Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

What is required from explanations of Christ’s Atonement?

June 11th, 2015 by Bruce Charlton

What happened with the Atonement of Christ has proved to be a controversial topic over the past two thousand years. The situation is, for many or most Christians, that while Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection is known to be the central fact; a satisfactory and satisfying explanation of the Atonement is something each person may have-to sort-out for himself.

Here is a framework.

1. Establish God’s ultimate aim and hope for Man – What does God want Man to become?

2. Christians know that Jesus Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection was – in some way – essential to the fulfilment of that hope.

3. So, the explanation of what exactly Christ’s Atonement was, and how it worked; must be provided with reference to God’s ultimate aim for Man, and Christ’s essential contribution to the achievement of that aim.

I think it can be seen that the standard explanations of the Atonement do not fulfil the above requirements – mostly because they argue backwards to try and infer God’s aim and hope from the Atonement – whereas God’s aim and hope for Man must be built-into the explanation from the beginning.

I do not have an altogether satisfactory explanation to offer, but what I am looking for is one that starts from a plausible and comprehensible answer to point 1. an answer which treats God as our wholly-loving Father.

 

God’s aim would seem to be to raise-up His children to become like Himself. The Mormon answer is a good one, and far better than anything which came before. But I would want to add the clarification that God wants us to become like Himself, because his greatest wish to to expand the scope of (what might be termed) inter-personal love. So we are being educated through existence such that, by our choices, we may be raised-up closer and closer to the fully-divine level of God the Father and his Son.

I think this is probably something which is a matter of such importance that many people would require a personal revelation to know what God wants for us, and why. In other words, we need to intuit God’s own feelings for us, and this includes God’s own deepest needs. These needs are for a larger society of ‘peers’ (fully divine persons) than Mother in Heaven and Jesus Christ – in a nutshell, God wants a bigger family.

 

This is where many people will become edgy. For much of Christian history, it has been regarded as an insult to God to say He has needs – indeed the conceptualization of God has been so abstract that such a way of talking about Him sounds silly, dumb and childish. But I would regard that as an error, and that ‘dumb and childish’ explanations are exactly what we want (this seems to be Christ’s teaching, anyway) so they should not be rejected as silly!

Current Mormon explanations imply that God wants to make us fully divine primarily in order to have us create and rule more worlds; but that dodges the question of why creating and ruling more worlds is a good thing. If we assume that God wants a bigger family, because then there is more love, this explains why he wants his children to create and rule more worlds.

 

Anyway, I have not here explained the Atonement, in the way I hope it could eventually be explained. I have only made the first step. It’s a beginning, no more.

Comments (15)
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June 11th, 2015 23:21:50
15 comments

G.
June 12, 2015

Why would a supremely loving God still require justice? Answering that question has been fruitful for me. For one, it has shown that our instinctual modern understanding of love is dopey.


Vader
June 12, 2015

Our modern understanding of love is dopey, but I’m not convinced it’s instinctual. There are a lot of distorting influences at work.


Andrew
June 12, 2015

There is something incredibly moving, honorable, and beautiful about self-sacraficial love that appeals to our soul. What is more noble?

Is that to do with the structure of everything, or what the Father “works with”, or is it a specific design/structure He set up?


Andrew
June 12, 2015

I think Mormons may have the best or most satisfying explanation of the atonement giving the *reality* of family, that it is tangible in a real sense far beyond social structure or just DNA.

Now, of course, most us feel and know that innately, but the only thing that seems similar in the rest of Christianity might be in explanations of the Trinity, where the three are literally and inseparably linked as one.

Anyway, the idea is that (maybe) we are somehow really and tangibly linked to Father and each other, far beyond what I previously imagined or mainstream Christianity usually implies? That is, Christ’s actions were, in some real sense, ours if we exercise the will to accept (…and so maybe we can do something similar for each other sometimes?)


Andrew
June 12, 2015

Actually, I should have said, Christ’s actions would (if true) be ours, in some real sense, unless we specifically chose to reject them, because of the real tangible link (love?)


Leo
June 12, 2015

“Why would a supremely loving God still require justice? ”

Yes, a good question and a good place to start a discussion. The opposite of justice is not mercy. The opposite of justice is injustice. A loving God, a just God, a rational God, would prefer justice to injustice among his children. Justice is mercy to those who are suffering from injustice. But how to avoid justice being a crushing burden if all have sinned? Answer: Mercy, conditioned on repentance. But what about the lingering effects of sin on its victims? That would require a cosmic as well as an individual healing. We might associate that healing with the atonement. The atonement then is not so much a “covering” for sins as it is a “recovery” from sin. The effort required for such a recovery might be as great as the effort required for the original creation, something only a God could do, and perhaps only possible from one who has been on the “inside” of creation, experientially knowing it as it has been lived and perhaps only possible for those who join with God in the effort, if God is to preserve our free agency, so that our love is freely given.

