Your Online Cup of Tea
On a Facebook page that take part in regularly for discussion of matters of theology, the subject of the atonement came up again. We had just done a big conversation on what the fall of Adam meant in relation to us. The group consists primarily of Orthodox and Catholic members, so no one was advocating Penal Substitutionary Atonement (see here for my previous post on the issue: https://yoshuascribes.wordpress.com/2015/06/04/matters-of-the-atonement-and-justification/ )
However, I do believe that PSA has its roots in Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory. And while don’t equate the two, I do find they are working off similar ideas. Though I can’t pin point it exactly. The following then is a passage of scripture put forward that brought all this in light. In my response (collection of my scattered comments), I try and lay the groundwork for having a non-satisfaction view of the atonement and then apply it certain texts.
A section of Holy Writ wherein both East & West should find agreement on the question of the Atonement-concept.
” And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord commanded them; for the Lord had accepted Job.”
Some brief points
1) The word for “wrath” in the Hebrew (‘aph) literally means “nose” or “breathing member”, and is the same word used in Genesis when the Lord breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7)
2) And the word following “aroused” (charah) means to be angry or furious. The same word is used to described Cain when he was angered against Abel because his offering was not acceptable to God.
3) However we interpret the part which says ‘My wrath is aroused against you’, what we learn here is that the sincere love and mercy of God for 3 particular persons (Eliphaz/Bildad/Zophar) is not undermined by the process of needing a sacrifice in order to make atonement. I was speaking with an Eastern Orthodox christian recently and he insisted that the story of the Prodigal son shows us a God who needs no sacrifice, but forgives just when we come home. While there is truth to this, I think it is an unlawful reduction of God’s saving plan as revealed in Scripture & Tradition, for both East & West.
4) The sacrifice which is required by God (by precept, not absolute necessity) is the slaughter of animals, as well as the prayer of Job. This is interesting, for the Latin doctrine of the atonement intends to say that Christ offered up his obedience unto death in order to make reparation and satisfy the justice of God against our sin, and we say that this is infinitely acceptable to God to atone for the sins of the world.
Thus, there should be no need to divide over this issue of the Latin view of the Atonement which emphasizes a concept revealed in the book of Job, among others, and its divine corollary often called “Christus Victor”.
The way I look at is that the sacrifices are copies, pictures of what Christ did. So in Christ, we are saved from the wrath to come by being transformed from objects of wrath to objects to vessels of glory. God doesn’t experience mood swings, so this language of wrath I take to be anthropomorphic. His wrath is but His love working to rid his creation of evil. Take that back to the sacrifices. Hebrews 9 I think deals with this rather well.
Hebrews 9:26-28 “Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself [We both agree that what he did was a sacrifice]. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was *sacrificed* once to *take away the sins* of many [bear in mind that neither of us hold to imputation]; and he will appear a second time, not to *bear* sin [again, not by imputation], but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
So we see that in his sacrifice, he bears our sins and takes them away. How so? By bearing the corruptions and consequences of sin in order to free us them. This participatory understanding reflects well with St Peter’s interpretation of that key passage Isaiah 53. Which is often used by Penal Substitutionary Atonement advocates to insinuate that the sacrifice was about appeasing God in some or another. You may not be PSA, but it’s just to show how easy it is to get bogged down and mixed up by the language.
““He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
Which is the same light by which I interpret 2 Corinthians 2:5 “21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Classic imputation text, but given imputation is incorrect, the answer is that Christ participated in our situation brought about by sin and saves us by making us righteous. As scripture says “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” Thus we are made pleasing to God not by a change in him “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17), but in us.
Furthermore, sin as evil is a personal property and cannot by swapped around “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” (Ezekiel 8:20).
As a personal property, it cannot be attributed to nature either. So when scripture says “God did this by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh” it is not saying that God punished nature as evil. Nor is he punishing his Son (the Trinitarian problems galore). Nor is sin an actual substance as such that needs to be destroyed. Rather the reality of sin’s corruptions are *destroyed* in Christ’s death and resurrection. For condemnation can mean destruction, as opposed to carrying the notion of personal culpability/guilt. So it’s a natural (dealing with the nature) destruction of sin and its effects which then lead to the opportunity for a hypostatic deliverance from sin, in all who choose it. In other words, the atonement was on the level of nature, to make salvation on the level of persons possible.
It follows then that consistency must be applied. Per Romans 5, it is clear that Adam’s sin and Christ’s redemption are parallel in touching upon the same issue. Keeping in mind the above principles that a) sin as an evil is personal b) it has no substance c) it cannot be shared, we interpret the following verses in like manner:
“Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”
Condemnation here cannot be personal on the many due to the one. That would violate the above principles. we are interpreting condemnation via how it is used in Romans 8. Rather condemnation here is destruction. As the result of God’s judgement on Adam’s sin, the consequence is condemnation [destruction] for him and his offspring. Here the judgement is separate from the condemnation. God’s decision/judgement as to what to do with Adam resulted in this destruction to us. But back up one second, we see in Genesis 3 that God explicitly says, Man must not eat from the tree, lest he live forever. Adam’s own sin brought about his decay and destruction. But it could have been thwarted (so it seems), had he eaten of this tree. God’s decision/judgement prevented this, and thus let death play out, just as God had warned. So death was not something superimposed on Adam, but rather it was his own doing. Which God saw fit to allow (which is also an act of mercy, in order to make us redeemable).
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” Adam’s act of sin brought destruction (death) for all humanity. Christ’s act brought immortality for all people. This is the natural level.
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” First of all remember that none of us believe in imputation. Second, sin is not a substance such that one can have it apart from freely participating. Third, this passage is speaking om the level of persons, since sin and righteousness must have the free will of the individual hypostasis involved. Since persons are righteous in character not in substance. And character must be chosen. Thus following the logic of the previous verse, the consequence of Adam’s sin is that many become sinners. The consequence of Christ’s act is the opposite. In no sense are they both immediate apart from the individual.
Thus the first verse speaking of condemnation, means destruction on the natural level. And the second verse means the result of such destruction (which includes corruption) being sin on the personal level. Further evidence of this is that the scope in the first verse is universal. For in Adam all were condemned, so in Christ, all are made alive. But we know that not all were made sinners as a result of Adam’s sin. Some have died in the womb before being able to commit sin. And for Catholics and most Orthodox, the Mother of God did not sin either. Nor are all made righteous as a result of Christ’s work (for those who reject Christ are not). So it’s clear from such passages that the atonement had a universal scope in regards to human nature, but it’s full benefits are applied personally and individually to those who respond positively to God.
Now to deal with the passage in question, bearing in mind what we have just seen. First, scripture teaches that God does not take pleasure in these sacrifices. “First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”–though they were offered in accordance with the law. (Hebrews 8:10).”
It does not mean that God was not pleased that His people did these. Rather, these were not enough. Why? Because the end aim of sacrifice is not to change God, but change the one offering it in order to make *them* right with God. They are changed from objects of wrath, from enemies to friends. They are now adjusted to partake of the consuming fire that is God (Hebrews 12:29). The same fire and divine glory which is the joy of those who are reconciled, but the torment of those who are not. Reading Hebrews we see the constant theme of purifying. That’s the aim of the sacrifice. As to whether the sacrifices of the past only gave an actual or positional/cermonial holiness, I’m not sure. But reason that they were inadequate, via Hebrews, is that their remedy was *temporary*. And it seems unable to bring any real change. Whereas Christ’s sacrifice really does purify, but better yet it is not temporary.
Hebrews 9:8 “8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining *eternal* redemption.13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!”
Hebrews 7:24 “23The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.”
Hebrews opens up with the notion of purification from sin via Christ’s work “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” And it seems to be what is happening for Isaiah in Isaiah 6. He realises that he is a man of unclean lips. And it is with those very lips that the Angel touches with the hot coal, which I take to be a cleansing, and then says ““See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Given we don’t believe in imputation, I take it can only be that he was cleaned, made holy/sanctified and thus able to stand before God. Whether it was ceremonial or by actual divine grace cleansing him, sacramentally via the hot coals, I don’t know.
Then to bring it back to the sacrifices. God asks for seven of them and is quite specific. It is not because they have any merit in and of themselves. Or that If people only sacrificed six, it wouldn’t “appease” God’s sense of Justice as it were. Rather, these are fundamentally symbolic and point to the real cleansing which actually does turn away wrath and save us. “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him (Romans 5:9).” Not because Jesus was punished for us, but he changes us (since justification is participatory) so that we are no longer objects of wrath. In the same way the sacrifices of old, did not redirect God’s anger to themselves. Nor did they appease a sense of justice in and of themselves, but rather imaged the Atonement either by partially or symbolically bringing change to the one offering, such that they are reconciled to God.
This idea that the change is in us not God is re-iterated in a famous passage, often used by the Reformed to speak of God’s unconditional reprobation of some.
First it says in Romans 9:18-21
“18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”
The imagery here of the potter and the clay seems to indicate that God decides every action for us. And whether we are reprobate or elect to salvation, it’s God’s business. He can make some to destroy and some to save as He wishes.
Going on to say in the next two verses “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.”
But when the Potter/Clay imagery is taken back into its context a very different image emerges.
Jeremiah 18:1-10 “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down tothe potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down tothe potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.”
We see now what it means. God doesn’t change. Nor is he unconditionally reprobating anyone. He loves Israel and hates evil. Even if they sin, He loves them. Hosea 11:7-8 “My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” Rather, if Israel continue their course, destruction will come, if they change God will save them. They choose whether to be a vessel of wrath or glory. But God has the right over them and will bring about His purposes regardless of what they decide, because it’s not contingent on them. But He who never changes. And the same with the Atonement, God’s purposes will be met. Humankind will be rescued from the condemnation/destruction, which is death, and ultimately, annihilation, via the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All will be raised immortal. But whether one conforms to the image of Christ and is made a partaker of the divine nature, or whether one chooses to rebel and is eternally unable to partake of the God’s glory, experiencing it as consuming fire, it’s up to the individual.
Via 2 Corinthians 5 God was reconciling *the world* *to* Himself, through the salvation available in Jesus, and thus tells the world *be ye* reconciled to God. Because they have to change, not God. Christ changes us, not God. And the Old Testament sacrifices mirrored this. Wrath, being God’s love ridding the world of evil, is averted when one is changed from evil to good.
When one then thinks about Job in light of Hebrews then, it seems clear to me as to the symbolic nature of it all. That being said, I do believe that there is a sense in which purification via God’s energies/grace does take place in the one’s offering the sacrifice. But I do not think it is because God needs something done for Himself. Rather it is all being done for us, by God in Christ as Abraham said “God will provide Himself a sacrifice. I’ll just quickly paste a quote from someone on this page in the convo. They wanted to remain anonymous when I saved it, but they might join in and answer.
“The book of Hebrews seems to speak over and over again of the sacrifices as being for cleansing, in a somewhat outward sense. Here’s my understanding:
It seems to me we must distinguish penal, propitiatory, and expiatory views of the OT sacrifices. The animals (and other items) are not punished in our place, as though our guilt could literally transfer onto them; nor are they given to propitiate God via a meritorious action by means of which we earn divine favor and thereby avert his retributive wrath. Rather in being offered up to God, He blesses the sacrifice and transforms it into something which bears His purity and holiness, and which can thus be used to spread this to the people through presence, physical contact, or consumption. This cleansing made the Israelites capable of standing in the presence of God, thereby taking away His wrath in both senses – natural consequences (they could stand in the cloud of Glory because God had made them holy) and correction/prevention/deterrence (when they were cleansed God no longer had to administer discipline to restore them). Of course the problem was that the sacrifices, though capable of bearing divine blessing to the people, were not permanent receptacles of God’s blessing; Christ had to make the divine life intrinsic to human nature in order to be able to make the perfect sacrifice–one which would be lasting in its effects because of the “power of an everlasting life” (Heb). Thus the Eucharist is the Incarnational fulfillment of the OT sacrifices; in it, Christ offers us His everlasting life in a touchable, consumable way, and by the cleansing fire of His indwelling Divinity He abides in us gloriously forever.”
