Friday 28 February 2014

What happened at Christ's Atonement?


It is sometimes hard to grasp that Jesus Christ did more than one thing for us; what he did cannot be reduced to a single explanation or principle.


What Christ did could not be done by God the Father; and it could only be done by the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension - and also the atonement. It could not be done any other way except the way it was done.


What Christ did could only be done voluntarily, by Christ's free choice to be incarnated as a mortal man, and to experience all that came after - step-by-step all the temptations, joys, sorrows, love and suffering - all chosen.


Without Christ, when Men died their spirits would remained severed from their bodies (always maimed, no resurrection), their 'selves' would be incomplete, and their sins would be retained and have effect through eternity.


If there had been no atonement, Men would have been resurrected to eternal life; but that life would not be Heaven, but instead an endless perpetuation of earthly life - with a continued accumulation of sin and the effects of sin, and no ability to escape the worst of people and the worst of their acts - it would therefore become an ever-worsening Hell.


Christ's atonement freed us from that horrible possibility, and now we may be resurrected with perfected bodies and cleansed spirits: Christ absorbed our sins.

But what does this mean, how can it be understood?


The atonement does not really make sense as a physical process - because it is essential that our acceptance and love of Christ be a voluntary choice.

That is the clue - it is a choice of a relationship.


I understand the atonement to be a matter of making it possible for us to join the divine family of God.

It is a matter of a new, and perfected, and eternal, set of relationships as Children of God; living in the Family of God - potentially enjoying relationships with God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, our families, 'neighbours', and any Men who choose (or rather, who accept) this Heavenly life.


The atonement makes it possible for these divine family relationships to be permanent (once we have chosen to accept them).

Without the atonement we might 'change our minds' or exercise our freedom of choice, our autonomous agency, to reject and attack these relationship (and make Heaven into Hell).

Without the atonement we might destroy good and embrace evil by our future choices.


However, our cleansing and perfection done by the atonement makes it possible for our choice of good to be a permanent and binding choice - it is not just about Christ having absorbed and negated all past sins (wrong choices), but all possible future sins (wrong choices).

The atonement thus negates all false and fake realities.


The atonement made it possible for us to be both free and safe. It made our salvation irrevocable.



sayingthetruthisofensive said...

Wow. The atonement. The key and core of Christianity. And yet, it has always been the hardest thing to accept intellectually (but not spiritually).

When you say: "If there had been no atonement, Men would have been resurrected to eternal life; but that life would not be Heaven, but instead an endless perpetuation of earthly life"

Well, wouldn't it be better to think that, without atonement, there is not eternal life?

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

1 John 5:13-14

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

This seems to suggest that faith implies eternal life. Disbelief implies a "Sheol/Hades" existence with the soul maimed of the body.

After all, if Jesus brought good news, they have to be understood in the context of the previous beliefs about the afterlife: that, is Hades/Sheol (because lack of afterlife was not believed by anybody back then).

David said...

Novice Christian, spoiler alert :-)

I feel intuitively I have an understanding of the 'value' of the act of Jesus's suffering, death and resurrection and I have come to accept it as true at a non-rational level that works for me. This understanding is beyond words and based on a chosen faith that is a new and exciting thing for me. Perhaps like love. I cannot prove it but I 'know' beyond doubt it is true. But I feel like I need to arm myself with some intellectually robust arguements to deepen my understanding and, God willing, persuade some doubters and cynics that do not yet believe. I worry about them a lot more now that I am a Christian and I feel my work is cut out for me to help lead them away from the 'church of evolution' let by a certain Richard Dawkins and at least be open to letting God enter their life like I feel it has mine. Anyway, I digress. My question:

Who did Christ pay when he died for our sins? God? Well he is God so that makes no sense to me. Satan? To release us from the bondage of following the serpent out of paradise into a fallen world ruled by him? Did he need to restore Eve's original sin in some deep transcendental sense to restore the tribe of human creatures back to their originally intended state in harmony with the father by paying in suffering the sins of all mankind personally? Perhaps this is just nonsensical grasping for understanding but I seem to be a compulsive thinker on these things.

Happy Saint Patricks day :-)

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - The question of who did Christ pay when he died for our sins does not make sense to me either.

God is our loving Father - why would he demand payment? I find this whole line of judicial explanations to be incoherent.

But if not that, then what?...

These are my thoughts on the atonement, so far: