Passion and Atonement -- The Genesis of Atonement

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 48, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 49.]

What shall God do?

The devils have betrayed His love; and do betray those He loves. Yet, as the eternal ground of all reality (including theirs), still being intrinsically Love in His own unique and independent self-existence, God still loves the rebel angels.

The humans have betrayed Him, too; and are betrayed in turn by higher tormentors; and also betray whosoever they themselves can find to have power over.

Yet, still, God loves them, too.

God will do what He can, to mitigate the suffering that His beloved children cause, in their quests to affirm their own self-importance. Such a quest will always involve perverted suffering: for to make suffer, in pain or in pleasure, is to exhibit power over; and so to exhibit power over, in any perverted way, will be to make suffer.

Yet God has given them such power that they pervert.

And although He will limit it, He will not abrogate it--for He loves them.

He will let at least some of the consequences of their choices play out--for He loves them.

But neither will God, the omnipresent Love Most High, leave them alone. He will always be trying to call them back, because Love Most High knows they can only be happier, in the long run, if they are working with, rather than against, the source of their life and power. He will never let them destroy themselves utterly, in their mad lust for a freedom to be what they can never be.

For He loves them.

'Them', I say? 'They', I say?

'I' and 'ME', I say!

God is always working within me. God is always working through other people around me--even when they don't quite realize Who they are working with. God is always working through this Nature in which I live. The devils are tampering, to one extent or another, with this Nature; just as I also, as a sinner, am tampering, to one extent or another, with this Nature.

But we rebels don't have it all our own way. The enemies of the Lord Above plot deeply and plot well.

But the Lord Above plots, too--and He is the best of plotters.

God is plotting love and justice, to me, for me, as a rebel, and as a victim of rebels.

He is always plotting, He is always working--toward my return to Him. But He cannot simply make me return; not without voiding my personhood, undoing my childhood, which would run entirely against the point of having me personally reconciled to Him. So, what can He do?

One thing God does, is wait.

He waits, while feeling, in His voluntarily active omniscience, all the suffering we engender, in ourselves and each other--sufferings we may eventually be able to put behind us, by the grace of God, but which God as the Eternally Real at every point of our space and time can never put behind Him, but must always utterly know.

He waits, letting us, allowing us, to exercise such a dreadful power over each other--and over Him.

He waits, His Fatherly heart bleeding, because of us, for us, for our victims, for His children.

He waits, as a spurned lover waits, feeling every anguish of hell, praying to whomever will listen that His love will return.

And that is another thing He does:

We sometimes pray to God. But in awful truth, in total reversal of natural religious piety and expectation, God Most High is always praying to us: praying to us to come back; praying for us to come back. We curl up in the dark, unwanting even to breathe, praying to Whomever will listen that our love will return, wanting to pray to our love for her or for him to return. God also curls up in the dark of our souls, praying to whomever will listen to Him, for His loves to return.

He is ever praying, ever urging, with a whisper or with a shout or with the roar of a lion. In the shocking language of the Jewish Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), God twists Himself in emotional torment at the adultery of His people. The language is even more shocking in the Christian New Testament grammar: God “propitiates” us!

But He acts in other ways, too. He is always and ever trying to help--not only for the ones who have begun to try to love Him in return, but also for the ones who reject what they perceive of reality, thus in principle rejecting Him.

He whispers to us, or roars to us: "Please, please, do not embrace untruth!!"

And sometimes we listen.

Sometimes we do more than listen: sometimes we listen...

and then turn away.

But sometimes, sometimes... some of us... listen--and agree.

Sometimes we do choose to work with Him.

And when that happens--when we resolve not to turn away from what little light we can see, and instead resolve to walk, to bathe, to glory in that light, as little as it may be... then, after a while, sooner or later... we see more light. A lot more; or a little more. Maybe it is only an illusion thrown by an enemy; but it is something to compare with what light we do have.

So we can walk by what light we do have; and search for more light thereby.

And when we do this, we are working with, not against, the 3rd Person of God, the Holy Spirit; and therefore we are working also with the 1st and 2nd Persons, even if we know none of them as such: we are working also with the Father and the Son.

But it is hard.

I bear the synthetic curse, as do we all: the sin of angels, and the sin of the man raised from mud--and my own sins, too. I can hear God a little more clearly when I try to work with what I do know about reality, when I try to be true; and I ardently admit and insist that this is true: for anyone, polytheist, pantheist, theist, dualist, atheist, agnostic, today, tomorrow, or deep in antiquity.

But we, most of us, can only hear a little. And often what we hear is garbled; for the lines of communication have been mangled on our end, by our ancestors, by our enemies, by our selfish perversions, even by our natural surroundings.

All these factors are real; and God will have His creation, will have us, to be real.

