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From Atonement to At-One-Ment

You may be familiar with the word Atonement. Traditionally, Atonement is commonly understood as substitutionary atonement, a theological theory that Jesus suffered crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God’s just wrath against man’s transgression due to Christ’s infinite merit. This theory depicts God as angry, filled with judgment, waiting to carry out punishment on his created ones. It presents Jesus as the “scapegoat” taking on the sins of mankind.

There is another understanding of atonement that has been around since the first century, called Christus Victor (Latin for “Christ is victorious”). This explanation of atonement argues that Christ’s death is God’s victory over sin and death. God conquers death by fully entering into it. Thus, the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love.

The Early Church Fathers believed that the Cross was primarily how God defeated Satan, once and for all. It was not about a payment of penalty to a wrathful God. No, the Cross was the pinnacle of the battle between God and Satan. God won the battle, once for all, and the Cross is the reminder that He is the victor. Because of this victory you and I get to live a life of at-one-ment with God.

Brennan Manning in his book, The Furious Longing of God, explains it this way: “On the Cross Jesus surrenders in trusting, obedient love to His Abba, and then rises from the ground, not as a trapped animal (paying the penalty to a wrathful Father), but completely at one with the Father; atonement – at-one-ment in the furious love of God.” This is a very different understanding of what happened on the Cross than is presented in substitutionary atonement theology.

As we walk through Holy Week together we have an invitation to move from atonement to at-one-ment with God. Sin and death has been conquered and there is no wrathful Father that needed to be appeased. You are I are clean, forgiven, and whole. Our hearts are good, they matter to God and we can live today at-one with the God of all things!