Besides being a direct assault on common articulations of the Atonement as being substitutionary in nature, I hope this post/article also hints at the reality that the act of Christ – submitting as He did to being murdered at the Cross – secures the basis upon which God has not only the right, but the obligation, to save all.
It is, of course, rather silly to talk of God being “obligated” to do anything. Is God, for example, “obligated” to Love His creation? Well yes – in the sense that His nature simply will love it; yet no, in that God’s act to Love is (can we not agree this is self-evident?) freely chosen by Him.
The entire premise of the gospel is that a rift has occurred between God and man; and God unilaterally acts to mend that rift. And in so doing, He reconciles us back to Himself. Of acute importance is that the rift was not of God’s making; it was ours. Yet of equal importance is the notion that God none-the-less seized the initiative in winning us back to Himself. He neither waited for, nor needed, the acquiescence of either men or devil. The Atonement was thus His act alone.
And the act then, that brings us back to God, through our Christ, is the Atonement; the willing submission to death on the Cross by the Christ, and His subsequent resurrection. So it seems reasonable to assert that, in ways we’ve yet to comprehend – or perhaps rather in ways that yet dawn upon our minds – the Cross saves and redeems us. And joyful we are for this reality. No doubt can remain, for the Christian, that this is THE event upon which our eternity hinges… And is thus appropriately celebrated.
Did the death of Christ somehow “allow” God to do what He wanted to do anyway? Did it compel Him to do what His common sense told Him not to do?
There is a way of thinking in Christendom, that says that Christ’s death on the Cross was essential to the “plan of salvation”; a “plan” which foresaw, and demanded the death of Christ. And it’s a grand plan; ordained from the foundations of the world. Jesus, the very Son of God, must die to be the proper sin bearer it is thus said. And in this way He “takes away” the sins of the world. Where He takes them exactly, and what His solution is to the veritable “sin factories” we remain, are not disclosed. He died, and thus saves. That’s the formula… Hush: no questions. That’s the ordained way of things.
The death of Christ then emerges as the fulcrum of our salvation. And indeed, what follower of Christ will not recognize this great and saving act as central to his own salvation?
This poses however, an enormous problem for we Christians. For if the death of Christ was essential to facilitate our redemption, it should follow that we extend our thanks to those men who brought that death about. It’s a simple dynamic really; if X is what saves us, and X is God’s explicit plan and desire, we should be grateful for – and bless and adore – any actions which allow and facilitate X.
Which means, necessarily, that we honor and thank those wicked men who contrived to murder the innocent Lord whom we worship and serve as the very Son of God.
No Christian I’ve ever met – of any stripe or shade thereof – has had the courage to submit to this utterly deplorable and reprehensible logic. For the very thought of honor ing the murderous rabble who conspired to thus eliminate the Christ brings not joy, but chill and horror to any Christian. Christ was, simply, murdered by a force which saw Him not as creator and Son, but as threat to the way things were; the power structures of the day.
How then to reconcile this tension?
To celebrate the nobility of Christ’s death, and it’s centrality in our salvation, yet at the same time damn the wickedness of those whose appalling abuse of law and justice brought such a death about? The very death that we hold saves us??
It seems obvious to me that any substitutionary model falls, just here, completely flat and impotent. For God neither desired, nor willed, the death of His Son. He, it seems plain, did not need any “substitution”. Where the killing of an innocent Man repulses us, we should properly imagine God being repulsed unfathomably more. I’m sure God recoiled at this heinous murder of His Son, and to recoil likewise is to share God’s heart. The murder of innocents is against, and wildly so, the ethic of God… Yet this heinous death is the very one which saves.
The tension remains.
So we have a death which is saving (the central pillar of Christianity) yet at the same time deplorable (obvious in it’s departures from justice). How can this be?
(Yes, I know; early version… Much editing required!)
X X X
And this is where I wonder how you would complete the essay. (Tossing in the trash is a form of completion I note!!!)
Note, I’m not asking for a debate about the validity of the penal substitution model. That has occurred elsewhere. And yes, I’m freely admitting my bias against the tortured constraints of that model.
It seems to me that there is a glaring absence, in the literature defending Universal Reconciliation, of explicit linkage of the Fact of the Atonement with the Fact of Universalism. (That’s said of course from the viewpoint of a Universalist! Understand.) I’m very curious why that is – although maybe I’ve misread things and simply MISSED this connection.
Except not only do I want to link the central importance of what happened on the Cross with Universalism, I think that – and this is where the thought is incomplete and embryonic (seems to me that the expectations that only “fully mature” theologies are to be spoken about. Hence the annoying dogmatism we so often encounter on “religious” sites… Why NOT present ideas in their growing and formative stages? Oh well…) – the Fact (I say “fact” because to me it is the most persuasive of the ideas) of Universalism is best supported by a model of the Atonement which denies “Penal Substitution” (except as a useful metaphor).
Of course maybe I’m asking/attempting too much. For it’s quite obvious that the Penal models support Universalism (if Universalism is true) just as much as any other model. In fact, maybe even better! ie if God “paid” the “penalty” of sin via the death of Jesus, then that kind of mere accounting and legal model perhaps is the simplest way of justifying Universalism. ie Jesus “paid” the penalty at the cross, therefore He “paid” the penalty for EVERYONE.
Except I find the Penal Substitution models of the Atonement utterly abhorrent. Mostly for reasons of incoherence and illogic. For example, it’s quite easy to sustain the idea that GOD did not kill Jesus, but WE did. So the “punishment” Christ is said to have endured was ours; not Gods. But that gets absurd to picture SINNERS doing the punishing. That’s irrational.
And of course it’s quite easy to sustain the notion that the act of killing Christ was an appalling crime; NOT the sort of thing that a Just God would be orchestrating behind the scenes. Jesus Himself referred to the way He was being treated as “sin”. So no; it’s most proper and appropriate to label what happened to our Christ as and INJUSTICE – and one of the greatest magnitude. Awkward then any attempts to recruit that injustice as God’s idea to FULFILL justice. (Absurd to ponder how the greatest injustice ever, satisfies the greatest act of JUSTICE ever… if you hear me…)
Then we encounter the quandary of asserting that God pardons – and forgives – when in fact He has demanded “payment” via Jesus. Why do we have such difficulties with declaring that incoherent and absurd… If God actually DOES pardon and forgive, he “requires” NO such payment. To “forgive” only AFTER “payment” is no forgiveness AT ALL. Thus rendering this entire dynamic blindingly incoherent. Grace “if” – Grace “but” is not conceivably Grace at all.
At any rate, I see looming before us, we here (sorry to exclude those to whom this does not pertain) who love the truth of UR, a great challenge to link far more closely the Atonement with Universalism. Badly wish Talbott and MacDonald (aka Perry) would tackle this topic…
Anyway, hope this proves a helpful topic to generate new thinking about UR…
(maybe feeling TOO energetic after a very nice vacation – holiday to JeffA! – out west)