Recently, I've been trying to differentiate between the beliefs I've had instilled in me from a very young age about Jesus and God and what I truly believe now, as a young adult. The biggest questions are, do I believe that Jesus was the son of God and that he died for our sins? The child in me believes this wholeheartedly, knows it, even. However, my adult brain struggles with the concept in anything other than a symbolic way.

I seek comfort in Jesus as a personification of God's love and eternal goodness. I believe that Jesus stands for all that is good and kind in the world. There's no doubt in my mind that he died on the cross for the sake of all that is good and our realization of what that truly means and that his life was spent preaching love and kindness. But is he our saviour because he died for us on that cross? Ugh, these are the questions that keep me awake at night.

If we followed his teachings to the 't' and led our lives the way he led his, we would all be very good, decent and honest people, at least outwardly. That would, of course, cleanse us of our sins to some extent. But atonement? I just don't know. Would anyone else care to share what conclusions they've come to about this? I'm asking with a truly open mind, so please feel free to say exactly what you want. Huge questions, I know, but if there's a forum to hear a variety of opinions, I feel this is it ;-)

In love and friendship, as always,

David

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Hi David!

Your questions are so huge I can not look at them directly as their light is too bright....  :-)

All else I've got is this:  I'm not sure I'm thinking clearly at the moment but when you say 'atonement' my thoughts go to 'redemption'.    Redemption is a personally available experience but usually involves finding out we are in WAY over our heads and have failed utterly -- or that's my guess on its terms.   And where does that leave atonement?   Is this about the same thing?   Atonement wasn't a big concept in my Christian upbringing so perhaps am asking dumb questions.

Haha, I love that my ponderings are so potent that they create light! ;-)

I'm speaking more about Jesus dying on the cross for us so that our sins may be forgiven. It's just a lot to get my head around. From a symbolic perspective, my adult mind can see that he died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to make us see what goodness and love really is, and, more to the point, God's goodness and love. As if I was to go to Saudi Arabia, do a bunch of good things to help women and gays, then allow myself to be hanged for doing so, even though I had a chance to escape. See what I'm getting at? But that his dying on the cross automatically gives us the right to be forgiven of our sins, that's a difficult one for me. What do you think?

The first point was also more about 'Who IS Jesus?'. Maybe I should have entitled it, 'Who is Jesus and what what did he actually do for us?', but that sounds a bit negative ;-) There are so many conflicting views and theories about his life, some quite historically accurate, that directly contradict the Bible. Therefore, I've kind of come to this naive, childlike point where I just view him as this wonderfully kind white guy with long brown hair who looks after everyone, sheep included, and is a symbol of all that is good in the world. In the Bible, he is said to have said some rather ambiguous things and done some pretty strange things to. Historians see him as some Jewish rabbi who would clearly not have been white. Therefore, I'm asking...should we be following what we know about the REAL Jesus and searching for facts, or is it okay to follow the symbolic image of him that we've been spoon fed from the children's Bible as long as we don't enforce our self-made vision of him on others?

Wow, I don't think I've ever actually aired these thoughts. That's probably why they seem so weird and big and probably don't make much sense! :-D

It's hard to know where to start... You're asking about 'Atonement', so I'll try that.

Jesus talked about God as sending sunlight and rain (a good thing, for an Israelite farmer) on good people and bad ['the Just and the Unjust'] and advised us to emulate God in that -- It that because God will Get us if we don't? -- Hey, look at what he just said about what God is like. He didn't say, "God will treat you as well as He can for awhile, forgive 70 X 7, and on the 491st offense He's going to zap you with lightning." God is doing what's best for everyone all the time; He was doing this before Jesus was born, before Jesus died, after Jesus died.

So Jesus' death can hardly be intended to mollify God; what it very definitely did accomplish was to send a message to human beings -- that death is not what we imagine, that a God-conscious person can accept it and expect to walk away afterwards, that we don't need to defend ourselves with violence because God can and will make all things right. If you believe this, you are 'Saved' from a whole lot of unnecessary worry.

