Friday, August 14, 2009

Is The Atonment Unfiar to God's Son?


I received these comments as new on a post several years (December 2007 Introducing Atheist Watch) For some odd reason people still comment on that one even though it's so old the search engine for my blog wont list it. But these comments are from someone named Bill Walker and I thought it would be good to answer them in the main section.

55 PM
billwalker said...

Our sun is one of hundreds of billions in the milky way. Our galaxy is one of hundreds of billions of galaxy. One wonders how did our creator happen to choose OUR piddling planet at that point in time to send his only son to be tortured & killed for OUR sins ?Could he not just say I forgive you ? Actually, it was my mkistake for making such poor sinful creatures You may have noticed that I don't type very well.I chave only one too big finger. Sorry about that.

This guys seems more upset with the atonement than with anything else. First things first, there's no reason to believe that God either made earth first and created a whole universe to go with it, or that he created a whole universe and then just chose one little planet to have life. There is no reason why a Christian is required to believe that there aren't millions of habitable planets with intelligent life in the whole universe. The universe may well be teaming wiht intelligent life as we see portrayed on Star Trek and in other science fiction worlds. This prospect raises questions about Jesus' atonement. Did Jesus die just for humans or for the whole universe? Should little green men be gathered at the cross? I think it's more logical to keep the atonement within the bounds of humanity. Let's wait until we meet some LGM to decide further. Theoretically I can the idea that each species (defined by what ocean it spawned in) would have its own relationship to God. I fail to see what arrangement should draw the ire of skeptics.

As for Bill's problems with the notion of atonement. I have a section on one my pages on Doxa that answers this specifically in terms of "is it unfair to God's son?" But before Getting to that let's look at the whole issue of Atonement.

This topic can get extremely complex or remain extremely simple. I am going to try and choose a middle ground, by focusing on just a few issues that usually come up in connection with the idea of Salvation.(note: all verses NIV--New International Version unless otherwise noted. This choice is based purely on personal preference. I feel that the NIV is the most elequant for a modern translation. It offers the clearest modern English while preserving the poetic beauty of the Bible. Ther are other versions that may support my readings better, or not as well, that is not a consideration in choosing the NIV).

I.The Atonement: God's Solidarity With Humanity.

A. The inadequacy of Financial Transactions

Many ministers, and therefore, many Christians speak of and think of Jesus' death on the cross as analogs to a financial transaction. Usually this idea goes something like this: we are in hock to the devil because we sinned. God pays the debt we owe by sending Jesus to die for us, and that pays off the devil. The problem with this view is the Bible never says we owe the devil anything. We owe God. The financial transaction model is inadequate. Matters of the soul are much more important than any monetary arrangement and business transactions and banking do not do justice to the import of the issue. Moreover, there is a more sophisticated model; that of the sacrifice for sin. In this model Jesus is like a sacrificial lamb who is murdered in our place. This model is also inadequate because it is based on a primitive notion of sacrifice. The one making the sacrifice pays over something valuable to him to appease an angry God. In this case God is paying himself. This view is also called the "propitiation view" becuase it is based upon propitiation, which means to turn away wrath. The more meaningful notion is that of Solidarity. The Solidarity or "participatory" view says that Jesus entered human history to participate in our lot as finite humans, and he dide as a means of identifying with us. We are under the law of sin and death, we are under curse of the law (we sin, we die, we are not capable in our own human strength of being good enough to merit salvation). IN taking on the penalty of sin (while remaining sinless) Jesus died in our stead; not in the manner of a premature animal sacrifice (that is just a metaphor) but as one of us, so that through identification with us, we might identify with him and therefore, partake of his newness of life.

B. Christ the Perfect Revelation of God to Humanity

In the book of Hebrews it says "in former times God spoke in many and various ways through the prophets, but in these latter times he has spoken more perfectly through his son." Jesus is the perfect revelation of God to humanity. The prophets were speaking for God, but their words were limited in how much they could tell us about God. Jesus was God in the flesh and as such, we can see clearly by his character, his actions, and his teachings what God wants of us and how much God cares about us. God is for humanity, God is on our side! The greatest sign of God's support of our cause as needy humans is Jesus death on the cross, a death in solidarity with us as victims of our own sinful hearts and societies. Thus we can see the lengths God is will to go to to point us toward himself. There are many verses in the Bible that seem to contradict this view. These are the verses which seem to say that Atonement is perpitational.

