all, an interpretation about the meaning of the cross.

It’s interesting that the Gospel narratives paint a picture of Jesus on his cross but he never once refers to himself as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

In the canonical Gospels, Jesus speaks a total of seven times (seven last words) from the cross. One time he talks about being thirsty, another time he says, “it is finished,” his life his ministry is over. The other five words have to do with his relationship to God, family, friends and the two who are crucified with him.

None of the “seven last words” from the cross imply a blood sacrifice. And five out of the seven words have to do exclusively with Jesus’ relationships.

Like all of us, Jesus died a human death. Every human being comes into this world one person at a time, and leaves the same way.

I will never forget my dear, sweet grandfather on his deathbed, saying, “I don’t mind the death part. I just hate leaving all of you kids.” Throughout my years of ministry I have spent a lot of time with friends or family members of someone who is dying. At such a time people want only to talk about their relationships. They talk about how much they love each other and about their longing for God.

Jesus died a human death.

In his valley of suffering he felt Godforsaken—in the midst of his pain he reached out to loved ones. The canonical Gospels report that, in his own words, Jesus died the way we all die.

But the church has turned his death into a once and for all metaphysical transaction between heaven and earth.

From whence did this notion of Jesus being the “lamb of God” come?

Where did this theological idea that God requires a blood sacrifice originate?

Blood animal sacrifice was a common practice in ancient times.

In the book of Leviticus, strict instructions are given around the requirement of making an animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. In ancient Israelite practice, the lamb, the livestock, was given as a peace offering to God.

There was also another ritual practiced by the ancient Hebrews. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would take a goat, symbolically cover it with the sins of all the people, and send it out into the wilderness. Bearing everyone’s blame and being forced to suffer on everyone’s behalf, the innocent goat became a scapegoat.

From this theological perspective, and out of this cultural context, many New Testament writers proclaimed the cross to be the definitive blood sacrifice. Jesus was like a pure and innocent lamb, a peace offering unto God. Jesus became our scapegoat, taking the consequences for our sin so that we won’t have to bear the consequences ourselves.

I respectfully disagree.

The idea that God requires blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins is inextricably bound to an ancient world-view that equated domination and violence with peacemaking and reconciliation.

Consciousness evolves.

It’s time to see the cross of Jesus through different eyes. We are not redeemed by violence or suffering. We are redeemed when we convert violence into nonviolence. We are transformed when we, like Jesus, move beyond every excuse to give or receive violence and insist there is no other way to peace than living peaceably.

Jesus died on a cross not to appease a bloodthirsty God, but in that violently turbulent climate of authoritarian religion and empire, he believed it better to lay down his life, rather than a single other person perish.

There is no greater love than this.

If Jesus were to stand before us today, I believe he would say, “When you look at my cross, see your own life reflected in it.”

In other words, Christ suffers not to keep us from suffering but because we already suffer. Christ hangs there because we already hang. Christ hurts because we already hurt, cries because we cry, dies because every human being will die.

But just as the cross did not destroy Jesus, our crucifixions will not destroy us.

Herein lies a great mystery. The cross is an emblem of death, but if we look deeply into it, we see that death is never the end. When one way of life is over, a new one is beginning.

Jesus is a mirror of our humanity but also a window to God—which is to say that as it was for him, so it is for us. When we feel we are being crucified it is the end—but also a beginning.