Jesus told a great many suffering people, "Your sins are forgiven." This was saying, in the form a pious Jew of his time would naturally use, that God had forgiven them; there was no further need for them to suffer. Whereupon they were healed. He didn't say this to people who figured they were just fine already; what would be the point?

Jesus announced that the Temple and its Roman-client theocracy had failed their God-given purpose and would be consequently destroyed. And strongly hinted (at the least!) that he was God's appointed de jure King of Israel. The de facto rulers were not inclined to accept this; neither was God telling him to enforce that claim with the violence characteristic of human governments; so Jesus suffered the consequences. Whatever you think happened in what we call the Resurrection, his followers took it as God's vindication of all he'd done and said -- and as a sign to be proclaimed of what God was accomplishing through these rather bewildering events.

People have had many vehemently-differing beliefs about what God in fact is doing through all this. Some of them I would strongly disagree with; but by and large, people take what they need and can use from any message...

Dear David,

What you're grappling with is the  idea of "substitutionary atonement," the idea that we sinners deserve to die for our sins, but Jesus died in our place. "Atonement" simply means "at-one-ment" that is, restoring our relationship with God. The Bible actually uses a number of different images to talk about it. Dying in our place is only one of them. Paul talks about us being in slavery to sin and death, and Jesus redeeming us, which means buying our freedom. The idea of sacrifice "Jesus, the Lamb of God" is a little different from taking the death penalty on our behalf. It's that almost all ancient religions used animal sacrifice to pay for sin, or to buy a god's favor. Jesus is the final and ultimate sacrifice that God paid to Godself, making all further sacrifice obselete.

There is also the idea of Incarnational atonement (sorry to use big words, I went to seminary, it warped me.) That's the idea, most prevalent in Eastern Orthodox churches, that it's the fact that in Jesus, God came to be one of us, that is in itself what restores the broken relationship between God and humanity. John's Gospel uses this idea in the "I am" statements. Come to me, and you are one with God, because I am one with God. In this world, the crucifixion is a demonstration on God's great love for us, going all the way to death. It's also a way for Christ, the Word of God, to end the journey of being in the flesh (incarnation) and return to the spiritual realm.

This last idea of atonement is one that I can wrap my mind around more than others. The point is that all of these images are atonement THEORIES, and unless you belong to a church that makes you sign on the dotted line that you believe in substitutionary atonement, you don't have to completely buy any one of them to acknowledge that some way or another, Jesus is the one who brings us into connection with God when we were lost.

Now, there are people who don't buy the idea that we need an atonement from the outside at all, that we are perfectly capable of having a relationship with God without any intervention from outside. For these folks, Jesus is an example and teacher, but not a Savior. And I think that's fine. I prefer to believe that a power greater than myself is at work on my behalf, the Word of God, the Christ, whom I know through Jesus.

Oh my goodness, thank you so much everybody! This has given so much to think about. It both answered my questions and left me, in turn, with more questions to ponder. I really appreciate your openness and willingness to share what you've learned with me.

Sharon, that was single-handedly the best lesson in atonement and, indeed, Christianity in general that I've ever had, seriously. Somehow you managed to peak through the mish-mash of thoughts I threw out there and got to my point very precisely. And I Googled the long words, so I managed to get through it alright, hehe ;-) Thank you so much, I can't wait to hear your words of wisdom at some point in the future, we're so lucky to have people like you on here.

Forrest, the way you explained things is pretty much how I would have translated them, too. Especially the part about the message Jesus' death sent to the people and that salvation has a wider meaning than we often think. It's just so nice to have someone else say these things so I don't feel like I'm barking up the wrong tree entirely! ;-) And what you said in the end about people taking what they can use from any message, I couldn't agree more.

