When it comes to the Atonement, all are suspect.
The Atonement is almost completely unlike a father choosing to let his very young son be pureed by an oncoming express train rather than let loose a bridge locking mechanism and send the train’s passengers to their deaths. Both scenarios involve a father permitting a son to die to save many; that’s about the only point of contact, and it is overwhelmed by the false notes.The Atonement was not an accident; it was planned all along. The saved are not oblivious to the fact of being saved; it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance. Christ did not innocently stumble into the Garden of Gethsemane; he went there full knowing what awaited him, and at whose hand.
The Atonoment is not much like an older boy taking a younger boy’s whipping because the younger boy stole out of hunger. There was no question of our being able to take the whipping ourselves. And it is not our acts of desperation that condemn us; it is the malice that worms its way into our hearts, every one of us, when we reach that level of mental development where we can discern good from evil.
The Atonement is not really like a lenient lender buying up toxic securities. We will never pay back the debt, not even on the most generous of terms. Truth is, we never had any intention of honoring the debt, blind as we made ourselves to the true consequences of spiritual bankruptcy.
The Atonement is not even that much like a volunteer taking the condemned man’s place on the scaffold. Even human law recognized the injustice of a surrogate execution: “Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.” Many an atheist has mocked the justice of God in accepting a surrogate.
And yet we have no way to approach the Atonement except by analogy. All of these analogies, even the first (in a mean unsatisfactory way) reflect some true aspect of the Atonement.
I believe in the Atonement, not because I understand it, but because it rings true. I need know nothing about music theory to be awed every time I listen to Messiah, or the B Minor Mass, or the final movements of Elijah.
Which is not to say that some knowledge of music doesn’t help. Whoops, there’s another pesky analogy …