At some point I intended to blog on atonement, and here I am on Good Friday – so that seems very appropriate.
In church many will have heard that “Jesus died for our sins”, or “to save us from our sins” – but how does this work? There are a number of different theories of the atonement. Some churches will hold strongly to one theory, to the extent of raising it to a condition of belonging, but the Church of England does not endorse any one to the exclusion of the others.
If you recall, I believe that we cannot speak about matters of religion except by metaphor – we are trying to explain someones inexplicable experience, which they have written down as best they can – so I believe that our job is to extract the things that are of value from each of the different theories, whilst rejecting the unhelpful.
So, looking at each of the theories:
Each has bits that I find helpful, but each also has bits that I find unhelpful. As an example, with Penal Substitution, I find the idea that God has to kill someone, and chooses his son unhelpful – I do not believe that a loving God has to kill anyone. However, remembering the Trinity – which makes Jesus=God (poor phraseology, I know) – then I find it helpful to think of us deserving punishment, but God stepping in and taking it for us.
We are trying to describe something indescribable, and different people have used different explanations – but we should not take them and stretch them farther than they will go. Taking the best bits from all of them gives us a fuller picture – but we still don’t have the whole picture!