And as Andrew suggests if we can in some way participate in Christ’s actions, somehow coinhere in the mysterious phrase of Charles Williams, then the connection and the healing power may become deeper. I certainly don’t have a good grasp of what this might mean, but the model of a loving Father’s desires for his family that Bruce calls our attention to is a good place to start. One might also consider the loving desires of the family members for one another, with all family members bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2 and Mosiah 18:8-9).


Bruce Charlton
June 12, 2015

Justice is clearly a vital component of a valid theory of the atonement – but our explanation of God’s justice must be an exalted form of the best imaginable human justice; and not another thing altogether.

Some theories of the atonement put forward an idea God’s justice being that Jesus was punished and suffered for the sins of Man – so that a single innocent man suffering all the punishments due to billions of sinful Men.

But this ‘justice’ bears little resemblance to any human ideal of justice, and – indirectly and unintentionally – makes God the Father into an alien and unloving entity. So this explanation fails.

The justice of God needs to be explained as the *kind of* justice an ideal, wholly-loving Father would apply to his own children.


G.
June 13, 2015

Andrew,
sometimes, with my traditional Christian friends, I’ve explained that in Mormonism we ultimately believe in an Infinity, not just a Trinity. Or, put differently, that the Trinity includes in the person of Christ many, many, many people.

@Bruce C.,
That’s not quite what I was getting at. Instead of asking what kind of justice is compatible with love (downstream of love), I asked what kind of justice is required for love to make sense (part of love).

As I’ve said before, I do believe that Jesus was punished and suffered for the sins of mankind. I don’t think this was an unloving act of arbitrary justice. True justice can’t be arbitrary or unloving. It was a tragic necessity born of love.

http://www.jrganymede.com/2010/08/17/you-want-justice-you-need-justice/

http://www.jrganymede.com/tag/responsibility-and-meaning/
http://www.jrganymede.com/tag/responsibility-and-meaning/


Leo
June 13, 2015

I am much in sympathy with Bruce’s latest comment. I see the pain of the atonement that Christ bore as a necessary cost of the work of repairing a fallen world and a fallen mankind, the sweat and pain of the effort just as our mundane work is sometimes painful, but here on an infinite and cosmic scale. This is more helpful to me than seeing it as an externally imposed punishment. One could think of it as punishment, and that thought might be helpful to some, but I find it much more helpful to think along the lines Bruce suggested.


Rich Wickham
June 13, 2015

“This inversion is very significant, for it seems to stem from the fact that spiritual and religious effort is associated with pain, suffering and punishment, for the image of such a life founded on the fact that we try to believe that God tortured and punished His own Divine Son for the sake of our spiritual progress. If God would do this to His own Son who has actualised His Divinity, how much worse will He not do to us who have actualised very little of our Divine potential. Again, it does not occur to us that it was we ourselves who punished this Divine Son of God, as we continue to do so in ourselves and in others, when the fact of its ‘difference’ to our normal attitude comes to our attention. The fact that God allowed us to torture His Divine Son is the true significance of the crucifixion symbol, for it indicates clearly to us that the principle of non-interferance must be somewhat more than a little important, and that this freedom we are forced to possess and keep, even though many of us would gladly shed it, is the basis of our intrinsic value. It also shows that this principle allows us not only to attain our Divine potential but it also allows us to destroy this Divine potential. The choice will constantly remain ours whether we like it or not.” Arkle, A Geography of Consciousness (p.79)


Bruce Charlton
June 13, 2015

@Rich – That was quiet a shock – a pleasing one – to have William Arkle quoted to me!


Bruce Charlton
June 13, 2015

I’m sorry, I’ll read that again: ‘quite’ a shock…


Rich Wickham
June 15, 2015

You have yourself to thank for it, Bruce. Long time reader of yours and ever thankful for putting me on to Arkle. I only wish he had published more!


Bruce Charlton
June 15, 2015

Great news! I think you are my one and only ‘convert’ to William Arkle.

I spent the past year reading, then very slowly re-reading, everything Arkle left behind.

(I’m assuming you are aware of http://www.billarkle.co.uk and http://shepton.org/page/the-paintings-of-william-arkle and http://williamarkle.blogspot.co.uk )

I have tried very hard to find out more about him, but discovered very little – what there is, is on my blog.

Still, I think what he left is enough.


Rich Wickham
June 15, 2015

Thanks for the links. I am familiar with the first two but somehow missed that you had gathered a collection of his writing. Glad you pointed it out. Thanks for the effort!

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