Activity 1: Stories and Discussion - Zeus Punishes and Jesus Forgives
Activity time: 20 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Story 1, "Zeus Punishes," and Story 2, "Jesus Forgives"
Preparation for Activity
- Read the stories.
- Photocopy Story 1, "Zeus Punishes," and Story 2, "Jesus Forgives," one for each participant.
- This activity introduces religious concepts that many youth may have heard but might not understand. Make sure you leave enough time for questions. If you feel uncomfortable answering questions about the concepts in this activity, consider asking a Christian from your congregation to help present this activity.
Description of Activity
Participants hear two stories about forgiveness and discuss forgiveness in a religious context.
Share the Alexander Pope quote, "To err is human, to forgive divine." Yet, not all the gods are forgiving, according to stories told by people who have believed in those gods.
Mention that the God of Hebrew scriptures often punished people instead of forgiving them. That is the basis of the Noah story. When people sinned, God grew angry and sent a great flood to drown them. The Greek myths mention many angry, unforgiving gods and goddesses. The story of Prometheus tells what happened when Zeus grew angry with him. (Remind the group that Zeus was the ruler of all the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus and that he had asked Prometheus to create humans; see also the story of Pandora's Box in Session 2, Activity 2.)
Tell or read the story of Prometheus. Alternately, you might ask for one or more volunteers to read it. Mention that hundreds of years after condemning Prometheus, Zeus bargained with other gods and finally agreed to free Prometheus. Other gods are more forgiving than that, and the God of the Christian Bible is an example.
Draw attention to the Conundrum Corner and ask your youth what they think the Trinity Church sign means. Explain, if the group does not, that the sign ("1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given") reminds people of the Christian story of Jesus on the cross. The sign was photographed in 2007 outside a small Christian church in Gray, Maine. Ask the group to tell you the story of Jesus' crucifixion as best they can.
Tell or read a brief version of the story if you think it will be helpful. See Story 2, "Jesus Forgives."
Explain that many Christians today still believe that Jesus "died for our sins"; he died to save human sinners. By his death, he opened the door to human salvation and eternal life. People who confess their sins and repent - that is, people who say they are sorry and feel remorse for what they have done, and ask for God's forgiveness can gain eternal salvation. God will forgive them, and they will go to heaven.
Mention that the idea of salvation is extremely important to Christians and to some people who practice other religions as well. (Two websites listed under Find Out More describe attitudes toward salvation in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.) Connect your discussion as appropriate to ideas you may have shared in the course of Session 7, The Second U, especially during Activity 2, Speaking of Universal Salvation.
Explain also that many Christians believe in "original sin." This refers back to Adam and Eve's sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden and the belief that all humankind now carries that sin. By being baptized, people wash this and other sins away and become Christians. From that time on, they must continue to repent and ask for forgiveness whenever they sin in order to remain in God's good graces and be saved for eternal life. Another religious word for this belief is "redemption," the idea that people can be saved through Jesus' sacrifice. Most Unitarian Universalists do not believe in original sin. UUs do not believe people are born perfect, either. We believe that humans are born with a capacity for good and a capacity for evil. The choices we make in life will bring us closer to one state or the other. Whether or not you believe in original sin, it is important for youth to understand Christian ideas that may be meaningful to some of the people they know outside their own congregations.
Mention that "original sin," "salvation," "redemption," and "sin" are all religious terms. We use the word "forgive" outside of a religious context, but it also is part of a famous Christian prayer known as the "Lord's Prayer." One version includes these lines: "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us."
You might also tell the group about the Christian practice of communion. Communion is a religious rite or ceremony in which Christians eat a small piece of bread that represents the body of Jesus Christ and drink a small amount of wine or grape juice that represents the blood of Jesus Christ. Through communion, people remember the sacrifice and death of Jesus and celebrate the idea that their own redemption (or salvation) is possible because of it.