Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How does the atonement work? What did it 'do'?

The atonement dealt, basically, with intentions. It dealt with the intentions (inclinations to act) of humans towards others that were not loving.

What was put on Christ was essentially an eternity of morally imperfect intentions. This is what sin is; holding bad intentions towards others. Sin isn't like a crime where you go to prison for a specific amount of time, it's basically just bad intentions of the heart (1 John 3:15; Matt 5:27-28).

That's why sin goes away when you repent. It goes away because one's intentions are no longer bad if one changes one's behaviour for good.

But repentance doesn't stop a person from continually sinning and repenting forever, in a neverending cycle of sin and forgiveness. God doesn't want us to live in the Kingdom of God and be continuously sinning and repenting, because that's a bit of a difficult situation. It's not good enough for God, not up to God's standards, to be permanently involved in a cycle of sinning and repenting forever and ever. God wanted to deal with all our sin once and for all.

That is the difference between the atonement and just asking God for forgiveness - the atonement dealt with sin once and for all, whereas asking for forgiveness deals with sin until we sin and ask for forgiveness again.

God prevented a situation of people in the Kingdom of God constantly sinning and repenting, which we do in this life, by putting all of our wrong intentions, including all the ones that we would have had over an eternity with God (in every possible future in the Kingdom with Him) onto Christ.

Because intentions come from the world of Mind, they need to be transferred to something in the world of Mind to get rid of them. They can't be transferred to a stone, for example. So our bad intentions needed to be transferred to a Mind. We could also just have repented and asked God for forgiveness, but as we saw a situation of continual sinning and repentance isn't good enough for God's Kingdom.

The mind that God planned to transfer our wrong intentions to had to be a perfect mind, because this process should be two-way. We need to get something back for our wrong intentions, otherwise we'd be replacing our morally wrong thoughts with no thoughts at all (a complete absence of thought), or the thoughts of another, equally flawed person. That would not be a huge improvement for us either way.

We need to get back perfect intentions forever, to allow us to meet God's standards and thus be in heaven. That's why the sacrifice needed to be Mind, and a morally perfect mind, rather than a) a stone, b) losing evil thoughts with nothing to replace them with, c) a flawed mind, or d) just asking God for forgiveness again and again.

No human was found worthy (Rev 5:2-5) to be the 'transferral person', because no human is capable of having perfect intentions all the time, so any transfer of bad intentions from us to him/her would have been pointless. We'd just have gotten flawed intentions back.

So God had to become a human, a morally perfect human, to be the mind undergoing the transfer (i.e. sacrifice).

Once all of our wrong intentions were transferred to Christ, then Christ had to suffer an incredibly painful separation from God, as would anyone who took on that degree of evil intention (literally an eternity of evil intentions over an infinity of hypothetical situations that we could have sinned in, per mind, for billions and billions of minds).

Because Jesus is, in fact, a morally perfect person, He did not bear our evil intentions forever. After a certain amount of time, the wrong intentions placed upon Jesus simply 'evaporated' somehow. Meanwhile, all of our wrong intentions over an infinity of hypothetical situations had been swapped for Jesus' perfect intentions. So Christ within Christians does everything in the areas where we used to sin, making us meet God's standards once and for all with no good works necessary.

This allows us to be in the Kingdom of God without having to constantly repent and get forgiveness, because in this way God has prevented us from having morally bad thoughts, as all of our morally flawed thoughts (but one, see end) were given to Jesus. This is the only way that God could give us a new heart (Eze 11:19) because He needed a mind-mind transfer to get rid of our flawed intentions, and to get good intentions back that mind needed to be perfect.

By being 'atoned for' in this way, for the first time people will actually be able to have their soul (which is made in God's image) connected to God as opposed to disconnected from God. This will allow Christians to be as happy as God is, a happiness that no sinner has ever known and literally cannot imagine (1 Cor 2:9).

