Monday, March 09, 2009

Historical Atonement

Here's a good way of looking at the atonement in an historical fashion, rather than in a floaty-magical way:
"In order to save, God does not require a sacrifice that kills his creatures, and therefore there is no need to seek out excellent victims for sacrifice. This would mean that the victims' suffering, by its nature, would 'disarm' the power of evil, not magically, but historically. This is a way of trying the explain conceptually the saving element of Christ's suffering on the cross: sin has discharged all its force against him, but in doing so sin itself has been left without force. So it is not that suffering placates God and makes him benevolent; rather what it does is disarm evil. As for God, the cross is proof of his love, since he accepted us precisely at the moment when he could have rejected us, because of the suffering we have inflicted on his Son." (Jon Sobrino, No Salvation Outside the Poor, page 65)

The Anselmian "satisfaction view" of the atonement has always bothered me. Some people are quite convinced of it, but I've always thought that if tearing someone apart on a cross is God's vision of retribution and justice then I don't want any part in his kingdom. No, in God's vision crucified people are not cursed and no one should have to die on a cross. The cross is not justice, rather, it's the exposure of injustice--the calling it what it is of oppression--"disarming" its pseudo-power in light of God's real power. Christus Victor: "The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil" (Gustav Aulén (transl. by A. G. Herber) Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Macmillan: New York, 1977) page 20.).

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