Friday, January 09, 2009

Some questions about atonement theory

We might ask this question. If someone offends against you, the Bible says you should forgive them. But you don't have to pay the "price" for their offense, you just forgive and call it even. Apparently with our sins against God, at least according to popular "evangelical" understandings of Christianity, our offenses come with a built-in price (which we would have to go to hell in order to pay), and Christ has to die on the cross in order to pay that price for us so that God the Father (an omnipotent being) can be free to forgive us.

Imagine, further, that we didn't grow up as Christians, hearing this sort of thing in church all our lives. Would this make sense to us?


Ron said...

Probably not. Judgment that leads to punishment for one's sins definitely makes sense. But does eternal punishment in hell make sense? Here, a common evangelical answer is that we have sinned against a perfect God who can't allow any of that stuff in His presence. This does not make sense for many reasons. A better view of atonement is that Christ saves us through his death by our identification with him. We see how we live in accordance with the powers and principalities that put this innocent man to death. We realize that all creation is suffering, whether openly or through a slow process of decay that leads to death. By Christ's death and resurrection, God shows that he loves us and all of creation to the extent that He will save it from evil and death.

unkleE said...

I think one of the major barriers to correct understanding is that the traditional view of hell may not be (IMO is not) true to the teachings of Jesus and the NT.

Jesus said to beware of the one who can destroy body and soul in hell. He warned about eternal punishment, which means in the age to come, not everlasting. He used the image of a garbage tip, where the tip goes on but the things placed there are destroyed.

If we corrected our wrong understanding here, then we'd answer many of the questions.

Ron said...

unkle e,

I believe in Matthew (and the other gospels) use the word "everlasting," when Jesus speaks of hell. Now, this is just the English translation. I've heard universalists claim that the word can be 'of an age,' which wouold not be eternal. Personally, the issue of Hell is perhaps the greatest challenge for the Christian faith. I've sturggled more with this than any other issue. I think it is tied into the whole Problem of Evil which is also perhaps the biggest objection to the faith.

I find myself in danger of developing such a nuanced view of Hell that I don't take it seriously anymore. If Hell is eternal than I don't see how we can prevent that from taking over as the main message of the faith. In this regard, I find the fundamentalists who hand out tracts at the mall warning people about the reality of Hell to be much more honest and loving than the common conservative Christian who basically believes the same thing except he doesn't do much about it.

The 'good news' is about the message of forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ. It is something that ought to produce joy and hope. The traditional doctrine of hell does the opposite. It is much more biblical to hope and contend that God desires the salvation of all people. Fundamentalist preaching comes first at someone as a closed fist (as in a punch) and then an open hand. New Testament Christianity comes as an open hand (a shake offer if you will), an invitation.

Ilíon said...

How can there indeed be forgiveness for the one who does not desire to be forgiven? How can there indeed be desire to be forgiven if one will not admit that one has offended?

How can there indeed be mercy if there is not first justice indeed? How can there indeed be forgiveness if there is not first judgment indeed? How can there indeed be reprieve if there is not first condemnation indeed?

Does the one who has offended *deserve* to be forgiven? Of course not! For, if he deserves to be forgiven, then he has not offended at all; rather one is oneself mistaken in thinking that he has offended.

Perhaps the offender is one's own beloved child (and thus one stands in a position to punish the offence), who did indeed offend. And so one punishes the child; does the child *now* deserve to be forgiven? Of course not! Or, the child, whether before or after the punishment, admits to the offence and truly asks to be forgiven; does the child *now* deserve to be forgiven? Of course not!

Forgiveness is *never* a desert; it is the opposite of what one deserves. But it cannot *really* be given unless it is desired; and it cannot *really* be desired without admission of the offence.

VR:If someone offends against you, the Bible says you should forgive them. But you don't have to pay the "price" for their offense, you just forgive and call it even.

Is that *really* what forgiveness is?

VR:Imagine, further, that we didn't grow up as Christians, hearing this sort of thing in church all our lives. Would this make sense to us?

And yet, for 2000 years people who have not grown up in church seem to have had little or no trouble understanding that they deserve "eternal punishment" and that Christ offers them the escape they do not deserve.

It seems to me that those who have trouble understanding these fact are inevitably those who imagine themselves wise and sophisticated ... and/or refuse to admit that *they* have offended God and that *they* deserve "eternal punishment."

Nick said...

Reason, logic, science, all the advances of humanity, all the progress in eliminating superstition since the enlightenment...and yet for 2000 years people have continued to be suckered into the Jesus cult, the hit god-man cult show that runs and runs and runs.

Yes, I do deny that those I love who are not Christian "deserve" eternal punishment, a man-made idea designed to keep people in the cult through intimidation, the use of fear, the ultimate form of mind control.

Unsurprising, Ilíon, that you refer to your fantasies as "fact".

Ilíon said...

Unsurprising, SE, that you're a fool.

If I were a wagering man, I'd wader that you're also intellectually dishonest. In case you don't fathom that, that's a $10 phrase meaning "liar" -- though, of a very specific sort, and worse, really, that the mere liar.

Nick said...

Ilion Gone Zealous,

All the best liars I know are Christian ones. Thanks for proving it once again.

I'll leave deluded fools like you to your "relationship" with your invisible sky daddy and his zombie son.

Intelligence is Inversely Related to Religiousness

Ilíon said...

You babbling is meaningless in your own terms, you pathetic fool.

Why is it that you pretend-atheists can never stick with your own assertions about the nature of reality? Is it because your assertions about the nature of reality won't work?

Nick said...


I like the name calling, it's very Christian of you.

Here's hoping the fog of delusion lifts from your clouded mind soon.

As for reality, all the wishes in the world won't change it. Learn that fact first, then you might make some progress.


Ilíon said...

What a fool you are!