The way I’m seeing it is, eschatologically, on my view Wrath is turned away because an acceptable sacrifice is used to change the one’s on whose behalf it is for, re-aligning them to God and thus he no longer has to bring wrath to correct their persons and also because they’ve been transformed such that what would have been experienced as wrath is now a blessing for them (God’s consuming Glory). Wrath then is correction to the repentant and retributive to the unrepentant. But God’s disposition does not change at all through out.
From what I’m gathering the Catholic view is that God’s aseity means he doesn’t need anything. Which we both agree on. However his justice requires appeasement as it were in order for the wrath to be turned away. I think here is the point of contention that needs to fleshed out. It gets kind of muddled here so bare with me. While it is true that the wages of sin are death, both as a natural consequence and personal demerit, God does not need appeasement in order to pardon the personal demerit. Rather he seeks repentance and via grace, heals the soul in order for the guilt to be atoned for. That seems to be the logic of Isaiah 6, whereby he his cleaned and thus his iniquity taken, and he is pardoned.
However on the natural level, it is not enough that repentance alone is brought, because corruption must still be dealt with as well as it’s consequence, death. God could not go back on his word/judgement that the soul that sins shall die. Nor could He simply pardon and still allow death to play out. Forgiveness in its fullest sense means a complete reversal of the problem. That’s what St Athanasius teaches in his famous work, On the Incarnation:
“As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself. What, then, was God to do? Was He to demand repentance from men for their transgression? You might say that that was worthy of God.
You might argue further that, as through the transgression they became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the divine consistency, for death holds dominion over men. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning.
Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the image of God.
No, repentance alone cannot redeem! What—or rather Who—was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.”
That’s also why I think Paul says in Ephesians 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Because redemption *is* the forgiveness of sins. And redemption could not happen without the death of the Saviour in order to fix the problem. That’s why I believe scripture says “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” Because without the blood (death), man would still be bound personally by the law to death. And naturally by the principle of corruption. Jesus death then is not a legal loophole, but a recapitulation of death, so that the problem is bypassed, rather it is transformed. God doesn’t go back on His word by pardoning people, since death doesn’t destroy them anymore anyways by union to Christ.
It is never then the case that God needs to *appeased*. Or that his justice requires appeasement. His justice simply means that He is going to be consistent. And since he has judged sin worthy of death, he will not go back on it, thus a sacrifice is needed. Not in the same way that an Angry king has his mood changed and so decides to pardon. But rather the king won’t change the law working itself out, but cushions it’s effects so as to render it void of power. Not legitimacy.
I agree that sacrifice of Christ is pleasing to God, though that doesn’t necessarily entail the satisfaction view of the atonement and other things that go with it. I don’t have it all figured out, but remember, God was not pleased with the sacrifices of old in one sense. They were not adequate. But Christ was adequate. Sacrifices are always offered to God, question is, what does He do/want with them and how do they relate to us. To put it simply, I would say the difference between our views in relation to God being pleased with the offering of Christ (at least how I see it), is the difference between being pleased because you found the right antidote for your patient and being pleased because someone gave you a Picasso to replace the expensive painting they damaged, putting things right between them.
My confusion then is that you say God does not *need* anything from us in order to forgive. Due to his aseity. Nor does either side think God changes. So then for me, the two together mean that justice in relation to sin is about consistency with God’s own decision. And that the turning away of wrath is due to the re-orientation of the sinner, not appeasement on God’s part. This appeasement it seems then, is not something necessary (due to Aseity) but simply how God chooses to operate.