The Mad Priest has an intriguing take on the Atonement: He thinks that it's we, not God, who need a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins — without such a sacrifice, he says, we don't truly accept that we're forgiven (and thus, one could extrapolate, we're not truly liberated from sin):
In my understanding of the Atonement I emphasise the sacrifice that Jesus made, which is an orthodox doctrine and has been throughout the whole history of our faith. For me, the scapegoat is the most important character in the Jewish Bible.
However, where I plunge into heresy is that I do not believe God needs the sacrifice, because he is God and not subject to any action and because we are told many times in scripture that he does not require bodily sacrifice.
Therefore, my conclusion is simple. Jesus willingly becomes the payment for our sins because we need the payment to be made (not God).
Although we know intellectually that God forgives we don't truly believe it unless we are punished. We are unable to bear the required punishment but God is, so Jesus, who is God, takes the rap for us so we, in our human weakness, can truly believe we are forgiven by God.
It is the same psychology at work in the story of Lamb as in the story of the scapegoat.
(Extra paragraphing added.)
How interesting. This reminds me of the Gandhi movie, in which Gandhi tells a guilt-stricken Hindu that he can recieve forgiveness for having killed a Muslim child if he will adopt a Muslim orphan and raise him as a Muslim. I remember thinking that this was a very wise response. God's forgiveness is probably not conditional on such acts, but I think our sense of being forgiven often is.
Posted by: Jacob | February 06, 2007 at 04:40 PM
Theology is a funny endeavor. I find it hard to take the idea of atonement seriously from the killing of animals in the Jewish scriptures to the post-Easter doctrine of atonement.
Reading the gospels closely, it's difficult to imagine the idea ever occurred to Jesus. When I read the story of the prodigal son, I don't see any inkling that the father refused to forgive the prodigal until an animal or human was killed for the sins of the son. Similarly, it seems like a plausible reading of the 'purging of the temple' story that this might have been Jesus' asserting that the whole sacrificial system was invalid.
I'm not saying that the idea of atonement (as in atoning for the harms we do to others) is not valuable. It's just that the thought that we aren't forgiven or can't feel forgiven until we see the state-sponsored murder of Jesus as somehow a good or necessary thing that seems odd to me.
Posted by: Wayne | February 06, 2007 at 08:30 PM
James Alison wrote about this several years ago.
Posted by: bls | February 10, 2007 at 03:32 PM
About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist  on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].
Peace Be With You
Posted by: Micky | May 21, 2007 at 01:53 PM