Friday, April 15, 2011

Windows to the Sky

I have been reading a book called "Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross," a compilations of contemporary essays on atonement. It is discussing, in new and relevant ways, the significance and scandal of the cross, and how we are reconciled to God through it. So far, it has been really interesting.

I have always struggled with the widely-held theory of penal substitution atonement. This theory says that God, in His justice, demanded that humanity's sin be paid for. Therefore, Jesus took our place, and took upon himself the wrath and punishment of God so that we could be reconciled to Him. To me, there are several problems and tensions with this theory].

The problem is that all atonement theories are incomplete and imperfect. We are trying to ascertain mysteries far beyond our understanding, so our attempts will always be seeing "through a mirror dimly." While all offer aspects of the truth of God, none will completely capture and encompass these truths and mysteries.

I exchanged emails with a friend on the subject recently, and he lamented our need to have one all-supreme atonement theory that must be agreed upon. He suggested [and I like] more of a both/and approach, where we savor and celebrate what's true and helpful about all the varying atonement theories in Scripture [victory over death, paying of the debt, perfect sacrifice, moral influence, etc.]

In another book I've recently read, the author describes atonement theories as windows, looking out to the sky. While we can see pieces of the sky through the windows, and each window offers its own unique view of the sky, the vastness and glory and expanse of the entire sky can never be contained through one window only. In fact, even the sum of the views of all the windows will offer but an incomplete view of the sky as it truly is.

The significance of the cross is so vast and expansive, so all-sufficient and all-mysterious, that we can never fully explain or understand it.

So, more than ever, it is imperative that we hold to our views humbly, always willing to learn and grow as the Spirit opens us to new realities, and celebrate the goodness [known and unknown] in the mystery of the cross.