I love this forum! A mixture of this and silent worship is slowly emptying the plant pot that is my head and refilling it with fresh soil ;-)

Wow, there are a lot of good thoughts going around here. I'm glad that mine helped you think about things, David. Forrest really made me think, too.

I just realized that in running down atonement images, I forgot one. It's one that was popular in the early church, Christus Victor. Basically, what this comes down to is that God set a trap and Death (or Satan) fell into it. (That gets into the whole question of whether or not such a being as Satan exists, but that's another discussion.) See, we were all being held captive by sin, or death or the devil, and Jesus died so that he could go down there and storm hell to set us free. The crucifixion is the way that Jesus sneaked into Death's domain so he could stage a jailbreak for us. Where, o Death, is now thy sting? That's a fun one.

And I also wanted to clarify. People talk about atonement theories, but I think we do better to talk about atonement metaphors. These are images to help us understand that in Christ we find God. I like to think that all of them are somewhat helpful images, but none of them are THE whole truth.

Attachments:

I'm glad we could all attend this meeting.  :-)


David said:  "From a symbolic perspective, my adult mind can see that he died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to make us see what goodness and love really is, and, more to the point, God's goodness and love. As if I was to go to Saudi Arabia, do a bunch of good things to help women and gays, then allow myself to be hanged for doing so, even though I had a chance to escape."

David -- Thanks very much for saying this.  This, to me, is a profoundly aware perspective.  How many of us have trouble seeing how to fit Jesus's life into our own circumstances?  This is wonderfully relevant.

Forrest -- Thank you for pointing out that this message was not given to people who thought they were fine but was only for those who needed to hear that they could stop suffering now...

...and of course your evidence that "Jesus' death can hardly be intended to mollify God; what it very definitely did accomplish was to send a message to human beings". We need to hear that more often!

Sharon -- hi!   You said " "Atonement" simply means "at-one-ment" that is, restoring our relationship with God."
...reminds me of learning in Sunday School to always think of sin as meaning "separation from God".   Atonement seems then to be the opposite of sin.
You also said "The idea of sacrifice "Jesus, the Lamb of God" is a little different from taking the death penalty on our behalf. It's that almost all ancient religions used animal sacrifice to pay for sin, or to buy a god's favor. Jesus is the final and ultimate sacrifice that God paid to Godself, making all further sacrifice obsolete."

Yes....so true.   Not sure if that means I have to give up my profound enjoyment of how much David seemed (to me) to get the point in his progressive sacrifice for women and gays.   I don't think so because I think that as someone listens and follows they will from time to time get just these sorts of nudges David is speaking of.  Instead of being exempt from the life of sacrifice they will be "at one" with it. 


You said "That's the idea, most prevalent in Eastern Orthodox churches, that it's the fact that in Jesus, God came to be one of us, that is in itself what restores the broken relationship between God and humanity."

Yes, and Jesus telling us that we are all called to that....so God saying through this message (Jesus), "I am here as you."   ...or at least "Let me be here, as you."   Surely this must be in the realm of your (Sharon's) "Incarnational atonement" though I can't vouch for any of my mishandling or distortions of these theological concepts.    Thanks for the freedom to draw from any and all of them, as we are led to...

I don't have a problem reconciling my mental and faith beliefs about Jesus being the actual son of God, dying on the cross for me and atoning for my sins.  I start this acceptance with the acknowledgement that I am incapable of understanding the totality of God and that what I have been shown by the Spirit is the truth to the extent that I am capable of understanding it.  I am also helped by the fact that I grew up Catholic and was not well versed in the Bible prior to my initial spiritual encounter with the Spirit of God but had been convinced by my Church that I was definitely a sinner needing forgiveness.  Because of the guilt I lived with for so many years my initial spiritual encounter with the Spirit of God included a dream of Jesus on the cross asking the Father to forgive me along with an intuitive understanding of my inability under the circumstances of life to do anything but fail to live the life Jesus himself lived.  Most of what I know about God has come to me through spiritual revelation while reading the bible, meditating on what the scriptures say, or simply talking with God about what I encounter in life.  I live a life of synchronicity where God's hand is often apparent not only to myself but those who know me.  I try to have as big a God as possible and leave anything outside my ability to influence up to Him which just comes down to taking the serenity prayer in earnest.

