Richard Leonard's interesting comments on the atonement


Richard Leonard is a Sydney based Jesuit priest who’s also the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

Most of the radio interview titled “What To Say To Suffering and Death” was interesting but I found Richard’s comments on atonement (around the 39 minute mark) particularly so:


very interesting indeed!
i’ve grown up with the satisfaction theology approach, and it still feels weird to me to question it slightly.
thanks for posting this :slight_smile:


My take is slightly different I guess; though in my day I’ve been as fierce an opponent of penal substitution as anyone can be. Thing is, the world is pictured as being in darkness; a darkness which was dispelled by the Light. The Christ.

What God needed was not so much a death, but a witness. The world was dark from loss of knowledge of God. And so God sends His only Son as witness; perfect witness. But He knew how they would treat His Son; they would not embrace Him but be threatened by Him and so they would kill Him. God knew all this (this is knowable even without foreknowledge) yet did it anyway.

So no, God didn’t “spare” His Son (ie the Son was perfectly faithful to the mission!) and yes, God did send Him – and the Son willingly went!! – knowing what would happen. They both knew the true nature of good and evil and what would happen when the two clashed. They did it anyway.

Who is it that needed the demonstration of the true nature of evil (abject, pure evil that would even stoop so low as to kill the creator Himself; surely one of times greatest absurdities) and, as its counterpoint, the nature of true love? (Love that would die to convince and save even enemies…) Surely it is WE who needed that death.

The death of Christ was a crime of the most monstrous and monumental proportions. It should chill us to the core to even hint that God somehow planned, and needed, that crime; that death. Only God understood the true nature of the wickedness that reigned. He came anyway. Undeterred. Love it seems gives one that kind of strength – and courage. And in pouring that Love out, in the person of His Son, Christ was brutally murdered.
Surely a monumental defeat for God.

But wait!

And on Sunday is revealed what CS Lewis has so memorably called the “deeper magic” of deep time. For the Love which would descend for such a death is the very same Love which created in the beginning; whose mere word causes to be and which resides in the very heart of God!

Death is unmasked as the pathetic impostor it always was.
And never again can there be any who have cause to doubt the very essence of Life and evil.
At the Cross God, in Christ, forced the charade of evil to it’s natural conclusion. And there, evils impotence and love’s supremacy are affirmed.

For all time.

Praise God for that!

It’s a story we shall never tire of telling;
a song we shall never tire of singing.
It will serve forever as call to give God all honor and glory.



Thanks for that, Bob. A great post and just what I needed. :slight_smile:


It seems to me strange that I really only recently saw the impact of, as you say above, what must be the lowest point of the history of evil- the creature killing the Creator Himself.

Personally, I believe in an actual Devil and I presume that he could not have realised that the death of Christ would be matched by the ironic twist of His resurrection- the resulting conquering of death and the salvation of all.



I disagree with him. In reading through the gospels, I’ve lost count of how many times the establishment and/or the mob was angry with Jesus, even picking up stones to stone him, and he just slipped through their fingers. And in John 10:17-18 Jesus expressly says that no one takes his life from Him. He lays down His life of His own accord

That said, I don’t believe it was “penal substitution”/to take my punishment. I believe we remain subject to the wrath of God and that we are/will be judged for how we have built on the foundation He laid. Do we walk according to the flesh/carnal nature? or according to the Spirit? Jesus did role model life in the Spirit, but that was not all He came to do! His death was an integral part of His mission to deal with the problem of our sinful flesh/carnal nature. He came to undo the transaction which took place in the Garden of Eden. If He had not died for us, we would not have the opportunity to be born again. We would not have the power to overcome our sinful flesh:


I am hard pressed to find a contradiction between the murder of Christ being a crime and this text in John which asserts that Jesus lays down His life of His own accord; no one takes it from Him. That no one could take HIs life was amply demonstrated on Resurrection Sunday.

Since it chills me to imagine either God killing the Christ, or the Christ committing suicide, I see this text as asserting that the demonstration of truth that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus would bring was entirely to be on God’s timing. Laying down His life is another way of saying “on His terms”. He knew it would happen, knew it had to happen, but the time and place and way (“on a tree”) were of HIs choosing. These were not mere circumstances working their whim.

That God could bring such victory from such a heinous crime also demonstrates HIs infinite creativity in working all things to His glory. And among those things is the opening of the way for the believer to be transformed from death to Life. Life in Christ.



