The second section of Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places deals with Christ playing in history (the first was on creation). And in this section he explores the significance of the atonement, Jesus’ death as an act in history, over against moralism (133-147). Peterson is not easy to summarize. Why? Because poetry cannot be abbreviated.
We are plunged into history — and that means sin (he tells a good story of his sudden outrage as a boy and how he bloodied another boy’s nose) and that means death. “Death provides the fundamental datum that something isn’t working the way it was intended” (137).
Jesus’ birth introduces us to creation; his death to history. And history is the medium in which God works out his plan for redemption. “We cannot get closer to God by distancing ourselves from the mess of history” (139). So how do we “do life” in this history in which we find ourselves?
“The biblical way is not to present us with a moral code and tell us ‘Live up to this,’ nor is it to set out a system of doctrine and say, ‘Think like this and you will live well.’ The biblical way is to tell a story that takes place on solid ground, is peopled with men and women that we recognize as being much like us, and then invite us, ‘Live into this. This is what it looks like to be human. This is what is involved in entering and maturing as human beings’ ” (140). What do you think of this statement?
The Bible’s story is full of bad people because “God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work” (140-141).
And it is Jesus’ death that shapes our understanding of history and God’s redemptive work in this history. Jesus’ death and our death with him — that is the beginning of redemption. To embrace that death is to embrace history and to find a way through that history.
Moralism is the threat to this theory of history. We construct a moral life that makes us “safe and secure and guilt-free” (144). Moralism is a life in which I have no need of a saving, grace-giving God. “Moralism works from strength, not weakness” (145).
And the significance is enormous: if the problem is the need of moralism, then the solution is education and training and political reforms and a cultural renaissance, a stronger police, more military and more power. But, if the problem is sinfulness, the resolution is death that absorbs our death.
Next: 21 February on pp. 147-181 (on the Exodus)