“EASTER SUNDAY” Continued…
As you may know, a constant refrain in my communiques has been, “There’s nothing that can’t be improved!” As one wag has quipped, “Let your words be sweet, you may have to eat them.” Here’s where I eat them. Perhaps my greatest model for this amenable attitude is Philip Mauro (1859-1952), the eminent American lawyer who became, all unintentionally, though after conscientious and deeply studied consideration, the “Champion of the Kingdom” that cannot be shaken. (I have just added links, at the right, to his most important writings that contribute to our topic.) He repented of previously published positions and carefully explained why, so that others would be able to follow in due course. I am grateful to be one of those. In that spirit, what I am posting today contains elements of my earlier transitional position on the matter of “payment” as a category commonly applied to the Atonement. Here you will hear strong echoes of Anselm’s famous medieval position. However, you will also observe a struggle to pass from pecuniary economic metaphors to those of gift and gratuity. So I am thinking out loud, with a tentative touch. I include these reflections because they illustrate how difficult it is to jettison ingrained habits of thought. Here I have a foot in both camps. However, if this “bridging” effort should happen to facilitate the passage of yet more students of the Atonement to a more adequate grasp of the premial truth–especially if the alteration would otherwise be too great a stretch–I will feel sufficiently “rewarded.” Caveat lector!
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In Biblical thought, sacrifice is an image of paying back (shalam/apodo-) to God what we wrongfully took from Him by our sins (“debts”), thus making or reestablishing peace (shalom). Fire on the altar imaged God’s acceptance of the repayment, whereby he took the sacrifice to Himself by consuming it whole, only the blood of the innocent victim dripping down below the altar. The whole image is one of restitution of existence for existence (“life for life,” “soul for soul”). But since in fact it is actually impossible for a creature to repay the Creator, God could not possibly have given the sacrificial system with a view to benefiting Himself. He could only have designed it to be symbolic for its human recipients until such time as the actual, once-for-all sacrifice could be made and understood for what it really was. Thus God gave the entire typical system of sacrifice out of love for his helpless creatures! It did Him no good, but it did us some good as a reminder, pointer, or testimony of God’s coming way of salvation on our behalf. Anything which we might have given as currency or collateral or credit was first of all a gift from the Creator, so is His already, by right of origination. The creation itself is God’s primal gift. Its very existence, not to mention the testimony of good things evidently intended for our pleasurable enjoyment and use, should raise human expectations concerning the nature of salvation as pure gift as well! It should seem perfectly natural that if the universe–startling in its design, both at first blush as well as at our deepest probing–came into being without our help, then its salvation should exhibit a parallel structure of origination independent of our assistance! [04/15/95]
When we sin, we are not only committing a crime against the Owner of all, but are simultaneously injuring ourselves. For to victimize the Life-giver is necessarily to victimize the life-needer. Our own existences are dependent on the life flowing from our Creator. When we disturb our peace with Him, we risk our life. This is the archetypical “biting the Hand that feeds us.” In terms of this unique predicament, no amount of “repayment” by us could ever really restore the peace, because everything/anything we might use as currency belongs to Him in the first place. This places humans in a cosmic conundrum insoluble by human means. This is why the sacrificial system of the Old Testament could only serve as an object lesson. It only images what needed to be done, so there could be no final animal sacrifice that would ever halt its perpetuity. The ancient world waited for an ultimate sacrifice to finally “repay” human infraction and put an end to the futile rigamarole of religion.
