Atonement and Salvation - Printable Version
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Atonement and Salvation - John Charmley - 03-03-2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I wonder if there are others, like me, who find aspects of the Atonement puzzling?
St. John tells us [I John 2:2] 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Who is being propitiated?
Matthew 20:28 tells us 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. But to whom was the ransom due?
I know that St. Gregory of Nyssa writes that it was to ransom us from Satan, but why does the omnipotent creator of everything 'owe' anything to Satan, who surely has no 'right' to us? Is it that we, through sin, seem to acknowledge Satan's rule over us?
We are ransomed from the bondage of death, that sin has over us since the fall of Adam. But in what sense do we understand the word 'ransom'?
In the Incarnation human nature and God's own nature were joined, and since death could not hold Him, it lost its hold on us, as we can live in Him, and through the process of theosis realise the divine image in which we are made.
Clearly Atonement and Salvation are not, as sometimes seems to be the case in Protestantism, the same thing; the first is a necessary condition of the latter.
Deep waters, I know, but I look to the resources of the Fellowship here for assistance; in correcting me if I have erred; and in deepening my understanding, if I am in the right ball-park!
- Solly - 20-04-2007
John, in my own pondeirngs about atonement (trying to jettison Penal Substitution) I think one of the helpful pointers is that these verses do not necessarly imply a transaction with two parties, but rather bring in the imagery involved in them. Ransom implies release, inline with the Exodus. Propitiation should not be confused with expiation - the appeasing of an angry vengeful God who is about to blast us. In the OT economy, the sacrifices, when accepted, where indiciative of God's coming to us, despite being sinners,rather than our trying to get to him. In Christ's case, God provides the way we had refused to do, he does our job for us, taking the initiative. I don't have a fully worked out scenario, though, and have found benefit from the Girardian view.
Atonement - John Charmley - 20-04-2007
Very grateful for you elucidations. I wonder if we can tempt anyone else to join in and offer further enlightenment?
atonement and salvation - kirk yacoub - 23-04-2007
Dear John and Solly,
Maybe the following will be of further stimulus:
To atone for sins is to make recompense for them, but the forgiveness of sins is not calculated on the basis of what or how much we do, forgiveness is freely given by the grace of God to the honest heart which has recognised, regretted and confessed wrongdoing. Acts of atonement or penance are designed to repair the damage done by sin and to help the penitent avoid sin in future, being part of the fight against Satan which, like ascetic practices, train us to control our own selfish will, placing ourselves under the will of God, which is the will of universal love.
Christ's self-sacrifice on the Cross was not made in atonement for the sins of mankind, was not propitiatory recompense offered to a wrathful, vengeful God, Christ is our Redeemer because He paid the blood-ransom which frees us from our slavery to sin and sin's consequence, death. When Christ died upon the Cross He deliberately took upon Himself all the sins ever committed, not just in the past, but in the future, too, by any and every human being at any time in human history. (Just imagine the bitterness of that cup!)
So, if Christ's sacrifice is a ransom for us, to whom was it paid? To God the Father? But that would imply that it is God who has enslaved us to sin and death. No, we allowed ourselves to be enslaved by a power higher than humanity, the prince of darkness, Satan. Imagine, if you will, Christ walking into Satan's office, slamming a bag of gold coin on his desk, saying: "There you are, every human soul, paid for!" The transaction is complete, but while it frees us from our indebtedness to Satan, the blood money he receives is, in reality, as much use to him as were the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas Iscariot. For if Satan is a higher power than mankind, then Christ, being God, is an infinitely higher power than the fallen angel.
Christ shattered the gates of Sheol and released the captive souls, a thing which, thanks to His Resurrection, he does every day, having destroyed the power of death. And there is nothing that Satan can do about it -
unless we choose otherwise!
- Solly - 23-04-2007
Leaving aside the Christus Victor model, which is my preferred model of the aotnement, I think the Ransom one has its virtues, but fell foul of over rationalisation, in that if there is a ransom, it must be paid to someone, and that someone was the Devil, which Kirk mentions above. But the devil has no rights in the matter (and in some streams of Orhtodoxy, is down for redemption himself, in the apocatastasis). This led the way for the Satisfaction model in the West, put forward by Anselm, and furthered modified into Penal Satisfaction by the Reformers, which sought to give glory to God's offended honour, and repay it in romano-feudal terms.
