Vicarious suffering: performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another
One of the most offensive and atrocious doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of vicarious suffering. The above definition is derived from the Merriam Webster dictionary online and is specific to the meaning of the word vicarious but at the same time it is self-explanatory. If Christianity is true, the very act of Jesus Christ coming to earth with the specific purpose of appeasing God; which technically is himself if you subscribe to the doctrine of the trinity is appalling.
In this post I plan to use the scriptures to put this doctrine into perspective and to turn it against the Christian faith. According to the scriptures man was cursed by God for the sin of disobedience. Let’s be clear and concise here, when I say sin I mean it in the sense that it’s definition is anything you do to offend God. Man sinned against God and instead of forgiving him and giving him another chance he curses him and makes forgiveness impossible without requiring a blood sacrifice. But it can’t be just any blood sacrifice! It has to be a perfect sacrifice that is undefiled and unblemished (sinless).
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. Leviticus 17:11
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22
Atonement: reparation for an offense or injury
I thought it was necessary to define the words atonement and redemption in order to put this concept of vicarious suffering into a better perspective. In the Old Testament God required that the Hebrews make various animal sacrifices to atone for individual sins and those of the people in general. For the most part the blood of rams, ox, and doves were representative of mans’ sacrifice or peace offering to God for their sins. It appeased God but it did not redeem man from his sins permanently, in other words, it was simply a temporary fix. Certainly I would have expected more from an all knowing God!
The sacrifice of animals as an atonement for the sins of man was first instituted by God himself in the Mosaic Law as it is outlined in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews chapter nine describes this best in relation to the sacrifice of Jesus instead of that of animals.
8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. Hebrews 9:8-9
So the author of Hebrews explains quite clearly that there was back then under the law no way of entering the Most Holy Place. This is a reference to and representative of the most sacred place in the tabernacle which was also representative of being in the very presence of the Lord himself! This description and explanation clarifies the significance of the so called rending of the veil in the temple upon the death of Christ on the cross.
38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Mark 15:38
That curtain stood for the separation of man from God due to his sin. In our former condition we could not stand in the presence of God because he was too holy and could not bear to look upon our sin. When Jesus allegedly gave his life and blood on the cross as a perfect sacrifice, he not only served as an atonement for sin, but also in one fell swoop managed to redeem mankind and restore the relationship between man and God.
When John the Baptist first saw Jesus approach him he exclaimed: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 Jesus was the final blood sacrifice that God would require from man for all time.
12He (Christ) did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! Hebrews 9:12-14
According to the scriptures Jesus by his suffering, death, and execution became mankinds advocate before God in heaven. He is your representative before God and through the price of his blood has paid the price and the penalty for the sins of man for all time.
25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Hebrews 9:25-26
In a nutshell that is what Christianity is all about. This is what they mean when they say that we are all in need of salvation. We are being saved from God’s final judgement and subsequent condemnation of our sins that are still present unless we choose to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and savior of our lives and live according to the will of the Lord. All the other stories in the Old Testament and the N.T. are nothing but stories about morality and window dressing.
Now on to my problem with vicarious suffering: If God is the creator of all things and all powerful as many Christians believe, then why can’t he just forgive like the rest of us? I find it quite hypocritical that he commands us to forgive those that have wronged us but he can’t do the same without requiring a blood sacrifice. This in my view puts him on the same level of all the other gods that predated the Judeo-Christian deity.
14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
Forgive: to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
Forgiving someone who has offended or wronged you in some way is simply letting go. When you forgive someone you literally are making a choice to let it go to not hold it against them any longer and let bygones be bygones. Sometimes you can forgive someone but it is best to separate yourself from them if your friendship or relationship with that person is not a healthy one. I have a brother who is a career criminal and has stolen from me numerous times but even though I have forgiven him for those previous offences he is not welcome in my home because he cannot be trusted. The biblical deity can’t seem to do this simple action. Man sinned against him and his response was not forgiveness but curses!
Imagine that your brother murdered someone in cold blood and was caught. As a result of his actions he is then convicted to the death penalty. Would you give up your own life to save his by taking his place in the execution chamber so that he may have another chance at going straight? This type of justice is not justice at all. In fact, everyone should be personally held accountable for their own actions. But in the Bible Jesus allegedly approved of this type of action and considered it a virtue!
13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:13-14
I could see sacrificing your life in an attempt to save a child from a burning building, pushing a stranger out of the path of an oncoming car, or shielding someone from a hail of bullets. But dying willfully for someone else’s crimes is outright ridiculous. There is no virtue to be found in a god that can’t simply forgive without requiring someone sacrificing their lives for the offenses (sins) of others.
Note: All biblical quotations are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures. All word definitions are taken from the Merriam Webster dictionary online.