Last night, I had the privilege of going with some friends to the Electric Factory in Philly to see Rob Bell, and to listen to his talk entitled, “The gods aren’t angry.” As expected, Rob was great. My friend Dan Fisher, from whom I got the ticket, told me that the venue was standing room only. And it did say that right on the ticket. So I did not bother to bring my notebook since it is not culturally acceptable to ask the person in front of you to lean over so you can use their back as a writing surface. We arrived to find out that there actually were seats. Oh well…maybe not taking notes helped me listen better. We were up on the balcony and had a very clear view of the stage. We met up with Dan’s girlfriend, Lauren, and our friends Doug and Sarah. So without notes, I will be writing these things from memory, which is not as sharp as it used to be.
Rob set the stage for his lecture by taking us on a verbal tour into some ancient cultures and their understanding of, and interaction with, their gods. He pointed out that the relationship between these humans and these divines was based purely on speculation on the humans part, for they had no way of knowing if the gods were angry or pleased with them. And so they sacrificed constantly. The vicious cycle of this violent practice went something like this: if our crops are suffering because of a drought, we must sacrifice more to appease the anger of the gods; if our crops do well, we must sacrifice more so we don’t insult the gods by too small of an offering and incur their wrath again. So there was always this sense of fear that hung over these peoples as they had no clue whether or not the gods were angry with them. Some would cut themselves to show their devotion to their gods. Some would sacrifice the thing that was closest to them, their own offspring.
Along comes Abraham, and according to Rob, and unprecedented event happens. A divine makes contact with a human. And this God speaks to Abraham and instructs him to leave his father’s household of empty, meaningless idol worship and repetitive cycles of sacrifice, and to follow Him. This God says He wants to bless Abraham and his descendents, which is quite a difference from the other cultures, who never received that kind of assurance from their gods. And so Abraham obeys and leaves his father’s household. Later on, this God who has promised to bless Abraham asks him to sacrifice his only son. To us, this is quite shocking. But the unfortunate thing is that, as was already mentioned, this practice was being carried out already by other cultures. So Abraham, in obedience, sets out to kill his only son. But God intervenes as Abraham has the knife poised, ready to plunge into young Isaac. And God provides a ram to take the place of Abraham’s son. This was unique since all other sacrifices in other cultures came from the people to their gods. In this case, God provides a sacrifice.
Another thing Rob pointed out that was unprecedented was the peace offering spelled out in Leviticus. The Hebrew worshippers were to sacrifice part of the peace offering to God in the temple, and then they were to take the rest home to eat and celebrate because they had made peace with God. This assurance of having peace with the gods was foreign to these other cultures who never knew whether or not the gods were angry.
Then Rob took us into the culture of the Sadducees who, through their ownership of the vicious cycle of Hebrew sacrifice, had become very wealthy. And along came this revolutionary rabbi from Galilee who said a few interesting things. He said one greater than the temple had arrived, referring to Himself. He drove out the moneychangers from His Father’s house. He told the people that if they destroyed the temple, He would rebuild it again in three days, referring (John tells us) to His resurrection. This Jesus, through His life and His teaching, defies the current system of His day of violent, repetitive offerings that could not make everlasting peace with God. And so they kill Him.
Rob’s main verse for this portion of the lecture was Hebrews 9:26 taken from the TNIV.
“…He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” And he emphasized that phrase “the culmination of the ages” to essentially say that the old sacrificial vicious cycle was over, and that Jesus, through His sacrifice, made eternal peace with God for all things.
At the end, Rob related a series of very touching personal stories from his own life and from the lives of his friends that demonstrated the living out of a proper understanding of our peace with God. He welcomed all into the experience of this peace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He made a good connection of our daily struggle embracing this truth to the repetitive sacrifices the ancient cultures offered in order to somehow appease the gods, while never fully having the confidence that all was well with those gods.
I’m sure I’m missing a lot, due to my lack of note-taking.
It was a wonderful night. I am glad I had the privilege of going.