Martin Luther recounts that when he realized the true nature of God's righteousness, he felt that he was "altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates." Now I sometimes get a bit too excited about a book I have read, or an idea that has struck me, and I generally try to curb my enthusiasm until I've had time to think more about the details and see where else such an idea has cropped up, and the reaction it has met with. But even though I just stumbled upon the following ideas yesterday (actually, I've been reading through the night), I feel that they have illuminated the Gospel for me in a way similar to what Martin Luther experienced. I feel such joy flooding my heart that I simply have to share what I have discovered, which is an understanding of the atonement which I think simply side-steps all of the problematic issues facing certain other models, particularly the penal substitution and satisfaction models. Now such a claim may sound too good to be true, and perhaps it is, in which case the sooner its deficiencies are exposed, the better. But the exegetical case for this understanding is laid out very clearly and in my mind convincingly in a free online book by Norman McIlwain called The Biblical Revelation of the Cross. Because all the pertinent Bible passages are discussed eloquently there, I will not give biblical references here but instead focus on the more philosophical issues involved. But I'm confident, based on my reading of McIlwain (who is by the way an evangelical committed to the inerrancy of Scripture, historical Adam and Eve and all), that the following argument is fully biblical and is indeed the only reasonable understanding of Jesus' atoning work on the cross.
God in His essence is the perfect, mutual, completely self-giving love shared between the Persons of the Trinity, and he means for us as image bearers to reflect that love. And while there is room in this love for the existence of something which is other than God (and indeed it is a marvelous manifestation of God's love that he 'withdraws' in order to make a space for creation), there is just no way God can give his unique kind of life to a creature not wholly oriented toward that kind of love, just as a radio broadcast cannot be received by a radio not tuned to that station...either we fully, completely and perfectly embody God's love...manifested in our love for him and for our fellows (and in a different yet still perfect way the rest of God's creation), or we can't share in God's life, which is the only truly incorruptible, non-frustrating, non-futile, everlasting kind of life there is.