After a two-week hiatus in which I read The Prodigal God by Tim Keller and Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell, I returned, this morning, to Peter Rollins’ book: Insurrection. I finished it. I have already done one blog post centered on Rollins, so I don’t really want to do another one. If you want to know what I think about the book, consult my earlier post here and also Richard Beck’s posts here and here. I found them wonderfully helpful.
This post, while inspired by something Rollins wrote, is not primarily derived from his thought, though I suspect it is related to his thought. Essentially, at some point toward the end of Insurrection, Rollins says “What existed on the other side of the veil was not God (as traditional theology asserts) but the priest.” This got me thinking about The Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard has the power to grant a new heart, a new brain, and new courage. He has to power to send Dorothy back to Kansas. The Wizard’s power far outstrips the power of the various witches. He is kind, benevolent—if a bit eccentric—and altogether glorious. Sure, the journey is difficult. Dorothy, with her companions, must follow a specific path to get to the Wizard. But, once there, the Wizard would fix everything.
Except, maybe not. You see, it was a man, not the Wizard, who was behind the curtain. The Wizard was a charade. A scam. A tactic to maintain security. Order was kept. Promises made. Lives lived. All because there was the Wizard. But when the curtain separating the ordinary from the extraordinary was removed, the scared man pretending to be the Wizard was revealed.
Rollins says something similar happened in the Temple in Jerusalem as Jesus died on the cross. The veil was torn. Traditional theology—and what we all learned in Sunday school—asserts that this is representative of the way Jesus opened for us to go to the Father. God can’t stand sin. Because Jesus took away all of our sin by dying on the cross, then God can be around us again—so no need for the veil anymore, right?
When the veil was torn and people could see into the place of God’s presence what people saw was the High Priest. Behind the veil that separated the people from God was just an empty altar and a man. Here is what I think is going on: Jesus’ death at the hands of the powers and principalities of the world—the anti-kingdom forces as Rob Bell would call it—exposed them to scrutiny. God wasn’t back there after all. He was out there with the Roman soldier who was enslaved to the state, with the grieving mother of Jesus, with the leper Jesus had healed, with the woman caught in adultery who Jesus set free. God is present within us—embodied in sacrificial, cross-shaped love for the person next to us and especially in the care and concern for the oppressed.
The religious powers of the day ruled the people on the basis of fear—“Look, we’ll go into the place where God is and mediate stuff on your behalf; in return you have to do what we say”—rather than on the basis of liberation. The darkest day in history is when the religious and political powers conspired to kill the son of God. Peaceful protest against oppressive power structures always exposes them, just think of Tiananmen square.
The bible says that Jesus openly mocked the powers and principalities. That would be in the resurrection. They didn’t win. Satan, Death, and their servants: oppressive power structures—both political and religious—won’t ultimately win. Jesus sent his Spirit to empower us to live a different way. To embody a different polity. To make manifest a Kingdom in which we love without condition and invite all to partake of the same stream of living water which gave life to ourselves, in which we tell the people of the earth that there is a better way of living out there, that they do not have to live violently and hatefully. We are to tell people that they possess infinite worth as image bearers of God and call on the larger society to respect this distinctive image on all people. The borders of the Kingdom of God expand with the addition of more people to God’s family. More people who, empowered by the Spirit say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”