But in time it began to strike me that if forgiveness is free, then why do we need to pay the debt? And if we pay the debt, via Christ, how can it be free? I like what Kirk says about atonement mending the harm. God's grace goes before us, superabounding over our sin, while we were yet sinners. In that sense I am fully protestant in that we receive it by faith, and faith alone: God has done the work; he has provided the ransom (the liberation). But then we have a work to do. Having said sorry, we start to clear up the mess! The Christus Victor model tells us that the powers that enslaved us into making the mess have been hamstrung - although still going about like a roaring lion (this is the lesson of the Desert Fathers); the Ransom model tells us we are truly free, just as the Hebrews were truly free of Egypt : but you can take the slave out of Egypt, but not Egypt out of the slave, it seems, and that is the lesson of scripture. This is the reason for my wanting to know more about Orthodoxy, since they seemed to have a developed understanding of these facts, whereas in the West too often holiness is seen as an add on (but not played up too much lest we be taken for seeking works righteousness). The therapeutic model I have encountered via Frs. Vlachos and Romanides speaks very much to the way I saw my own theological reflections going.
Atonement - John Charmley - 23-04-2007
Dear Solly, Dear Kirk,
Many thanks to you both for two very helpful posts.
Can I press a little further in terms of my understanding of what our Church teaches?
'without the shedding of blood there is no remission' (Heb. 9:22)
'Not by works of righteousness which we have done ... not of works, lest anyone should boast' (Ephesians 2:9)
'What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?' (James 2:14)
'You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.' (James 2:24)
As Kirks says, the love of the Incarnate Lord is unlimited - all human sins, past, present and future, are forgiven - but do we not need the 'blood of Christ' - the sacraments of His Church?
'Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' (John 3:16)
'Most assuredly I say unto you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God' (John 3:3) So do we not need the sacraments of baptism and chrismation?
'Then Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. '(John 6:53-56) So we need the sacrament of the Eucharist.
'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.' (1 John 1:8 ) So we need the sacraments of repentance and absolution.
I do find the language of the Church as a spiritual hospital more helpful than juridicial language - but these are the deepest of waters, and I am very grateful for your help.
If I have written in error, I crave correction.
- Solly - 23-04-2007
atonement and salvation - kirk yacoub - 24-04-2007
The devil does have a say in the matter - if we let him! Whereas God can crush Satan in the twinkling of an eye, God did things differently. We still have free will and if, for whatever reason (usually pride!) ,a human being rejects what Christ offers us, then that person is still enslaved by sin and death. No-one is forced to believe. The sense that Satan is powerless in regard to what God does is that the devil can never defeat God's plan and had to accept the fait accomplis of what Christ did. However, although from an objective point of view the devil is defeated, our free will enables us to throw in our lot with Satan for eternal damnation. (Another loaded
question!) The obtuseness of the human race seems boundless, which is why we must pray and bear witness, just as we would shout out a warning to a blind man we see stumbling towards the edge of a cliff.
- Solly - 24-04-2007
Apologies Kirk, there was no intention to downplay the role of the Devil, I was merely pointing out that in the Ransom model, the debt is not paid to the devil, and it was the consideration that it did that led to the sidelining of this model in favour of satisfaction models, at least in the West (long after the split).
Thanks for the info Fr Gregory.
One point from Knight that might have a bearing on why the Eastern churches do not make so much of atonement is that, for Knight, sacrifice is not about atonement, but sanctification. Humanity requires education [paideia], and cure [therapy], and this comes through the full torah of God. It is the gentile world that seeks to move their god by killing things, including people. Abraham was an aramaean, and from Ur of the Chaldees; child sacrifice was known to him as normal. The event on Mount Moriah was meant to get him off child sacrifice, and get him away from thinking God's hand could be tipped in his favour (just as circumcision was a reminder that Abraham could not take his destiny into his own hands). Blood is a controlled substance in Israel, for the life is in the blood, and the life comes from God, and must return to God. Look at the regulations surrounding the accidental killing of animals in the OT, as if they were people. The world lies in death, and the people of God must have nothing to do with death, not even accidentally. There is an elaborate ritual surrounding blood, and the decontamination required over spillages.