Christians remain very imperfect individuals because this process hasn't fully occurred yet (it fully occurs on the day of redemption - Eph 4:30). God wants to use our sufferings and struggles on earth to 'refine us as silver is refined' (Zec 13:9). Through our struggles with sin, we learn to rely on God, so God has delayed the full effect of the atonement until after we die. Through learning to rely on God we won't be tempted to leave God when we're in the Kingdom of God. Someone who is hesitant about entering the Kingdom of God and would want to leave it is not fit for it (Luke 9:62). So it's important that we learn not to want or do that.

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Blogger MacGuy said...

This make the most sense of the atonement that I've read so far! The only objection I could see arising is why it was necessary for God to be a human. You made the jump from "Our flawed intentions need to be replaced" to "Therefore Jesus must become a sacrifice for us". Does our soul give off bad intentions or is it our brain? If the soul, then couldn't God simply use the Holy Spirit to replace intentions with?

I would tend to think that Jesus and the HS were cooperating together. Perhaps this cooperation is similar to our body-soul substance dualism and so it's the case that God had to replace both sides? Just curious what your opinion is on this.

Blogger Will G said...


There are more possibilities I didn't cover:

1) Could God have removed our bad intentions entirely, and then filled in the absence with His own perfect intentions? No transferral person would be necessary.
2) Couldn't God transfer our bad intentions to Himself and not need Jesus?

1 is implied by my saying that God could remove our intentions entirely. To prevent that from being a 'live' option I think I will have to say that God can't do that. He can suppress our thoughts, and make us 'sleep' by allowing our brain to die, but He cannot actually remove bad thoughts entirely from our personality any other way. So somehow, it can't be possible for God to do 1, which would bypass the need for a transferral person.

On 2 I think that God cannot have the sin transferred to Him, because He is too holy (e.g. 'Lord, you cannot look upon sin'). So He had to use Jesus, God incarnate, to bear the sin.

Blogger Steven Demmler said...

Hello! Given your background (as I gather it from reading a few of your essays) coupled with your stance here, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Christus Victor theory of the atonement?

I recently wrote a short paper (roughly 3000 words) on the topic and was looking for some feedback from Christian-philosopher types!

In response to your response to MacGuy; If God used Jesus ('God Incarnate) to bear sin, since the Lord (presumably you meant the Father) could not look upon it, what does that say to the equality of the Son and Father within the trinity? Do they then, on your account, have different ontologies?

Blogger Steven Demmler said...

Woops, the link to the paper is on my site, just click my name and scroll down a couple entries, thanks!

Blogger Will G said...

I don't think I disagreed with what your paper said, but I'm actually sort of not sure what I think about the atonement. The Bible seems to use different metaphors to describe it, like paying a price, a ransom, being 'in' Jesus...

I think any view of the atonement is right that has the following view: basically humanity could never meet God's standards no matter what we did. Even if God had helped us, or if we had an eternity to practice being perfect, we would never have come close to God's standards. Even though we're held accountable for not meeting them. Secondly, God somehow made up this failure in Jesus' death on the cross, which completely solved this problem. And it was solved 100% by Jesus/God without any contribution from humans. And thirdly if you trust in Jesus' death on the cross to put you right with God, then it applies to you, and whatever it does saves you into eternal life.

This can be penal substitution, and other theories that have the same framework. If it has this 'framework' or structure then it's OK.

Blogger Will G said...

"In response to your response to MacGuy; If God used Jesus ('God Incarnate) to bear sin, since the Lord (presumably you meant the Father) could not look upon it, what does that say to the equality of the Son and Father within the trinity? Do they then, on your account, have different ontologies?"

Before God decided to insert Himself into finite creation there was the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and of course after Jesus came he instructed people to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So the 'Son' (Jesus) is actually the Word, the second person of the trinity.

But then how can Jesus be less than the other members of the trinity if Jesus is the Word? Jesus the man is less, but a person is their soul, and because Jesus has the soul of the Word, Jesus is the Word. The 'soul' aspect makes Jesus the Word as much as you are yourself, to paraphrase Hamlet. Even though in human form Jesus is less. So Jesus is the Word, the Word is God in the trinity, so Jesus is fully equal to God even though in human form Jesus is less and able to bear sin.


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