C. Death in Solidarity with Victims

1) Support from Modern Theologians

Three Major Modern Theologians support the solidarity notion of atonement: Jurgen Moltmann (The Crucified God), Matthew L. Lamb (Solidarity With Victims), and D.E.H. Whiteley (The Theology of St. Paul).In the 1980s Moltmann (German Calvinist) was called the greatest living protestant theologian, and made his name in laying the groundwork for what became liberation theology. Lamb (Catholic Priest) was big name in political theology, and Whiteley (scholar at Oxford) was a major Pauline scholar in the 1960s.In his work The Crucified God Moltmann interprets the cry of Jesus on the cross, "my God my God why have you forsaken me" as a statement of solidarity, placing him in identification with all who feel abandoned by God.Whiteley: "If St. Paul can be said to hold a theory of the modus operandi [of the atonement] it is best described as one of salvation through participation [the 'solidarity' view]: Christ shared all of our experience, sin alone excepted, including death in order that we, by virtue of our solidarity with him, might share his life...Paul does not hold a theory of substitution..." (The Theology of St. Paul, 130)An example of one of the great classical theologians of the early chruch who held to a similar view is St. Irenaeus (according to Whiteley, 133).

2) Scriptural

...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore buried with him in baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him; the death he died to sin he died once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Chrsit Jesus.(Romans 6:1-5)

In Short, if we have united ourselves to Christ, entered his death and been raised to life, we participate in his death and resurrection though our act of solidairty, united with Christ in his death, than it stands to reason that his death is an act of solidarity with us, that he expresses his solidarity with humanity in his death.

This is why Jesus cries out on the cross "why have you forsaken me?" According to Moltmann this is an expression of Solidarity with all who feel abandoned by God.Jesus death in solidarity creates the grounds for forgiveness, since it is through his death that we express our solidarity, and through that, share in his life in union with Christ. Many verses seem to suggest a propitiatory view. But these are actually speaking of the affects of the solidarity. "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if when we were considered God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! What appears to be saying that the shedding of blood is what creates forgiveness is actually saying that the death in solidarity creates the grounds for reconciliation. IT says we were enemies then we were reconciled to him through the death, his expression of solidarity changes the ground, when we express our solidarity and enter into the death we are giving up to God, we move from enemy to friend, and in that sense the shedding of blood, the death in solidarity, creates the conditions through which we can be and are forgiven. He goes on to talk about sharing in his life, which is participation, solidarity, unity.

D. Meaning of Solidarity and Salvation.

Jurgen Moltmann's notion of Solidarity (see The Crucified God) is based upon the notion of Political solidarity. Christ died in Solidarity whit victims. He took upon himself a political death by purposely angering the powers of the day. Thus in his death he identifies with victims of oppression. But we are all victims of oppression. Sin has a social dimension, the injustice we experience as the hands of society and social and governmental institutions is primarily and at a very basic level the result of the social aspects of sin. Power, and political machinations begin in the sinful heart, the ego, the desire for power, and they manifest themselves through institutions built by the will to power over the other. But in a more fundamental sense we are all victims of our own sinful natures. We scheme against others on some level to build ourselves up and secure our conditions in life. IN this sense we cannot help but do injustice to others. In return injustice is done to us.Jesus died in solidarity with us, he underwent the ultimate consequences of living in a sinful world, in order to demonstrate the depths of God's love and God's desire to save us. Take an analogy from political organizing. IN Central America governments often send "death squads" to murder labor unionists and political dissenter. In Guatemala there were some American organizations which organized for college students to go to Guatemala and escort the leaders of dissenting groups so that they would not be murdered.

The logic was that the death squads wouldn't hurt an American Student because it would bring bad press and shut off U.S. government funds to their military. As disturbing as these political implications are, let's stay focused on the Gospel. Jesus is like those students, and like some of them, he was actually killed. But unlike them he went out of his way to be killed, to be victimized by the the rage of the sinful and power seeking so that he could illustrate to us the desire of God; that God is on our side, God is on the side of the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, and the lost. Jesus said "a physician is not sent to the well but to the sick."The key to salvation is to accept God's statement of solidarity, to express our solidarity with God by placing ourselves into the death of Christ (by identification with it, by trust in it's efficacy for our salvation).

E. Atonement is a Primitive Concept?

This charge is made quite often by internet-skeptics, especially Jewish anti-missionaries who confuse the concept with the notion of Human sacrifice. But the charge rests on the idea that sacrifice itself is a premature notion. If one commits a crime, someone else should not pay for it. This attack can be put forward in many forms but the basic notion revolves around the idea that one person dying for the sins of another, taking the penalty or sacrificing to remove the guilt of another is a premature concept. None of this applies with the Participatory view of the atonement (solidarity) since the workings of Christ's death, the manner in which it secures salvation, is neither through turning away of wrath nor taking upon himself other's sins, but the creation of the grounds through which one declares one's own solidarity with God and the grounds through which God accepts that solidarity and extends his own; the identification of God himself with the needs and cry of his own creation.

