On Atonement

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Following on yesterday's post regarding how to look at sin, I had a brief e-mail exchange that resulted in the ideas of the previous post and in some odd notions regarding Jesus and the Crucifixion.

I should preface everything I say here by stating that wherever these statements deviate from the fullness of Church teaching on the subject, they do so not out of malice but out of ignorance, and I would gladly accept any forthcoming fraternal correction so that these thoughts, no matter how slight and poorly attended might not lead one of God's precious children astray.

Our conversation grew out of the sense that God did not so much need Christ to die as we needed Christ to die. I think of it in terms of what Jesus told the Jewish people regarding the law of divorce. It was not that divorce was a good thing, or even really an acceptable thing, but rather that it was a thing granted to them because of their hardness of heart. If there had been any other way to break the hardness of the human heart other than the death of God Himself, God would have used it. Indeed, through time He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to tell the people of Israel how much He loved them and how enduring His love was. They could not hear this--they killed the prophets or ignored them. The hardness of the human heart sets diamond to shame.

In a nutshell this is what I shared with my correspondent:

Before becoming a Christian in (mumble) standing, I was a semi-practicing Baha'i (a faith for which I still have deep love and respect). In the Baha'i faith Baha'u'llah was sent to prison as a result of his faith. Let me tell you--"Baha was sent to prison for your sins," didn't hammer home the truth that "Christ died for your sins." In other words, I've never thought that God needed Christ to die to forgive us (and I may be wrong in that) but that we needed Christ to die to believe it.

You know how you never trust something that is really cheap--cheap grace. Jesus went on trial for your sins is a kind of cheap grace. Death, though, we understand at the root and core of being. Christ died speaks to us. Yes I know there's the doctrine of the atonement, which, frankly I don't completely understand, I merely accept as the truth. But the truth in my heart is that someone loved me enough to die for me. That should provoke some sort of

In short, even if our sins could have been redeemed by anything short of the death of Jesus, we would not have accepted it. Heck, look around you today and see how many accept it. In fact, look at the Muslims, who have enormous respect for Jesus as Prophet--they cannot accept either his sonship nor the fact of his death on the Cross to redeem humanity.

The truth is that the stubbornness of the human heart is so great that only the greatest hammerblow of grace can even start to crack the façade of it. God may, in some mysterious way, require the death of His Son to achieve atonement; however, I think it is safe to say that we require it even more.

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If there had been any other way to break the hardness of the human heart other than the death of God Himself, God would have used it. ...The hardness of the human heart sets diamond to shame. -- Steven Riddle Read More

Fallen man is a criminal who cannot be redeemed by any human means because such redemption would only lead to destruction in some other form. -- Steven Riddle (In other words, you can't save yourself; only God can. The trick then is to let Him. Let go;... Read More


I took a tour of temples in the Chicago area and the Baha'i Temple was one of them. It is an imposing temple. I think maybe every Christian comes to grips with "Christ died for our sins" in their own way. With me, since I'd read "The Golden Bough" and saw the similarities between the Passion of Christ and the Roman Saturnalia and Babylonia Sacaea and Scapegoating and all manner of ancient pagan practices... I came to believe the ancient festivals were a foreshadowing, a prevenient grace, leading people to the truth of what was to come.

Yes since nearly all pre-modern societies practiced some form Scapegoating (either by teasing/torturing/shunning the runt of the litter, or by sacrificing the best of the litter as the case in sacrificing a beautiful young virgin), it's almost as though Christ said, "you want a scapegoat, here I am" in an attempt to end scapegoating once and for all.

Christ suffwered enough and died painfully enough so we would recognize the extent of the sacrifice. I like that a lot.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 18, 2005 7:40 AM.

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