Yet, even so--if we look, if we listen, if we are willing to be fair, if we are willing to be humble...

We can find men and women who have walked among us for all of human history, saying something, working for something, standing for something.

And, in the process, standing for Someone.

They are fallible; they are sinners, too; their communication isn't perfect; their understanding isn't perfect.

But they are there--showing us there is some Way, better than the ways around them, perhaps better than the ways we ourselves know.

These men and women are the sheep of the Shepherd.

They are the saints.

For the vast majority of human history, they have also been what is commonly called 'pagan'; although they haven't always been what 'pagan' originally meant: peasants.

And though they have worked within the understandings of their time, sometimes against the understandings of their time, and not always in tune with the answers I myself have inferred--still, often there are hints, in what they do, in who they are, in what they stand for.

There is, after all, a universal religion.

The 'catholic' religion.

Except it is very hard to see, and very hard to hear. It requires discernment to embrace logic; and humility to embrace both myth and history; and a willingness to distinguish good from evil, and truth from falsehood.

And even then with the best of intentions--we still aren't likely to get much of it right.

God is doing, and will do, everything He can. But because He refuses to let His creations be something other than His creations, because He refuses to stop loving His creations, because He refuses to make them less real... what He can do in our hearts, isn't quite enough.

The saints who have walked the earth from the beginning of recorded history, and very probably from even before; who have been the salt of the earth, the taste from beyond Nature giving savor to the cultures in which they live and which they sometimes succeed in altering or improving--they may be sheep, but they are not the Shepherd. They are not God. They are sinners, too, like you and me; maybe better ethically in some or every way, yet still cursed with the sin of Adam and of angels--and of themselves.

They may walk so close to God that they are taken to heaven, in history, in legend, in myth: Enoch, Melchizedek, Elijah, Arthur.

But they aren't good enough, they aren't powerful enough, they don't say enough. Even when they say more and do more than the rest of us--it isn't enough, no matter how hard they try.

And sometimes, for all of what they represent, and for all of what they accomplish... they cause more trouble than they help.

The kingdoms of David and of Theodosius, of Arthur and of Charlemagne, have fallen--in small part or in large, due to these very men themselves; for they were sinners, too.

In order to have the best chance of changing our willed outlook ('repentance'); the best chance of making our own responsible contributions to the undoing of our corruptedness and what we ourselves have corrupted ('remission'); the best chance of becoming, in our lives, united with God ('at-one-ment', or as we say in English now 'a-tone-ment')--then what do we need?

We need God to help us. We need God to find a way to give us a clearer communication, a clearer communion, than is otherwise possible in our hearts.

We need God to come to us.

But there are constraints under which He must work, if He is to give us the clearest possible information about Himself, and if He is to do this without undermining His other plans.

And those constraints, some of which are quite paradoxical, are what I will discuss in the next chapter.

[Next: principle of Immanuel]


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.

For anyone saying to themselves, "Wait, huh!?! The NT surely doesn't say God propitiates us, but rather that God had to be propitiated by, um... well, not by us: sinners cannot propitiate God, but by Christ Who... uh... Who is God... propitiating God... because God the Father needed propitiating to us but God the Son did not..."

--yes, I know, that's a common position to take, even among trinitarian Christian scholars who, of all people, ought to be aware there's something schismatically non-trinitarian about that. {wry g}

Fortunately, though, the actual grammar of the canonical New Testament doesn't run that way. The sinner is not only always the one being "reconciled" (in various cognate forms of that term in Greek) by God, through and as Christ, but the sinner is even the one receiving the action of propitiation, with God providing the action.

I know how freakish that sounds; I was taught the other way around, too. And after all, that is the natural religious expectation: the deity, at best, doesn't really care about us, or even is inherently angry against us, so someone has to do something to get God to smile on us (which is basically what the Greek term we translate as 'propitiation' means), to lean toward us (which is basically how the term was translated into Latin eventually.) And surely if it was the other way around, that would mean God condones sinners in their sins, right?!

Nevertheless: "this is love, not that we [first] love God, but that God [first] loves us, and sends His Son: a propitiation concerning our sins." (1 John 4:10) The Father, the 1st Person, acts in propitiation; the Son, the 2nd Person, is the living action of the Father: there is no schism of intention or action between them on this or any other topic.

Readers curious about checking the grammatic details of the use of {katallas-} (cognates of conciliation) and {hilas-} (cognates of propitiation) in the NT, are welcome to check my study on this topic here at this thread on the EU forum.

(There are two threads: the linked one is to my exegetical analysis of propitiation in the NT, which is the more difficult one to parse out; but the first post also has a link to my examination of the usage of "atone/reconcile" cognates in a sister thread.)


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