Oh! Goodness me! A fool imagines that I must concern myself with his straw-man version of Christianity.

Oh! Boo-hoo! A fool imagines that I will quake before his lies about Christianity.

You poor, ignorant thing, stating that you are a fool is not "name-calling," it is asserting a moral fact: you are intellectually dishonest.

Now, why don't you go bother someone who has the time of day for fools?

Nick said...

What a perfect example of the effect Christianity has on some people you are!

Sorry Ilion, but repeating the same words and phrases over and over, e.g., " intellectually dishonest", "fool" etc., is meaningless. Come up with an actual example of one of my "lies".

Now, why don't you go bother someone who has the time of day for fools?

I guess that's why you feel the need to respond to every little comment I make, eh? Hilarious! I love cultists!

Ilíon said...

You're a fool. And you're boring.

Joe said...

If you keep calling people fools, I'm going to start calling you Mr. T.

I do think Ilion makes some good points about forgiving people who don't want to be forgiven. Some people do not want to live as God commands. Some people choose not to do that. Some prefer sin. When people make up their mind to be that way they do not belong in heaven. It wouldn’t be heaven for everyone up there.
Now as to what hell is like, I don't know. It seems that people are separated from God (no room in the mansion) and those who are in heaven. Jesus uses strong language to explain that we do not want to be separated in this way but whether his depictions were literal or not I don't know.

But to answer your question - I tend to agree it doesn’t make sense in a vacuum. People need to understand more about Jesus and other central themes of Christianity.

Ilíon said...

I don't call people 'fool' for the fun of it.

Joe said...

I'm not sure Mr. T did either. Take some pity on the fools and be charitable. :)

Ilíon said...

I am being cheritable. And honest.

What I am not being is "nice."

Hats said...

Ilion, your inane, repetitious rantings are tiring. I suggest a you get a new, more fitting name. How about The Fantastic Bore?

Ilíon said...

Ho-hum. Yet another non-entity, or sockpuppet, who is "bored" with having irrationality pointed out.

Why is it, I wonder, that there are so many people who *demand* that illogic and/or irrationality be given free reign?

Why is it, I wonder, that there are so many people who are, well, bluntly, hypocrites on this foolish "niceness" thingie.

Nick said...

Why is it, I wonder, that there are so many people who *demand* that illogic and/or irrationality be given free reign?

It's given free reign here at Victor's blog with almost every comment you make.

Anonymous said...

Have an out of body experience through deep meditation or excessive drug use (whichever is easier for you, though meditation induced experiences are often more intriguing and recognizable afterwards) and all of your moral dilemmas about "ZOMG NOES HELL, ZOMG NOES HEVVENN, ZOMG NOOOZZ I HAVE TO SAVE YOU" and your "You're intellectually dishonest BeCuz u Don't tink liek MEH!!!!" bullshit should begin to SSSSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLYYYYY fade away... I know it'll be hard for you, to let go of a crutch you've held on to for so long... And I will guarantee you that your ideas of what EXACTLY Heaven, Hell, the afterlife, and the soul, are made of, mean, and where they fit into our understanding of things as humans will change drastically. Hell, you might even realize that the douche bag attitude that you project towards every single person you interact with is rather "un-christian" like. Meh, why did I even bother writing that, nobody here is going to give a shit.


And Ilíon, your constant belligerent attitude will never convince anyone to convert to Christianity even if they were considering it, because there's a pretty good chance that they'll all assume that all devout Christians are massive fuckholes the way that you are.

Blow me you waste of existence.

Ilíon said...

Anonymouse, you're a fool. It's that simple.

Nick said...

Anonymous, don't waste anymore time on Ilíon. Having said that, I agree with your general assessment of this loser. The only fool to comment on this post is Ilíon himself. Fun watching him make a fool out of himself over and over, isn't it?

CoreyC said...

Back to the original post...

I heard an idea in a sermon by Tim Keller once that may shed some light on the question. According to Keller, when someone offends you in any way, you DO have to pay a price for the offense before you can forgive.

Let's say someone offends me by killing my cat. I am fond of my cat, so when someone else kills my cat, it is going to hurt me. What is my immediate reaction going to be? To lash out against them and hurt them back. Why? Hurting them won't get me back my cat. The offense cannot be undone by causing them pain. The only way this reaction makes sense is if we acknowledge that the offense against me has incurred an emotional debt of pain. I have been hurt, therefore the injuring party owes me pain in return. This is the basis of retributive punishment - an eye for an eye.

According to Keller, forgiving someone is not just a matter of saying "Oh, that's ok. I release you from the debt." The debt must be paid somehow. I cannot just look at the man who has killed my cat and say, "Oh well, I'll get another one. No big deal." I could go kill his favorite pet, paying back the pain debt. Another option, far more common than the first in our polite society, would be to sit back and seethe against the man, enjoying every little moment in his life that brought him pain, thus paying down the emotional debt vicariously.

The last option is to pay the debt myself. We do this by constantly pushing back the desire to punish and get revenge. Each time we do so, we re-experience some of the original pain, paying down the debt on their behalf. Every time I remembered my cat, I would have a pang of anger toward the man who killed it. I would endure the anger and the pain of the loss, experiencing pain and paying the debt. Eventually, the debt would be paid and I would forgive him completely.

This image of emotional debt answers well to my experience. It makes sense out of the fact that I find it very difficult to immediately forgive someone who has offended me in any non-trivial way. I may say I forgive them, but there is still that seething underneath. I cannot quickly forgive them because I have not had time to pay down the debt. Once I have, I can let it go completely.

Keller also makes a great point about how this concept relates to the atonement, but if I use much more of his material, I'm going to have to pay him royalties...

(The sermon is titled "Forgiveness and Reconciliation" and can be found at The Redeemer Sermon Store)