Sacrifices, for Israel, were about coming to the God who had already accepted them as being in his favour, and presenting the labour of their hands, which they had received from God in the first place. God gave, and says, what have you done with it. They have to present the best they have (just as the best they have, the Levites, serve in the sanctuary). When the system is working normally, the Temple, like a great vacumm cleaner, sucks up the sins of Israel, and it is emptied out once a year onto the scapegoat; this cleansing is done by blood. Apart from that one animal, which is cast out into the void (God casting their sins behind his back), all the other animals are the meeting place of God and man: God already has his hand on them, provides them for the people, who then put their hands on them. This all prefigures Christ's death, who is the beloved son, and stands for us to put our hands on him, to meet with God. Christ is the best humanity had to offer, by God's design, though we didn't know it. We were trying to kill God, and yet, at the height of what we take to be our victory, God wins!! Now Christ is the model for us, for, unlike Protestants who have a hard time uniting Christ's life with his death, we can see a path to follow, as living sacrifices (which is what the OT sacrifices were about; we can't die and still serve God, so the animal substitutes for us). Christ fulfills all the OT sacrifices, but the lesson is still the same: present yourselves living sacrifices.
I like the emphasis that the Eastern churches still retain, underlying the word Eucharist, that it is a thanksgiving to God, from the toil of our hands - 9 months to produce bread and wine - which, and here I am not yet au fait on EO eucharistic theology - also becomes Christ, in a replay of the incarnation of Christ, and his offering to God. It is a recapitulation, not a re-presentation, and it is our necessary food.
atonement and salvation - kirk yacoub - 25-04-2007
In reading the various contributions to the discussion on atonement and salvation, and searching through Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, I see how easy it could be to fall into a fruitless argument. It helps me to understand how Christological disputes have tormented the Church for so long.
However, it is pleasing to say that we are all trying hard to understand each other in the knowledge that no-one is trying to have the last word, but rather that each of us is trying to add pieces to the jigsaw puzzle.
Having read in St Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews that Christ "through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God," and that "he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Ch9v14-15), which seems to state that Christ allowed Himself to be sacrificed to God the Father under the Mosaic Covenant, paying the price of God's anger in our place (though it might not really mean that!), then finding in the Book of Revelation that Christ "hast redeemed us to God by [His] blood" (Ch4v9), which suggests that, if we have been redeemed TO
God, we would then have had to have been purchased FROM someone else, a belief that is expressly stated in the Greek Orthodox Prayer to the Lord Jesus Crucified (in the Akathist to the Divine Passion of the Christ) by the words "...for us men and for our salvation You endured Your Cross and Passion that You might redeem us all from cruel bondage to the enemy," and having read that the great Church father St Gregory of Nyssa
believed that Christ was offered as a sacrifice to Satan in recompense for the freedom of humanity, I had to pause and ask myself the following question:
Would it not be preferable, rather than trying to crack my skull over such a complex mystery, to simply thank God that every time I take Communion I am allowed to partake of our Lord's Holy and Life-giving Body and Blood, and to say, in company with the good thief who was crucified at Christ's side: "...Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss... Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke23v40-42)?
Perhaps it would be better to meditate on the 51st Psalm , which contains so much on this subject.
atonement and salvation - kirk yacoub - 30-04-2007
At the risk of ignoring my previous post (!) I put forward the following
"Taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to
corruption and death, He surrendered His body to death in place
of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love
for us so that in His death all might die, and the law of death
thereby be abolished." (St Athanasius, Incarnation of the Divine Word)
"...the bond which God held for Adam, saying 'In the day thou
eatest of the tree, thou shalt die' (Gen2v17). This bond then the
devil held in his possession. And Christ did not give it to us, but
Himself tore it in two, the action of one who remits joyfully."
(St John Chrysostom, VI Homily on Colossians)
So, do they contradict each other? At first glance, perhaps, but I believe they complement each other. By tearing the bond in two Christ was offering His body to the Father. The complexity of Salvation if looked at in human intellectual terms is great, but if we keep in mind aspects of what Christ did for us as reflected in Scripture and the writings of the Fathers
we will be able to understand in a place much more important than the
intellect - in our hearts!