Profound words, James. The incapability to understand the true extent of God is so difficult for me to grapple with, just as difficult as contemplating how big the universe is or how space-time continuum works etc. I think it's all one and the same really. You really hit the nail on the head there. 

For me, I think it's about learning to accept this. A lot of what I have to learn I think is about acceptance of certain concepts. It's always good to question, but there are just some things that the human brain possibly won't ever be able to truly get to grips with. And the part you mentioned about spiritual revelation, well, I'm just trying to learn to listen more. My head is full of questions and sometimes I block any possible revelation by failing to listen. But the times that I've just shut up and listened, I've also had some quite potent moments of 'truth' and definitely some mind-opening dreams.

Thanks for sharing, it's given me some really meaty stuff to think about.


James C Schultz said:

I don't have a problem reconciling my mental and faith beliefs about Jesus being the actual son of God, dying on the cross for me and atoning for my sins.  I start this acceptance with the acknowledgement that I am incapable of understanding the totality of God and that what I have been shown by the Spirit is the truth to the extent that I am capable of understanding it.  I am also helped by the fact that I grew up Catholic and was not well versed in the Bible prior to my initial spiritual encounter with the Spirit of God but had been convinced by my Church that I was definitely a sinner needing forgiveness.  Because of the guilt I lived with for so many years my initial spiritual encounter with the Spirit of God included a dream of Jesus on the cross asking the Father to forgive me along with an intuitive understanding of my inability under the circumstances of life to do anything but fail to live the life Jesus himself lived.  Most of what I know about God has come to me through spiritual revelation while reading the bible, meditating on what the scriptures say, or simply talking with God about what I encounter in life.  I live a life of synchronicity where God's hand is often apparent not only to myself but those who know me.  I try to have as big a God as possible and leave anything outside my ability to influence up to Him which just comes down to taking the serenity prayer in earnest.

Hello! :-D 

I'd never thought of it like that - relating Jesus' life to our own. I suppose I would have always seen that as 'wrong' in some way. But now I see that it's a perfectly valid way to help us better understand Christ. I always do this in life in general to understand my friends' predicaments, relate them to my own experiences in my head in some way. It creates empathy.

And I'm glad we could all attend this meeting, too! :-D Wasn't it your good self who talked about community coming together of it's own accord, without the need to 'search people out' as such? ;-) Well, you were right.

And what you/Sharon mentioned about atonement being 'at one' with God and sin being 'separate' from Him. This is something I need to remember whenever I'm contemplating sin. Is what I'm doing separating me from God or strengthening our bond in some way? This is a really good way to help me remember this. Thank you both so much.

I learned a tonne from the images of atonement Sharon mentioned. Now I understand why people study theology! I have all these different views from which to forge my own opinion now, it's such a blessing.

Thanks, Olivia! And thank you, all! :-)


Olivia said:

I'm glad we could all attend this meeting.  :-)


David said:  "From a symbolic perspective, my adult mind can see that he died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to make us see what goodness and love really is, and, more to the point, God's goodness and love. As if I was to go to Saudi Arabia, do a bunch of good things to help women and gays, then allow myself to be hanged for doing so, even though I had a chance to escape."

David -- Thanks very much for saying this.  This, to me, is a profoundly aware perspective.  How many of us have trouble seeing how to fit Jesus's life into our own circumstances?  This is wonderfully relevant.

Forrest -- Thank you for pointing out that this message was not given to people who thought they were fine but was only for those who needed to hear that they could stop suffering now...

...and of course your evidence that "Jesus' death can hardly be intended to mollify God; what it very definitely did accomplish was to send a message to human beings". We need to hear that more often!

