Friday, September 19, 2008

A Question About Atonement

There has been a old line that atheists used about God: "Can God make a rock that God cannot lift?" Of course, this kind of physical limitation of God is one that's supposed to drive theists nuts, but it actually leads me to another thought, specifically about the atonement.

The traditional idea behind the atonement (death of Jesus as payment for our sins) is that the relationship between God and humans is irrevocably broken. The sin that we commit separates us from God. And because God is Holy and cannot be in the presence of that which is not holy, we cannot be in relationship with God. Only because Jesus died as a sacrifice for us was God's anger/wrath removed and God could could then return to relationship with us.

So here's the thought. The implication of this idea is that there is a law that even God cannot break. That what is Holy and Other cannot mix with that which is not. Some might say that God's Holiness is not really a part of a law per se, but a part of God's nature and for God to mingle with unholiness would be as foreign to that nature as a cat trying to fly.

But here's the question that I have. Is the Law/Rule of Holiness more powerful than God? Is this a law so powerful that even God cannot break it?


Jeff said...

I have thoughts, but don't know if I could put into written word. I declare this a discussion best suited over coffee.

Keith Brenton said...

I can forgive people who have no desire nor intention of asking for my forgiveness. Sometimes it's not easy. But I can do it. I'll bet you can, too.

Does that make us unholy? Does it make us somehow holier than God? Or does it just make us "not God"?

My sense of atonement is that God could have forgiven all of us for everything. He is God, and we are not. We tend to want to forget that and live as we wish, sometimes even if others are hurt. But He created us - He knows that WE need someone to make atonement for us; that WE need to not settle for a less-than-perfect example; that WE need to be reminded how much He loves us and how far He will go to express it.

Even to a cross, naked and beaten and whipped and exhausted.

My sense of atonement is that there is also something much larger at stake than our salvation; that we who follow Christ are "put on display" as examples of beings who will choose what is right and good and God's nature, believe on Him and try to imitate Him never having seen Him face-to-face two thousand years after the incarnation. And that if we can do that by faith, then the judgment He proclaims on the celestial ones who turned against Him, having seen and known His glory, is proven just.

All that was required to inspire that faith was one perfect act of self-sacrifice, foretold for centuries, agonized over in a garden, acquiesced to in ultimate love and grace - and executed with the full force of sin and Satan behind it.

Is it impossible for God to be in the presence of sin? 2 Cor. 5:21 says that He who was without sin was made sin for us. Does that make Him any less God?

The problem here, I think, comes when you think of Jesus and God the Father (and their Holy Spirit) only as different beings, without also being one.

Thomas McKenzie said...

Excellent question, Phil. Why can't God just get over it?

I hate it when people try to make God subject to some greater objective "truth." Give me a break.

To your question:

I think that we underestimate God's character. It seems to me God could have "handled" sin, humanity, the universe, the covenant any way he wanted, like not making things at all (for instance). But God chose to do it this way. And we are left trying to figure out if He could have done it some other way. Sure he could have. But he didn't. He chose to reveal the depth of his love by becoming the incarnation of ComPassion: He Suffers With. And For. And To. Us.

God is not beholding to his "nature." That would assume someone else made him or is above him. No, God chose to do things this way for his own reasons (which i will never understand). But I do know through what he did that his love for his creation is greater than any other love we will ever see. And that should provide some comfort, if not a "good" answer.

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