Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Theories of Christ's Atonement - Christ absorbing the sins of the world


First - there does not need to be a theory of Christ's atoning sacrifice which saved us from sin and gifted us eternal life.

Indeed, the above summary is already a theory in that it extracts, summarizes, uses a technical terminology - and, being thus incomplete and biased, like any summary of reality it artificially creates problems: philosophical problems.

Yet there are theories of what happened with Christ's Atonement, great emphasis is placed on some of these theories by some denominations; and there are explanations as to why it happened - why it was necessary, what difference it made...

I find it is hard to avoid having an opinion on this subject; it is hard to avoid worrying about it and trying to explain things to myself.


Theories of Atonement derive from the basic metaphysical set-up.

For me, the set-up includes that the Atonement must be based on God as an always loving Father and us his children; individual free will, or agency, as an immoveable fact of existence; and that Christ acted voluntarily and in full awareness of what He was doing.

So, I see sin as coming from our free will and the fact that we are autonomous agents, God as seeking a way to free us from sin, Christ as the way to free us; and I see the Atonement as a voluntary gift of Christ absorbing all sin – all bad acts and thoughts, and all their consequences – past, present and future.


[That is my primary metaphor: Christ as absorbing the sins of the world. This 'process' happened in the Garden of Gethsemane and continued on the Cross. It was not instantaneous, the process took time - because {and here is another metaphysical assumption} time is a basic reality.]


Therefore not Christ being in any way punished by God the Father. Punishment has literally nothing to do with it.



James_P said...

Traditionally the crucifixion of Christ is seen as the ultimate sacrifice(Lamb of God),if I'm not mistaken in the ancient world the word sacrifice was sometimes used interchangeably for meal,I think that Christ's Atonement was necessary to offer cleasing of sins to all mankind through the Eucharist.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - Sometimes we lose the meaning of a word - which typically becomes narrowed - and indeed the concept becomes literally untranslatable because there is no equivalent concept in our world - life has changed so much that we cannot any longer understand what was originally meant.

George said...

@Bruce - Would a consequence of this be that every time we sin, we are actively hurting Christ?

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - Yes indeed. That certainly seems to be what happens in the Bible - there, God is a God of passions, emotions, responses: He feels joy and anger and He also suffers.

There is more about this in the 'God who weeps' book I recommended yesterday.

All this shouldn't be a problem - but has become a problem due to things like the Westminster Confession of Faith which has the following description of God:

"There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal most just and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty."

Bruce Charlton said...

@G - I should add that the God of the Old Testament is considered by many mainstream and also Mormon scholars/ theologicans to be pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, rather than God the Father.

While I don't reject this, I do find it hard to remember this - and I tend to fall back into assuming that the OT God is God the Father as I always did through most of my life.

I suppose it is *possible* that the OT reference to God is sometimes to The Father and sometimes to the The Son.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

A very brief summary of the Catholic view of Atonement might be of interest to some:
I discovered it is the only theological term of English origin. The authors of the article explain well its meaning with various related notions of Latin origin -- those I knew already, as they are the same in French and in English.

I have issue with the theory of Christ "absorbing" sins rather than taking them on himself (like the Old Testament scapegoat) to pay the price in our stead, if we believe and accept the grace.

I also disagree with the notion of a "process" in time, when Christ's sacrifice is always present, always actual, precisely because he is an eternal Being. Thus the thing really happens in the eternal liturgy, to which God makes us participants and beneficiaries through our earthly liturgies.

Blessed and Happy New Year to you and your family.