44: TIME TO TACKLE THE ATONEMENT

“Welcome to Zingcreed, the only religious blog where you will find more questions than answers. Feel free to ‘eavesdrop’ as I muse aloud about religion and life. I hope you find something here for you.” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

forsaken

“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:25)

I’ve been looking forward to writing this Post – it’s one of the main Christian themes at which  I, as an atheist, wish to direct my attention. The others are the resurrection, the Kingdom, St Paul, biblical authenticity, and, of course, the very divinity of the man at the heart of the Zingcreed project himself.

What is the atonement?

I’ll quote first from the famous evangelical writer, Jim Packer who, I believe, went to the same secondary school I did, but before my time there.

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offence, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

“Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so. We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature is to hate sin and to punish it. No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation. This makes it ruinous folly to seek to establish one’s own righteousness before God; it simply cannot be done. God himself provides the atonement that our sin has made necessary…..Christ’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his own hostility to us that our sins provoked…..Christ’s death was our  redemption (i.e. our rescue by ransom: the paying of a price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath.” (i)

woodjesus

That’s enough Packer for one day –  there’s only so much evangelical fundamentalism I can take at one sitting!

Let’s look at some contrasting views:

Bishop John Shelby Spong  “I do not believe in a God who willed Jesus to suffer for my sins. I do not believe in a God whose inner need for justice is satisfied when his son is nailed to a cross. I regard the substitutionary version of atonement as a barbarian attack on both the truth of God and the meaning of human life.” (ii)

 John Loftus, ex-evangelical minister, now atheist preacher and writer “If Jesus was to provide such a good, self-sacrificing example, why didn’t he go around healing everyone of their illnesses and raising the dead…why not feed the hungry and stop the wars, earthquakes and famines. There are many other ways he could have showed that he loved us that would have been more powerful testimony than dying on a cross as a moral example.” (p. 404)
“My claim is that there is no atonement theory that reasonably explains why Jesus died on the cross.” (p. 399)
“There is also the problem of the final punishment in hell. If Jesus suffered in my place so that I can go to heaven instead of to hell, then apart from Jesus’ suffering, I should be punished for my sins by being sent to hell when I die. But what has any of us ever done to deserve the kind of punishment Jesus suffered, much less to deserve hell itself? All through my entire life I have never met nor heard of a single person who deserved such a punishment. Never.” (p.406)
“None of the atonement theories considered actually makes any sense of the supposed atonement offered to God on our behalf in Jesus. All of them are debunked by believers who hold to differing views, so we can just sit back, let them do their thing, and watch the destruction. When they criticize each other I think they are all right. Given nearly two millennia of theological discussions, I’d venture to say there will never be a cogent, well-argued theory that can ever pass muster in the future either. I think the whole idea of Jesus dying for my sins to restore me to God is built upon the beliefs of a superstitious  ancient world, where Gods and Goddesses were pleased with sacrifices, whether they were human or animal ones. This ancient world is long gone now, with its kings and barbaric punishments, so it’s time to give up believing in an incarnate god who offered a sacrifice for us on a cross to atone for our sins.” (p.409)  (iii)

In the Hebrew (Old) Testament God tells us “The person who sins will die. The father will not bear the punishment for the son’s iniquities, nor will the son bear the punishment for the father’s iniquities. The righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (iv)

         yeshuatree

Related phenomena:

  • The fall
  • Original sin
  • The garden of Eden
  • Ransom
  • We are washed in the blood of the lamb
  • Being saved
  • Jesus died for our sins
  • Redemption
  • Accepting Jesus as your personal saviour
  • Salvation Army?

Xerox2601098

     Some thoughts on the subject – trying to get all analytical here!

  • What did Jesus say about it?
  • Did he even expect to die on the cross – and did he know he was doing it for us?
  • Did we (i.e. any human being at any point in time) ask him to do it? – I hope he didn’t do it in my name – I never wanted him to or asked him to!
  • Do the early sources,  i.e.  Q and Thomas and Mark, agree with the later gospels?
  • How closely does the Passion story follow the Hebrew (Old) Testament stories of sacrificial lambs? What does it mean?
  • Did the early church believe the substitutionary atonement theory that Packer outlines?
  • How have atonement theories evolved over the centuries?
  • How many atonement theories are there,  how do theologians classify them?
  • Without his betrayal by Judas the whole crucifixion thing might never have happened – the whole act of atonement hinges on his treachery. So if Judas was indispensible for the carrying out of God’s will, doesn’t that make him some sort of unrecognised hero? Did he have any choice in the matter, or did god just use him as a pawn? I think we should be told!
  • What are the mechanics of it? How does a Roman execution 2000 years ago impact on our peccadilloes today?

I doubt we’ll get any clearcut answers. I’ll list whatever turns up in my reading over the next few months, i.e. this Post, like all the others will be edited and updated from time to time.

“Genesis 3 (the fall) is ignored by Jews and by Jesus, and is downplayed by the catholic church. Paul picks up the idea at the end of the bible and says we can only atone for all our sins by accepting Christ; meanwhile by-passing piggy-in-the-middle Jesus who keeps talking about mercy and forgiveness instead!” (v)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
554: Four reasons why Jesus didn’t die for your sins
Images #4: Jesus on the cross
Jesus the subversive
649:Help me out here. How does atonement work in practice?

Sources:

(i)    Packer, J. “Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs”  IVP (1993)

(ii)  Spong, J.S. “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism”  Harper (1991)

(iii)  Loftus, J. “Why I became an atheist: A former preacher rejects Christianity.” Prometheus (2012)

(iv)  Ezekiel 18:20

(v)  Talk by Lloyd Pietersen at Anabaptist day school in London, November 2012

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