OK, time to stir the pot a little. Our particular corner of the blogosphere has been buzzing fow a while now on the subject of atonement. I’ve enjoyed it, I don’t think we’ve nearly closed the topic, and I certainly intend to return there myself at some point. Nevertheless, I think we need to step back and pause for a reality check.
First of all, whatever the mechanism by which sin has been atoned, the clear message of the gospels and the epistles is that Jesus has done it. It’s not conditional on us understanding or believing any point of detail as to how he did it. It’s not even conditional upon us knowing or understanding that there WAS a problem! It should suffice us to recognize that Jesus had–and has–both the means and the authority to deal with the problem, whatever problem it was.
More importantly, though, the whole question of atonement for sin, at least as it’s discussed in most definitions of “the gospel,” presupposes that sin and its remedy are the central focus (or at the very least one principal focus) of the mission Jesus came to do. While I do not dispute that Jesus’ death and resurrection had a beneficial effect with regard to human sin, it was never the point of the process. Salvation was always a means to an end, it was never intended to be the end in itself.
The story of Jesus’ time on earth is replete with redemption and healing. This is indisputable. But the point my Mom just made in her word study on repentance is also true for the rest of Jesus’ redemptive acts: the healing, the repentance, the salvation of people from whatever mess they were in, was always and only a beginning. What really mattered wasn’t the key that got them in the door, it was the life they were called to live on the other side of that door.
For this reason, while we may continue to debate the mechanism by which Jesus dealt with sin, the vista we must regain shows us that the process actually doesn’t matter. Jesus’ message was, and is:
If you’re sick or hurting or wounded, I can take care of that. Follow me!
If you’re feeling guilty or worried about the sin propitiation you’ve been taught you need, I have taken care of that. Follow me!
If you’ve learned “every man for himself” all too well from your society, I can take care of that and lift you out of yourself. Follow me!
If you are afraid of the others–human or supernatural–who are exercising the power of fear and death over you, I’ve defeated them; I took care of that. Follow me!
If you’re worried about your life beyond the grave, I’m already beyond the grave. I took care of that. Follow me!
If you’re oppressed by any of the ills that have afflicted my Father’s creation, whether poverty or injustice or disease, I’ve now sent my followers to take care of that in my name. Join them in following me!
If you’re one of the oppressors that are helping to perpetuate the abuse of my kingdom and my followers, I can free you from the tyranny of power. I can take care of that. Work with me to lift up what has been trampled down, and follow me!
And perhaps most compellingly to us amateur theologians (and the pros too, if they’ll listen): If you’re wrapped up in endless controversies over how I took care of all that, let go, accept that I DID take care of that, and follow me!