F. Unfair to Jesus as God's Son?

Internet skeptics sometimes argue that God can't be trusted if he would sacrifice his son. This is so silly and such a misunderstanding of Christian doctrine and the nature of religious belief that it hardly deserves an answer. Obviously God is three persons in one essence, the Trinity , Tribune Godhead. Clearly God's act of solidarity was made with the unanimity of a single Godhead. God is not three God's, and is always in concert with himself.

Walker keeps speaking as though God is "torturing" someone else. But he is Jesus, so Jesus is God torturing himself, in reality. Since the Trinity is three persona in one essence, Christ (the Logos of God) was fully participating and on board in the decision making process. As a flesh and blood man Jesus in the Gospel is portrayed as getting cold feet to show the depths of the sacrifice but he did say "not my will but thine be done." That no doubt was an example to us, since his perfection would have meant he would have that attitude anyway. But the Logos was fully participating in the decision so God is torturing himself not some innocent little helpless son has nothing to do with it.

I've met atheists before who get hung up on the idea that Jesus was victimized by God. But I think it's just an excuse to stave off the conviction in their hearts that Christ died for them and they know they owe a debt but don't want to acknowledge it.

Bill comes back with a rejoinder:

Are you suggesting that the creator sends his ONLY son on a sort of Cook's tour of the cosmos to be tortured & killed by the indigenous creatures of countless planets for THEIR presumed sins ?

I don't think I said anything that would imply that the atonement is payed out again an again. I think each race has it's own relationship with God. So in other words if there are people on say the Planet Thanagar, they man not need atonement. Maybe the people on Krypton weren't fallen, and thus don't need redemption. Or maybe they did but God procured redemption in a different way for them. They are not us. Perhaps the statement of solidarity that would reach them is different than the one that reaches us the best.

What really bothers me is they we he can't seem to understand what it means to say "Jesus is the divine incarnation of the Logos, so he is the divine and thus he is part of the decision making. To put it crudely and with less astute theology, Jesus is God so it's God torturing himself. But Walker still tries to cultivate the issue that Jesus is the defenseless little boy cheated by his Dad into being tortured. that is a falsehood.

The stresses the idea for "their presumed sins." As thought "what does God know? It's not his place to say if I'm sinful or not." well yea it is. God is the only valid one who can say it. You can't say you are not sinful, you did not make the rule and do you not have all knowledge. You don't know yourself. We all think we know ourselves but we are also capable of deceiving ourselves. God is the only one who can see your heart and knows what you feel better than you do. He is perfect so he doesn't have his own flaws to get in the way, he can feel everything you feel he knows just what it's like to be you. God knows what it's like to be you better than you do.

The main thing is the solidarity notions changes the whole issue. It's not someone being punished to pay for other the sins of others, its someone sharing in the fate of others to show that God cares about us. When we return the solidarity it creates the ground of forgiveness.

5:29 PM
billwalker said...

I do not understand this insistence that Atheists are a 'hate group'.We are the same as christians & they are like us. We're both agreed on the non-existence of a huge number of gods created by our primitive, tribal ancestors. We atheists simply disbelieve in one or a few more than Christians. Period ! Try to wrap your mind around this.

That's a different issue. I'll answer that on Atheist Watch


Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

I seem to recall a Christmas hymn one time at the Presbyterian church I grew up at that was about Jesus being born on other planets too. Sort of reminded me of C.S. Lewis's Narnia and the Aslan parallel.

tinythinker said...

The first part of your reply reminded me of an episode of South Park in which the town's priest, Father Maxi, goes to Vatican City to deal with the abuse scandals rocking the Church. There he learns of a group of green-skinned aliens from another world, the Gelgameks, who are part of the Catholic Church. Upon suggesting that Catholic rules be changed allowing priests to have sex with women, the Gelgamek Catholics strenuously object because of the horrific and deadly nature of the female Gelgamek reproductive anatomy. In turn Father Maxi suggests that what works on Gelgamek may not work on Earth...

Anyhow, Fr. Thomas Keating who vividly described the situation of atonement in one his books, Manifesting God:

"Forgiveness is only complete when both persons forgive each other. This is what reconciliation is. It is the triumph of Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Reconciliation is the central theme of the Gospel.

"We must above all forgive God for what we do not like in our ourselves and lives. The experience of God's forgiveness heals our wounds and enables us to forgive ourselves even if others refuse to give us. This is an enormous boost to our confidence in God and in our true selves.

"How can we know if we have been forgiven by God? By fully forgiving others. In this way we know with certainty that God has forgiven us and thus we can finally forgive ourselves.

