I used to believe that when God saw me, he only loved me because of Jesus and what he did. It’s often said that when God looks at you he sees Jesus. But maybe that is a little misleading. Maybe it’s way better than that. Maybe when God looks at you he sees You, because he loves you for just being you. My view now is that I believe Jesus reveals how much God has always loved me and every other human for all time.
Much of the modern church teaches that God loves us and forgives us because Jesus was punished in our place. Like a brother who steps in and takes the fall for his sibling and gets the beating from Dad. This is basically how it is said that Jesus took our place. But what would be the point in that? That leads to Jesus being the good guy and the Father being a schizophrenic blood thirsty jerk.
I don’t believe Jesus is our replacement for God’s wrath though. God did not need to kill him and pour wrath and fury upon him, instead of us to forgive us and love us again. I believe the wrath and fury Jesus took on was all from violent humanity.
The sin of the world he took on himself was human violence and accusation which always leads to murder and scapegoating. The first time sin is even mentioned in the biblical narrative is when Cain killed Abel. Cain founded the first city insinuating humanity was founded on the back of violence. So, Jesus took that on himself but instead of vengeance, like Abel cried out for, or Lamech and his cry for vengeance 77 fold, Jesus cried out for forgiveness.
“Cain lays the foundation for human civilization, and we, all of us, live in the city that Cain built—but Cain is a murderer. Indeed this is the disturbing truth: human civilization is founded around an axis of power established by murder and enforced by violence. The dark specter behind the history of human civilization is that it is almost always founded on acts of violence. We hide this dark specter behind façades of glory and patriotism, but the specter remains and from time to time the ghost comes out to haunt us.”
— Brian Zahnd, Beauty Will Save The World
Jesus is not a substitute for God’s wrath but the substitute for humankind’s. Jesus shows us God would rather be killed than to kill. Jesus shows us what God is like and reveals God advances justice and peace through forgiveness and non-violence not through retribution and violence. God is not like the empires of this world, making peace through more violence. Instead God loves us so much he became human, laying down his life at our hands and forgave his enemies. This is what God is like. The cross reveals love of enemy and friend.
This act changed the world! When we trust in Jesus as being the true human and revealing that all are loved image bearer’s of the Divine and as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps and imitate his ways, we participate in the restoration of the world that God is actively in process of achieving.
So, God loves us not because of Jesus or for what Jesus has done, but because of Jesus we understand the depths of God’s love for us. Jesus is the face of God. You are a unique creation, a child of the Divine that is loved just because you are you. Not because of what Jesus has done in your place and that’s good news.