Dictionary.com defines atonement as, “satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.”
So is Jesus satisfying or repairing a wrong or injury that was done when He dies on the cross? If so, who was wronged? God? Us? The Universe? Why must this wrong be paid for with death? Is blood the only way God can forgive? Is innocent blood the only thing that can put us right with God?
These are all questions we should be asking when we come to the subject of atonement. I will approach this subject from a belief I have come to hold which says that God’s atonement was not to satisfy a Divine need for justice or for blood, but ours. I believe we are the bloodthirsty ones. We are the ones who need sacrifice. God has always provided the sacrifice so that we humans can feel worthy to approach our Papa. However, the more perfect way, is that we learn to approach Abba without sacrifice, without the bridge, rather that we approach God as children running to their father with hope in our eyes and love in our hearts.
I believe that sacrifice is a human institution. I believe there is something within all of us which feels we must pay a price to approach whatever god it is we serve. Human culture is embedded in this idea of an economy of exchange. I once saw a Facebook post from Caleb Miller which said, “If we could get an economy of exchange out of our religion we would be a lot better off.” That has really stuck with me.
“But there is so much sacrifice in the Bible!” you say. This is true. Sacrifice is all through the Bible. But is it possible, that maybe…just maybe God has been trying since the dawn of humanity to pull us out of this sacrificial idea and into the knowledge of God’s immeasurable goodness and love?
Let us take the story of Abraham and Isaac. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son. I used to find it peculiar that Abraham did not argue with God about this. We see plenty of places in the Abraham story where he argues, debates and even tries to make deals with God. But when God asks him to kill his son, no questions asked. Why do you think that is? You see, in Abraham’s day child sacrifice was a normal thing for gods to ask of you. At that time Abraham had no reason to believe the god he was communicating with was very different than the gods he had heard about most of his life. He was, however, about to find out how radically different his god was from those other gods.
So Abraham takes his son Isaac up the mountain and just when he is about to murder his son, God stops him. Now, most times when I hear this story I have heard people say that Abraham is a foreshadowing of God the Father while Isaac is a foreshadowing of Jesus and that God the Father will sacrifice Jesus to save us from our sins. But that is not how this story goes is it? Abraham does not sacrifice Isaac. I believe that Abraham is a foreshadowing of all of humanity. I am Abraham. You are Abraham. We stand at the mountaintop with a knife in our hand ready to sacrifice all we hold dear that we may draw near to God.
What does God do? God stops us from killing one another. God provides the sacrifice. The story of humanity is that WE are the killers. WE are the ones who need blood. God gave Abraham a ram and from that point on people knew that the God of Abraham and Isaac did not desire human sacrifice. Over time God began to send prophets who tried to tell the people that this whole sacrificial system was not something God desires. But we did not listen. Once we had our plan laid out as to how to approach God and how to keep the “other” from approaching God we ran with it.
So finally, the Word of God becomes flesh. God enters our world and begins picking apart all the things we have taught ourselves about the Divine. See I believe the injury that must be repaired was done by us…and to us. We injured ourselves. We taught ourselves that God was like us. We convinced ourselves that God needs blood and justice to be with us when the whole time God is trying to scream to us JUST LET ME LOVE YOU!!!
So God puts on flesh and atones for us by becoming one of us. God walks around as a vagabond preacher telling us deep truths of what God is really like. God atones for us by letting us make God our sacrifice. God atones for us by forgiving us even as we brutally murder the Divine. God atones for us by defeating death. That while God reigns over death that we too, would also reign over death. God atones for us by sending the Holy Spirit that we may be able to, as Jesus did, “do only what I see my Father do.”
Jesus came to completely and utterly destroy the sacrificial system once and for all by allowing us to make Him the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus was the ultimate Trojan horse in a sense as He entered into the most toxic belief we as humans hold, and annihilated it…or at least, I think, that was the hope.
So as we enter Palm Sunday and Holy Week we must remember that Jesus came to pull us OUT of this idea that we must give something to get something with God. That is not God’s character. God is a perfect Father AND Mother. We are drawn into the presence of God with laughter and dancing and singing and rejoicing.
Remember this friends, God has ALWAYS been FOR you. The entire Biblical narrative is about God opening our eyes to see that fact. Let your eyes be opened this Lent to see that God is for you. God is with you. God longs for you to see the perfect parenting which emanates from the heart of God.
Perhaps that is why Jesus only refers to God as Abba, or daddy. Jesus was trying to remind us of who God is. Remember who God is.
God is love.
I must give credit where it is due here. Many of these ideas are ideas I have gleaned from many different authors. If you would like to look into any of them I suggest Rob Bell, Jeff Turner, Michael Hardin, Rene Girard, Brian Zahnd and many others. These are just a few whose words were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote this blog.