Sharon -- hi!   You said " "Atonement" simply means "at-one-ment" that is, restoring our relationship with God."
...reminds me of learning in Sunday School to always think of sin as meaning "separation from God".   Atonement seems then to be the opposite of sin.
You also said "The idea of sacrifice "Jesus, the Lamb of God" is a little different from taking the death penalty on our behalf. It's that almost all ancient religions used animal sacrifice to pay for sin, or to buy a god's favor. Jesus is the final and ultimate sacrifice that God paid to Godself, making all further sacrifice obsolete."

Yes....so true.   Not sure if that means I have to give up my profound enjoyment of how much David seemed (to me) to get the point in his progressive sacrifice for women and gays.   I don't think so because I think that as someone listens and follows they will from time to time get just these sorts of nudges David is speaking of.  Instead of being exempt from the life of sacrifice they will be "at one" with it. 


You said "That's the idea, most prevalent in Eastern Orthodox churches, that it's the fact that in Jesus, God came to be one of us, that is in itself what restores the broken relationship between God and humanity."

Yes, and Jesus telling us that we are all called to that....so God saying through this message (Jesus), "I am here as you."   ...or at least "Let me be here, as you."   Surely this must be in the realm of your (Sharon's) "Incarnational atonement" though I can't vouch for any of my mishandling or distortions of these theological concepts.    Thanks for the freedom to draw from any and all of them, as we are led to...

Sharon, once again you've outdone yourself ;-) I was researching Christus Victor for ages yesterday and it adds yet another wonderful metaphor to draw from in regards to finding God in Jesus, as you said, as well as shedding a little more light on what the resurrection was about.

It's opened up a whole box of things for me to think about, I think I'm going to need to retreat to the Icelandic wilderness for a while to contemplate all this! But what you said about none of the metaphors/images/theories being the whole truth, I couldn't agree more. I was just saying to Olivia that I'm so happy to have all these metaphors at my disposal now to form my own opinion over time. Who knows, maybe more will crop up!

Thank you so much, Sharon, your church is seriously blessed to have you. I checked out the website - it looks like a lovely community :-)

Sharon Treloar said:

Wow, there are a lot of good thoughts going around here. I'm glad that mine helped you think about things, David. Forrest really made me think, too.

I just realized that in running down atonement images, I forgot one. It's one that was popular in the early church, Christus Victor. Basically, what this comes down to is that God set a trap and Death (or Satan) fell into it. (That gets into the whole question of whether or not such a being as Satan exists, but that's another discussion.) See, we were all being held captive by sin, or death or the devil, and Jesus died so that he could go down there and storm hell to set us free. The crucifixion is the way that Jesus sneaked into Death's domain so he could stage a jailbreak for us. Where, o Death, is now thy sting? That's a fun one.

And I also wanted to clarify. People talk about atonement theories, but I think we do better to talk about atonement metaphors. These are images to help us understand that in Christ we find God. I like to think that all of them are somewhat helpful images, but none of them are THE whole truth.

Friends from earlier centuries said that we could understand Christ's crucifixion and resurrection only after the change from natural to spiritual had occurred inwardly. In other words, our natural reasoning will not provide a true grasp of the meaning of the historic event.

That transition from natural to spiritual happens in time when we follow what we believe to be right and true, even though difficult. So, what you learned as a child about God's goodness is important to hold onto, because sadly many give up and become opportunistic or hypocritical in their despair. "But he who endures to the end, the same shall be saved," as Mark said. God decides when the end has come, and a person is prepared for new life.

When inwardly the end has come (i.e., figuratively, death on the cross), the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead raises us to new awareness (resurrection), making us likewise sons (and daughters) of God, as John tells us. Then we can understand why Jesus chose obedience to God even though it entailed death on the cross: knowing God experientially (which is eternal life), we know - as Jesus knew - it is in our best interest (it is Life!) to remain in a relationship of obedience with God.

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