"In Christ's death, That Which Is becomes that which is not. God cannot die of course, but God can die in us. The Son became one of us in order to manifest who the Father is. In some way, God dies in Jesus' death. The Eternal Word of God becomes silent. All that the Father is -- Godself -- is battered, crucified, and destroyed in Jesus, its human form. The love that is beyond love, however, remains: Infinite Love sacrificing itself out Infinite Love.

"What remains when the Son gives up Infinite Love for the Father by becoming sin? That is the Ultimate Reality that we call God in the Christian religion: love beyond love beyond love."

(page 29)

Of course, Keating seems to embrace panentheism and the "God is the ocean/we are waves" analogy, so the idea that God dies in us shouldn't be taken to mean we a truly separate from God. This is clear in the rest of the book and from his other writings. But what dies is our true awareness and (fully active) participation in God. In fact, on the very next couple of pages Keating writes "A fundamental truth of the Judeo-Christian revelation is that we are made in the image of God. That image is our basic goodness. Nothing on Earth, in the next life, or anywhere else can ever change it. It is the source of the immense dignity of every human being. Each person has the innate capacity for divine union."

tinythinker said...

And then there is my extension that I have written here and there on the web...

"From a panentheistic point of view, everything is Divine. A wave is made of water, but it isn't the entire ocean. If you get rid of all of the waves, eventually there is no more ocean, so to get to know the ocean, become familiar with the waves. The ocean itself is too vast to comprehend in an intellectual sense, but we can still go float in it and experience it directly (which is especially meaningful when we realize we are part of the ocean). The other half, that we can know the ocean by knowing a wave, is important to your question. It is reflected in the Jewish teaching that Jesus taught was supreme - that to know and love God is to know and love others. The Gospels paint a picture of someone who embraces and embodies this Wisdom and lives the teaching every day, every moment, including his willingness to give up his life.

"The problem is that in conveying this to the people at his time, the apostles chose different ways of speaking to the people's understanding, to bridge the definitions/perception of divinity and humanity they work with. There were many stories that kings and rulers used to justify their legitimacy. Many of the ways of telling Christ's story inverted these standard tropes - for example being born in a manger. In other cases the symbols were crossed or exaggerated to try to make a point to the audience. This was also true of the stories after his death. For example, substitutionary atonement works up to a point a s a metaphor, but if it doesn't lead you to the bigger picture, it can stagnate into something awful like Calvinism as people start to undue the universalist tone of Christ and try to sneak selectivism back in to the picture.

"The way I understand the correct usage of that particular theological model is that we are all already embraced by God but we cannot see it or accept it. It is our duality of thinking, of God and not-God, of exaggerating the objective reality of good and evil, that keeps us from accepting this truth and resting in God. This way of thinking, of a cosmic struggle, of us and them, is clearly expressed in the most concrete of terms in the Bible. But that doesn't mean we are just supposed to accept that view without further thought or reflection, as the flat-thinking folks would have us believe. It does however, when combined with what Christ taught, ask us to follow through. Christ had to die because we are the ones who see a distance between ourselves and God, because we give our faith to such distinctions. It isn't God's sense of justice that must be satisfied - it is our own. That is a fuller picture of how to appreciate substitutionary atonement in my humble opinion."

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Mike that reminds me of that Start Treck episode, you know the one, the original: "It's the son not the Sun."

Tiny, these are great comments I'll get back with you by the end of the day.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Tiny, I love those quotes. That's great. I don't share the fundie fear of Pantheism. I know you said PanEntheism but to a fundie it;s the same thing.

I am not an pantheist, however. I have called myself a panentheist as did Tilich. With the Gaswami view of consciousness the fear of Pantheism is gone. I mean it really should be done away. the problem is that impersonal nature of the pantheist god. But if consciousness is the basis of reality than God is that consciousness.

tinythinker said...

I know you sometimes have issues reading because of your dyslexia but I should point out that both my comments said "panentheism" not "pantheism".

tinythinker said...

Ahh, now I have a reading problem. I missed your first paragraph. Nevermind. And actually many non-fundy theists and atheists fail to make the distinction as well.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Ahh, now I have a reading problem. I missed your first paragraph. Nevermind. And actually many non-fundy theists and atheists fail to make the distinction as well.

I know. I covered that. I guess I didn't make it clear.

the fundies fear panethism so anything ghat seems similar they just write as pantheism whether it's really the same or not. That's what they to panENtheism

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I know you sometimes have issues reading because of your dyslexia but I should point out that both my comments said "panentheism" not "pantheism".

hu? I can't read that. My reading problem caused by dyslexia is interfering so I can't make what you are saying. I'll have to make my defense of my use Panetheism in another way and hope I decipher this at some future time.