When a conspiracy of sinful races offered up their own rightful King and Sovereign as a sacrifice (ironically!), shedding his innocent blood, God Himself answered from heaven with a thundering, and ever since resounding, verdict of “life agelong and superabounding.” And that was the end of the matter. Our ‘work’ is to believe! [04/15/95]
Jesus paid with his life (psuche) for coming into a sinful world as a sinless human. He knew the risk he was running, yet he volunteered for the mission that would inevitably entail the supreme sacrifice. This was an extremely well-calculated risk. He had been given by his Father the right to lay down his existence and, as the sinless Son, the right to take it up again (Jn. 10:17-18). No one could inadvertently take it from him. For a sinless human–with all the Divine powers attendant thereto–to invade a planet of sinners, must inevitably incur warfare between the light and the darkness. For our sakes, he sacrificed his rightful prerogatives as the Anointed King, the Son of the Highest, and suffered unjustly at the ‘mercy’ of a sinful and darkened planet. And for this the Creator, virtually “overnight” overturned the crime that stole his rights, overwhelmingly overcompensating Jesus by Resurrection from among the dead and exaltation to the right hand of His own throne! This just and rightful award (dikaioma) accomplished in one cosmic moment the justification of God for allowing sin and evil (the final theodicy!), of Christ, thus proving his messiahship and the truth of all he taught, and even of every person who dares to believe this explanation of the atoning Events. [04/15/95]
For Christ to make peace or make restitution (shalam) for our sins, he must have sacrificed to God from his own rightful wealth. What was that wealth? It must have included the right to be King of Israel, the right to be married, the right to have children and heirs, the right to live forever without dying. As the sinless Son of God and son of mankind, he possessed the wealth of the Wholesome Spirit of God, poured out at his baptism, conspicuously displayed in signs and miracles of healing of every description. He would have been known as a wealthy man but for the fact that he gave it all away as soon as he got it! He was downright ‘prodigal‘ with his wealth, prodigious in its expenditure for the enriching of others. He came to his own people and nation, yet they did not receive or accept him, disregarding his generosity of favoritism toward them. Under the direction of Satan, their rejection of their own rightful king, leading to his sacrifice by crucifixion–his carrying of their cursing of him by putting him on a tree to hang–was, in the overruling hand of God the very means of invoking His judgment from heaven to save, justify, and glorify His obediently self-sacrificing Son!
Thus we behold the cosmically staggering exhibit of God’s accepting His Son’s sacrifice and then trumping it by superabundantly overcompensating that offering with one of his own, namely: Resurrection from among the dead, exaltation to the throne of the whole created universe ( and not just to the throne of Israel anymore), life evermore, and the outpouring of the promised Wholesome Spirit upon all who will trust this Proclamation, making us sons and thus heirs of His Kingdom, a new creation in Christ Jesus!
Thus did a Son of Adam “pay back” (if that’s what you call giving a gift!) “a God Who had everything,” for Adam’s suicidal act of sin that plunged his offspring into death along with himself. And thus did God promptly repay that “payment” with interest to the “Nth” power! Here is more than the old payment theory with a new twist. Here is a revelation of the true proportions of the mutual regard of the Father and Son for each other before the ages began to roll. The covenant between the Father and Son before the ages, and well before the disruption by sin in Genesis 3, contained the secret of the created universe: those who humble themselves will be exalted by God...it’s only a matter of time. [04/15/95]
This old creation is the seed of a brand new creation. But the fallen creation must die before the new can germinate and spring up. The Old Covenant must be sacrificed for the exisence of the new. Life from death. Not gradual evolution; not even cataclysmic evolution. An eruption. Moreover, a 30-, 60-, 100-fold life, far exceeding the first! [04/16/95; 06/18/06]
When a seed dies, it comes back to life with much fruit. This clear image of the Resurrection, indeed, the Regeneration (palingenesia), needs to be more well-articulated with all the other Biblical teachings concerning sacrifice and peace/restitution. By sacrificing all his rightful blessings of the Old Covenant as God’s Messiah, Christ’s acceptance of its curses and cruel death won for him the transcending blessings of a New Covenant, which he, in turn, pays to us if we will accept and assimilate them.
The payment/restitution (shalam) that Christ “paid” was his own existence in this old creation. And he paid it to us. That is why he directed us to “take, eat…drink.” For we must accept this payment, taking it into ourselves. We are the payees! “He is our peace[-offering] (shalom/eirene), who makes both [Jew and Gentile] one” (Eph 2:14). “[M]aking a peace[-offering] in the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is the public symbol/sign of accepting payment. (The O.T. peace-offering was to be eaten.) This “payment” was symbolized in the form of a sacrifice so that it could be eaten. The fire on the altar imaged God’s consumption of the sacrifice. But often the very sacrifice that was thus “eaten” by God was also thereafter to be eaten by humans. Thus both God and human must accept the payment that restores peace.
The Son “paid” his soul/existence; the Father reimbursed with Resurrection! His investment “paid” overwhelming dividends, a veritable bonanza! A windfall!
“…[A]nd gave his soul/existence a ransom for many.” “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood (soul/existence)” “or you have no life…” [04/18/95] The ransom is “paid” to us so we can get liberated from Satan’s slavery to fear of death, for the ransom is life itself! [06/18/06]