Metaphors for the Atonement

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Metaphors for the Atonement

Postby mitchellmckain on September 29th, 2017, 1:51 pm 

(this is pretty much a reposting here from another forum for completion of what began in the Critique of Religion thread)

The metaphors --
1. Judicial: Jesus was punished for our sins in our place.
2. Payment: Jesus' life was a payment of ransom for our liberation.
3. Blood Sacrifice: Jesus was the lamb slaughtered to expiate our sins.
4. Surgical: Jesus was transformed into our sin so it could be destroyed on the cross.

A metaphor uses something which is similar in some ways to help explain something which is not quite the same. So lets go through each as see how they are different and how they are the same.

Different --
1. We don't actually believe that an innocent person punished pays for the crime of the guilty.
2. We don't actually believe that God has to pay something to the devil in order to free us.
3. We don't actually believe that human and animal sacrifices have a magical power.
4. Jesus was not really transformed into sin and neither were our sins actually removed.

Same--
1. Often the innocent suffer because of our sins and this motivates us to change.
2. The atonement makes it clear that God would pay any price for our redemption.
3. Jesus was indeed unblemished -- the very best human being. His death was a painful price to pay for our sins.
4. Sin is a degenerative disease that needs to taken out of our lives before it kills us, and Jesus does represent a treatment for that disease.

While the Eastern Orthodox understand that these are metaphors, Western Christianity tends to take them (especially the first) somewhat literally in defiance of all reason. This is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement the belief in which many Western Christians practically equate with being Christian. It is almost as if, the sacrifice of our intellectual integrity and the acceptance of this blatant cognitive dissonance is the price we have to pay for salvation -- and thus the way they subvert a gospel of salvation by grace to make it a gospel of salvation by a work of the mind.

Because of this I would like to spend a little more time examining this judicial metaphor. For example, this metaphor compares sin with a crime that needs to be punished. But is sin really a crime? No it is not. Many sins are criminal, but there is a difference, and we can even say that the sinful nature of an action is quite different than its criminal nature when they overlap.

Crimes consist of breaking laws which are part of a social contract. What we learn from Jesus in Matthew 5 and Matthew 22 is that sin isn't really about living to the letter of some set of laws, as if the excuse, "I haven't broken any laws", is really a valid excuse for our actions. People are always twisting the laws to an evil purpose and to justify evil and selfish behavior. Thus Jesus shows that sin goes much deeper than the breaking of a set of laws.

Sin is hurtful to us and for that reason they should be stopped. But although many Christians with this judicial metaphor stuck in their head like to say the consequences are deserved, I don't think this is right. I think it is more like this...

We might tell a child not to climb tall trees because they could easily fall and break their neck. If the child climbs a tall tree anyway and falls to his death, then would we say this was a just punishment of a crime? Of course not. The judicial metaphor is a metaphor ONLY and the truth of this comparison only goes so far. Jesus did lay down his life so that we could have eternal life. That is where the metaphor matches reality but where it does not match reality is in the fact that we do not believe criminals should go free just because innocent people are punished in their place -- not unless there is something seriously wrong with you.

The Bible is mixture of many kinds of writings. Not all of it is history and not all of it is law. There is also poetry, songs, parables, dreams, proverbs, and letters. Thus it is full of metaphors whether you pretend otherwise or not. For example, according to 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, Isaiah 45:18, the earth is fixed, firm, immovable, and can never be shaken. Take this literally and you burn scientists at the stake and pretend that earthquakes don't happen.

So, the question isn't believing the Bible or not but rather how hard headed, "stiff-necked", unreasonable, and willfully blind you are when reading the Bible. Because when you do that you are just like the people Jesus was talking about in Matthew 13 using the literal words to refuse to hear what is meant and returning the text of the Bible back word for word without any investment of thought, like the slothful servant in Matthew 25.
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Re: Metaphors for the Atonement

Postby mitchellmckain on September 30th, 2017, 1:59 pm 

The OP is mostly focused on the difference, and these differences are pretty obvious and self-explanatory while it occurred to me that some might like the other part (the similarities) explained a little.

mitchellmckain » September 29th, 2017, 12:51 pm wrote:1. Judicial: Jesus was punished for our sins in our place.
2. Payment: Jesus' life was a payment of ransom for our liberation.
3. Blood Sacrifice: Jesus was the lamb slaughtered to expiate our sins.
4. Surgical: Jesus was transformed into our sin so it could be destroyed on the cross.

A metaphor uses something which is similar in some ways to help explain something which is not quite the same. So lets go through each as see how they are different and how they are the same.

Different --
1. We don't actually believe that an innocent person punished pays for the crime of the guilty.
2. We don't actually believe that God has to pay something to the devil in order to free us.
3. We don't actually believe that human and animal sacrifices have a magical power.
4. Jesus was not really transformed into sin and neither were our sins actually removed.

Same--
1. Often the innocent suffer because of our sins and this motivates us to change.
2. The atonement makes it clear that God would pay any price for our redemption.
3. Jesus was indeed unblemished -- the very best human being. His death was a painful price to pay for our sins.
4. Sin is a degenerative disease that needs to taken out of our lives before it kills us, and Jesus does represent a treatment for that disease.

Actually the explanation for the first three is all of a piece. It is rather a universal Christian experience that we look at Jesus on the cross as an innocent wonderful person who died in a horrible way because of our sin -- because of all the nasty ugly things (whether large or small) we have done. Thus our feeling of responsibility and regret makes us want to change. We don't want to be the kind of person which nails someone like Jesus to the cross. We are moved by both the willingness of the Father to see this done to His Son for our redemption, and the willingness of the Son to endure such humiliation, hatred and torment that we might have life. We would very much rather have Jesus alive and with us or to be a friend and member of the Father's family. In this way the atonement (Jesus on the cross) works to help us combat our bad habits (sin).

As for the last metaphor, we can certainly see the need for surgery. Our bad habits have become so much a part of us they cannot be removed without cutting and blood, i.e. difficulty and pain. Things which have been valuable in our eyes have to be transformed in our understanding to that which is making us ill. We do indeed need to nail them up on a cross in the light of day so that these parts of us can begin to die and we can begin to change how we live our lives.

But no matter how much these things here may be true, it does not warrant taking the metaphors so literally that we believe things which simply do not make any sense.
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