How Not to View the Atonement
Part of the motivation for me to begin this sub-series on the atonement–aside from what I discussed at the beginning of it–was the following post from my sometime interlocutor A. Sinner, of the blog Renegade Trads, posting in a discussion at Vox Nova. Here it is, below the cut:
The Catholic Church “hasn’t accepted” any one theory of atonement because they are in, in some sense, all correct. That is to say, they’re all analogies, and as such can all be apt.
Specifically, I’d argue, that which analogy is more or less popular is going to be based, more or less, on the socio-economic structure of the day and thus the symbolic construct of value in that culture. It makes total sense that Anselm’s theory took hold in feudal culture. This is neither wrong nor right, it’s just the cultural context of how the truth was parsed in that age.
It’s probably not so convincing to our age. But then, let’s not absolutize the value-structure of our age either in some theory.
Also, when you say things like “Rather, Jesus’ death was the inevitable result of his perfect, unconditional love meeting a broken world,” but then disavow God’s Wrath, I find this incoherent. As one meaning of “God’s Wrath” IS simply the incompatibility of His Love with human sinfulness.
If the Crucifixion is in any sense a demonstration of human depravity (in fact, the ultimate example of it!) then it is also, by definition, a demonstration of God’s Wrath. Sin is murdering God. But the Death of God is also the punishment for sin. Which is to say: sin is it’s own punishment, and that punishment (the death of God) may at the same time be called God’s Wrath (identifiable with God Himself) because in Christ He “became sin,” became Dead God, which is also to say He became our punishment for sin (because sin is its own punishment).
The Death of God as the result of Sin IS the punishment for sin. This is true on the grand cosmic scale, but also just in the individual soul: when we mortally sin we lose the state of grace, thus “killing God” in our own soul, and this death of God we wrought is itself the punishment for sin, and this death may be called His Wrath. The caveat being, of course, the Resurrection and the fact that sin can be forgiven and that we can be restored to the state of grace.
But let’s never forget the intimate IDENTITY of God’s Love and God’s Wrath, the fact that the act of punishment and the act of salvation are the same, they are not at all mutually exclusive concepts. If God didn’t CARE He wouldn’t be angry, He’d just not care.
I’m afraid tendencies to move away form the language of anger or wrath also mean moving away from the fact that Hell is right at the heart of the Christian mystery. Indeed, if we deny Hell and its centrality, how can God descending INTO it have any meaning at all? If we aren’t being saved FROM something, then what’s the point of salvation? As Dorothy Sayers said, “Nobody knows the true love of God until they realize how wicked they are.” God’s Love is meaningless without a constant meditation on His corresponding Hatred (which is our sin).
I’m not going to respond to this here, reserving that, as well as discussion of the broader issues, to further posts. Still, I wanted this to be here so it’s clear what I’m responding to in the immediate context. In my mind, the theology shown here is very much like that ridiculed by the picture below, found on many atheist websites:
If that’s what I thought Christian theology boiled down to, I wouldn’t be Christian myself. However, it’s not enough to say what I don’t believe; I have to put forth some theory of what I do believe. To lay the groundwork for this, the next post is reblogged from a site whose owner, I think, is atheist, but who takes Christian theology seriously enough to write about it. The post in question is a very good discussion of the Atonement which will be helpful for us as we proceed.
Part of the series Legends of the Fall.