A Note To a Friend on Substitutionary Atonement

Years ago, I dropped the notion of blood sacrifice/substitutionary atonement (never liked it to begin with) as incompatible with God as the origin and source of complete love and adopted the notion that God’s complete love necessarily allows for freedom in the creation to choose the way of un-love, and that choosing becomes the norm in less than complete love.

This, of course, assumes a volitional act on the part of creation. What about violence as simply a part of the evolutionary process? What about the fight or flight of the animal world? What about survival of the fittest?

Could it be that all of this is natural in the evolutionary process and did not become an existential/ethical problem until the dawn of human consciousness — that which is okay in creation becomes “sin” with “ evil” consequences in humanity because humanity is called to different behavior but chooses the same behavior, which can no longer be considered innocent or the norm but an aberration or violation of God’s will?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed that “evil and suffering existed in the world long before human beings came around.” My question is would any of it be considered “evil” before humanity labeled it as such? Perhaps it was just natural?

Human reflection on the meaning of life necessitates pondering the juxtaposition of complete love with all that might be considered “evil.” Ironically, it could be concluded that complete love always allows for the freedom to not love, so that in a certain sense, it could be said that inherent within complete love is the ever present possibility of evil, which may not have been considered as such until humanity reflected on it.

(As an aside, I also like the notion in process theology and to some extent in the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that evil is the flotsam and jetsam that results in the evolutionary process of complexification and concrescence. As things come together, some things are necessarily cast off.)

God’s response is to love the creation out of the volitional behavior which always ends in violent death by submitting to the worst of that behavior — utter and total un-love in violent death and rising in the power of complete love thus revealing the extent of God’s love for us and the power of that love over that to which we inevitably resort (think gun violence, state sanctioned violence, sacred violence, domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse, etc.). I’m not speaking of “natural violence” such as destruction from volcanoes erupting, hurricanes, etc. I’m speaking of the volitional violence committed by humans.

When I think of Christ on the Cross, I do not think of God self-punishing with the outcome being not of my gratitude but rather my increased guilt (think Roman Catholic and Christian Reformed and RCA) for being such a loathsome creature. This is where I have trouble with the Heidelberg Catechism. It starts at the wrong place. Instead of starting with GUILT, it should be Grace, Guilt, Grace, Gratitude or something like that. Getting one’s ducks in a row would mean placing original blessing before sin.

I think of God participating in my suffering and grief out of sheer, perfect love for me and for the entire creation.

God suffers with and for the creation revealing that that suffering and its attendant, resultant, inevitable resort to violence is not the last word, the last word being love.

In the Cosmic Christ, the mythologized Jesus first conceived by St. Paul in Colossians where Paul moves from the individual person Jesus (whom, by the way, he hardly ever mentions) to the universal salvific metaphor for God’s complete love — the Christ, the entire creation is destined for life not death.

God’s love shows us how completely lovable we are and how we then can participate in God’s “saving” by casting off the Via Violentia for Via Amoris.



One thought on “A Note To a Friend on Substitutionary Atonement

  1. I can tell we read the same “Inbox Reflection” every morning. It gets the ideas and thoughts flowing for the day. Thanks for your good words.

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