I don’t see it as God killing Christ OR Christ committing suicide.

I see it more like a childbirth, where there is incredible pain and torment which Jesus knew He would face but He also knew that at the end of it would be joy. The cross was a place of torment AND a place of triumph.

“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” Heb 12:2



Do you think the Cross was a crime?




I think the cross is necessary. (verses)


Our Messiah’s death has nothing to do with Easter (goddess of fertility) or a so called “holy week”. These are pagan days having to do with the worship of Tammuz (Sun god worship) and Easter (fertility rites), which is still practiced today in pagan circles and inadvertently, by christians. Constantine brought paganism and churchianity together by the threat of brutal force. What Messiah’s death does have to do with is Pesach (Passover). He was the fulfillment of this “appointed day” of Yehovah. This day, up until His death, was a foreshadow of His coming and His merciful act of sacrifice. It is then followed up by the appointed day of first fruits (3 days and 3 nights later) which, until the time He died was a foreshadow of Him being the first fruits from among the dead (1 Cor 15:20).

Jesus answering said to them, A generation, evil and adulterous, doth seek a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet; for, as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.Men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, for they reformed at the proclamation of Jonah, and lo, a greater than Jonah here!
(Mat 12:39-41)
The only sign given to this generation is 3 days and 3 nights! You actually can’t get 3 days and 3 nights out of the Good Friday/Easter morning scenario. Although, you can with the appointed days of Yehovah.


I’m sorry. I just re read my post and thought I was too harsh in making my point. It’s just that, sun god worship and fertility rites are the big thing in my family’s pagan organization and it’s so sickening to me, knowing the rites and the poison fruit it produces, that it really bothers me when I see christians celebrating those days. The original fertility rites involves child sacrifice and dying eggs in the blood of the sacrificed babies. It’s just so horrid! I know many christians have “put a good face on” Easter but, it really isn’t the day to celebrate. Yehovah hated this practice (Eze. 8). The "forty days of weeping for Tammuz has mysteriously turned into “holy week” in the “church”. Yeshua is our Passover Lamb, that’s what we should celebrate. The “feasts”, (bad English translation) is in Hebrew Moad (Appointed days) of Yehovah. These are His appointments He makes with His people. I really believe, if God’s people move away from the pagan days and to His we would see and experience some awesome things. There is power in the pagan stuff (not Yehovah’s power). We have experienced awesome times with Yehovah in just our little immediate family meeting Him on those days and I think it is a change in the spirit we really should make. This is not an excuse for my harsh tone but, I wanted to let you know it was not intentional.


That puts a new perspective on the Easter traditions :open_mouth:

Would you like to start a thread explaining the alternative “appointed days of Yehovah” & why you don’t think the Christian traditions can overpower/transform/cleanse (sorry cant find the right word :confused: ) the original traditions, as it all sounds quite interesting?


I sympathize with Kelly on this; it’s hard to understand the nature of these pagan rituals that we have put a christian face on and still practice them; but at the same time not alienating yourselves from other people who don’t see a problem with it, and/ or being accused of being a judaizer or legalist. Christmas; placed right on top of a pagan festival, and Easter (Ishtar: fertility goddess) are the two big ones. I don’t recall anywhere that we are instructed to celebrate Christ’s birth; not that this is bad per se, but the way in which we celebrate Christmas has little, if anything to do with it.

Reminds me a lot of the protestant “reformation”, which stopped well short of reforming much. Protestantism basically just put a new face on Roman Catholicism. There were a few positive changes to be sure, but…


Sorry. :blush:

I would love that! :smiley: I would enjoy hearing what others think about it and learning more from those who may have a better understanding than I. Thank you, Alex.


It is a lonely path right now. But, I had already given up everything to follow Christ. Our immediate family does struggle with relationship because of our views. No one really knows what to do with us. Most really like us but, we are just a little too weird for them. They do think us legalistic and too “Jewish”. Which really baffles me. Most don’t know my background so, they have no idea where I get this stuff although, you can read about it in the Bible. I guess maybe they just don’t know what is being talked about? I don’t know.
Thank you for the encouraging feedback. You brought sunshine to my day!


Don’t be sorry, I’m actually thankful to you, as I prefer knowing the truth about things, even if it shocks me.

I’ve started a thread on this topic, I would love your input Have our Christian traditions “exorcised” their Pagan roots?