We continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).
In this post we finish Chapter 7, ‘Ransom and Redemption’ – together these concepts see the cross as that which redeems (brings freedom) by the paying of a ransom (the payment of some sort of price).
Rutledge returns to questions that have surfaced earlier (these are my phrasing of the discussion):
What does the ‘scale’ of the payment, say about the gravity of the problem (sin)?
The gravity of sin is met with a gravity of response by God – the ‘extreme nature of the crucifixion’ (295). Rutledge comments that,
‘it is part of the good news that God has offered God’s own self as “payment”.’ (295-96)
Something deeply wrong has been put right.
If the cross involves a ransom, what is paid to whom? If the Son’s death is ‘payment’ to God, does this give a picture of God as a Father who sacrifices his own son?
In Jesus, it is the triune God himself who has intervened to reclaim – to buy back, if you will – his lost creation, and the price he pays is his own self in the person of the divine Son of Man. The price is unimaginably great precisely because the Adversary is unimaginably great. The Adversary could be seen as a sort of diabolical trinity as well, for Sin, Death and the Devil are all three named by the New Testament writers – an “unholy trinity”. The cost of deliverance is the life of the Son of God. (294-95)
The question arises then, to whom is the “payment” made?
Rutledge demurs from Howard Marshall and others who see that it is God who receives the ransom. She argues it is better to leave this as an image of victory won at great cost, “without pursuing the notion that it is literally to be paid to anyone.” (n.26, p. 296)
In doing so, she is countering (some) Feminist critiques of the cross as a form of child abuse. And also any sense that the cross is somehow ‘required’ by God. For Rutledge, these are distortions that fail to take the Trinitarian life of God into account.
The critics of the God-language are wrong on this point; the tradition taken as a whole is solidly behind the idea that the cross of Christ is an event undertaken by the Three Persons united. (297)
To imagine that the cross is somehow God’s ‘reaction’ or coerced action because of Sin ‘then we do not have the creator God of the Bible.’ (297).
‘it is God’s very nature to go out from God’s self in love. The love that comes forth from God is expressed first, from all eternity, within the Tri-unity of God itself; God has no need of a creation to love.’ (297)
Coming back to the idea of ransom (payment for sin) and redemption (deliverance from bondage), Rutledge concludes this chapter with these words,
And so we end this chapter on a note of high exaltation. The redemption wrought by God in Christ was indeed a mighty deliverance and points ahead to the glorious future of the reign of God. The ransom imagery reminds us that this great liberation involved not only a loosing from bondage, but also an atonement for sin; not only cosmic victory but also an ultimate price. (301-02)
Next, we begin chapter 8, The Great Assize’ or Last Judgement.