I found it peculiar that after growing up around nothing but love that my adult experience should be filled with controversy. I am not speaking politically because I carry no torch for any political party. I am talking about my understanding of Scripture.
I grew up believing the theological position that preacher after preacher maintained was the unvarnished—and only—truth.1 [Maybe so!] But I discovered that the Creed is not that simple.
Atonement theory, foremost, scripturally the only subject that matters, must continue to be somewhat controversial because while we know Jesus had to die for our Salvation, we theorize the “how.” We know forgiveness of sins was tied to the shedding of blood—His blood [but how!]:
… the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22
Glen, an Episcopalian, and later Catholic, priest, recalled while in seminary:
“We were studying atonement theory, and I thought, ‘Was there not a better way to save humanity than to resort to human sacrifice?’ But we were not encouraged to ask those kinds of questions. This particular professor mocked those who did.”2
Ken Daniels, after leaving the faith, questioned, “I can’t see why you couldn’t just forgive truly penitent people for their sins without requiring a blood sacrifice, just as humans forgive each other?”3
But we don’t “just … forgive each other”! If we are intellectually honest we admit that forgiveness is more than a verbal consent.4
Forgiveness is probably the biggest task God will ever ask of us! …and just when we would rather not. [Right, Jonah?]
Christians are asked to emulate God in this matter, to forgive as you have been forgiven.5 We have been given a new birth in Christ to empower us for this very act—and especially because we are so controversial!
There is more here than misunderstanding. Perhaps some hurts seem unforgettable. Perhaps, something painful still haunts us in unexplainable fears, moments of uncontrollable rage, orphaned desires that are not who we want to be! (Oh, how it hurts to be human!) The work on Calvary needed to address a boat-load of pain and hurt—that we cause to God and to one another.
“the chastisement of our peace was upon him”6
Did I say this wasn’t political? Perhaps I was wrong about that. We’ve never needed more to capture the lesson of divine forgiveness toward one another than in the political atmosphere that pervades the current mood of the day.
Perhaps, the best way to begin to understand how Christ’s death on Calvary could reconcile us to God and each other as well as provide for a “race-less” fellowship among us far stronger and more enduring than any other social bond—perhaps, the best way to understand the how—is to practice this forgiveness ourselves.
2 Daniel Dennett; Linda LaScola. Caught in The Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (Durham, NC:Pitchstone Publishing,2013), 49.
3 Kenneth W Daniels. Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary (Austin TX:Kenneth W. Daniels, 2010.), page 37.
6 Isaiah 53:5