Christ’s atonement

Why did Christ have to die to make up for our sins? People today find the idea stupid and brutal. Why couldn’t God have given us a way out of them without letting his own son be tortured to death in such a horrible manner? What does the one thing have to do with the other apart from some primitive sense of divine vengeance or legalistic bookkeeping?

It seems to me that outlook on this issue is wrong and based on a denial of the moral seriousness of the world and the reality of man’s actions in it. The modern liberal and technocratic view is that the rational goal of all action is utilitarian—maximizing pleasure, minimizing pain, and the like. Suppose, though, that God wanted to achieve some non-utilitarian good, like making man godlike rather than merely animal? To do so he would have to give man’s actions genuine importance, and in particular give him the power of doing real evil that has real effects in the real world. If that were God’s purpose, then Christ’s sacrificial death becomes comprehensible and even uniquely fitting as a way of maintaining the seriousness of human action while offering man forgiveness. God accepts in his own person the effects of the evil we do and so frees us from it without making it something other than what it is.

The foregoing doesn’t persuade us today. It seems a put-up job, as if God were doing something pointless and horrible to create a dramatic effect and impress people. Wouldn’t it be more Godlike to ignore appearances, and do what’s right and solve the problem in the most humane way possible?

I think the reason we look at the matter that way is that we are too thoroughly utilitarian. We simply can’t conceive of action that is justified by what it is, by the world it expresses and creates, rather than by the external this-worldly goals it achieves. For us everything is manipulative. That’s why modern civilization is radically antiartistic, that’s why the church has rejected the ancient liturgy, and that’s why we find God inconceivable and the world meaningless. Something doesn’t acquire meaning by bringing about what we want, it acquires it by making present to us something that transcends all desire. And that is something that is now beyond our conception.

1 thought on “Christ’s atonement”

  1. Very good
    Possibly one of the best commentaries on how and why Christ had to sacrifice himself for mankind’s sins can be found in Chapter Four of the of the book Patriarchs and Prophets. Here’s an excerpt:

    The fall of man filled all heaven with sorrow. The world that God had made was blighted with the curse of sin and inhabited by beings doomed to misery and death. There appeared no escape for those who had transgressed the law. Angels ceased their songs of praise. Throughout the heavenly courts there was mourning for the ruin that sin had wrought.

    The Son of God, heaven’s glorious Commander, was touched with pity for the fallen race. His heart was moved with infinite compassion as the woes of the lost world rose up before Him. But divine love had conceived a plan whereby man might be redeemed. The broken law of God demanded the life of the sinner. In all the universe there was but one who could, in behalf of man, satisfy its claims. Since the divine law is as sacred as God Himself, only one equal with God could make atonement for its transgression. None but Christ could redeem fallen man from the curse of the law and bring him again into harmony with Heaven. Christ would take upon Himself the guilt and shame of sin—sin so offensive to a holy God that it must separate the Father and His Son. Christ would reach to the depths of misery to rescue the ruined race.

Comments are closed.