I was at a coffee house the other night when the Holy Spirit fell in a special way.  I normally enjoy His presence when I play but this was a community presence.  No one was carrying on a conversation or on their cell phone.  Everyone was caught up in worship.  It started with two musicians playing some random notes and evolved into a musical worship service the point of which was that once you knew Jesus there was no mistaking LOVE.

I have often been surprised by my fellow Quaker's disdain for the concept of the Atonement.  Many times I have heard Quakers and non-Christians say that God wouldn't send His son to die on a cross.  When I read the bible the Atonement seems like a natural concept and I have asked God to show me why there is this problem with it among so many.

Arising from my participation the other night at the coffee house worship, I see that for many the problem is their perception of what Calvary was about.  It's not that Jesus' death on the cross didn't atone for our sins, which I believe that it did; and it's not that Jesus' death didn't restore our relationship with the Father which I believe that it did; but it's about understanding what Love is and how inadequate and feeble our attempts to love really are.  It's not the Love of the Father that is displayed on Calvary.  It's the Love of Jesus that is displayed on Calvary.

In the 11th chapter of the book of Judges there is a story of Jephthah a son of Gilead who was asked to lead the Isrealites against their enemy.  In doing so Jephtah made a foolish vow to the Lord that he would sacrifice the first thing to greet him when he returned home if God gave him victory over his foe.  Well of course when he returned home his daughter was the first one to greet him and eventually she was sacrificed.  This is not a story of how a man kept his vow.  It's a story of a daughter's love for her father.  I don't think anyone can believe keeping this vow was the right thing to do.  Jesus tells us not to make such vows (Matthew 5:33-37).  The daughter loved life but loved her father more.  When we think of the Father God sacrificing the Son God we look at what we consider the Father's hard heartedness.  What we don't consider is that the Father and the Son are one (John 17:11).  God was saying "these wretches are selfish and will never be loving" and at the same time God was saying "but I am loving and must do something to show them how to love".  An experience not necessarily foreign to those of us with children.

We use the concept of the trinity to explain something we don't understand but it's just a concept.  The fact is God didn't have someone else die to show us what love is.  He himself died to show us what love is supposed to be.  He took on a human body to do so but nevertheless it was God on that tree.

For about 15 minutes and then maybe as much as an hour thereafter on a Friday nite in a small room 10 to 15 people just kept singing a simple refrain: There's no mistaking love!  Over and over and over.  Because once you have experienced Jesus.  Once he has spoken to your condition.  There is no mistaking Love.

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Comment by Brian Martin on 7th mo. 19, 2011 at 12:29pm

Thank you for this post. As a Friend who as recently been led to learn about and understand Jesus, I appreciate reading about Jesus from the Quaker perspective.


So my problem with the atonement idea is basically that it suggests a God that I cannot feel comfortable with worshiping. It is a version of god that has unrealistic expectations of me (not to sin ever) and is unforgiving (Jesus had to pay for my sins, because I couldn't deal with the consequences of my actions?). Often, the idea of eternal punishment in hell for those who do not come to believe in Jesus/God is associated with the atonement. I simply do not buy that any God who knows anything about love would send anyone to eternal punishment, the matter how horrid the crime. It seems to be a perverted sense of justice.


The God that makes sense to me wants everyone to find themselves, come to him, and to live in the riveting joy that comes with these things.  He gives us joys and sorrows based on our actions and thoughts so that we may be purified and learn to be closer to him. Sometimes God gives us grace, perhaps when we have understood his lesson, and sometimes we have to suffer through terrible circumstances, perhaps because there is no other way to remove the error/sin than to bring us down to a point where there is nothing left, so we can rebuild ourselves from the foundation. I do not see this as punishment though, but as the way god leads us to the life, so we don't have to suffer eternally. This, truly, I can say.


Comment by Jess Easter on 7th mo. 19, 2011 at 1:07pm

This post was incredibly inspiring for me and I thank you, James.


I would have to agree with Brian on his difficulty embracing the idea of atonement through Jesus Christ. I not only would not feel comfortable worshiping that g-d but it also does not speak to my experience of G-d. The concept of atonement does not sit well with me because it implies a necessary mediator between my Beautiful G-d and myself. While one could argue whether or not my desire to commune with G-d is a result of Christ or would have still existed before Jesus' "atonement", it is nonetheless there.


I find the cross at Calvary so intensely mystical because it displays the power of G-d in the most vulnerable and dire of circumstances. I suppose my experience of G-d enables me to see the cross not as loving atonement of G-d but as a model of G-d's Presence and Power in the face of human frailty and failure.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 11:22am

Your interpretation of Jephthah's story give me new light on a chapter that I have always found disturbing.

I had never considered the idea that Jesus' death was a way of showing us the depths of love that we need to embrace. I will be holding this to the Light for further understanding.

Thank you.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 7:20pm

I think people living comfortable lives have the hardest time with the idea of self sacrifice.

I worked in El Salvador during the civil war. A group of North American visitors asked a Jesuit priest if there was anything that could be done to insure his safety. He looked us straight in the eye and said, "Don't worry about me, I realized long ago that I will not survive this."

A year after I left, he was killed by the military. I don't find his actions noble in the common sense of the word. He was faithful to God's leading and followed it with eyes wide open.

Comment by David Carl on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 9:34pm
I think its basically about God saying, I'm indestructible, no matter what you try to do to me. You can't kill this! And if you get that, you can be healed in Spirit.
Comment by Brian Martin on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 9:40pm
Karen and Stephanie, thank you for your further insight on this, it has given a new opening to me, for which I am very happy :-)
Comment by James C Schultz on 7th mo. 24, 2011 at 1:01pm
Exo 33:18-23  Moses said, "Please show me your glory."   And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live."   And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,   and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen."
Comment by David Carl on 7th mo. 24, 2011 at 6:23pm
James, could you elaborate on the connection between this passage from Exodus and atonement?
Comment by James C Schultz on 7th mo. 24, 2011 at 8:40pm
It's best if I don't have to.  If you read the blog and the scripture something should come to you in a day or two.  If it doesn't let me know and I will.  If they came to me from the spirit they will come to you.  If it's from my reasoning explaining it would be more of an argument in favor of a position than an insight which means I deluded myself again. :)  It generally takes me a few days and sometimes weeks to hear from the spirit.  My mind is too busy to allow spiritual thoughts through as quickly as I would like.  It's good to know that Daniel experienced the same problem, at least on one occasion.
Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 7th mo. 30, 2011 at 1:01pm
James, I can't explain it with words, but I think I feel what you are saying.


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