In the comments section of my last post (An Atheist Asks: Why Did Christ Have to Sacrifice Himself To Himself?), any number of atheists and/or agnostics raised the same question: What, exactly, was the sacrifice Jesus made? One put it exactly that way. Another asked, "This is what baffles me most about Christians: The Great Sacrifice." Another wrote: "I am attracted to the Beatitudes and the concept that God is Love, both themes that seem to me utterly inconsistent with a God who demands sacrifices of anything or anyone living."
I figured that what they were all basically asking was, "What, exactly, is the atonement?" So that's the question I promised I'd answer.
As many of my regular readers know, I wrote a book called "Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I Do," by God, as told to John Shore. In that (very short) book, I have God himself directly answering eight or nine of the most commonly heard objections to, or questions about, Christianity. (A few such questions are: "I just don’t believe in God, period."; "If you [God] really exist, why don’t you prove it?"; and "What’s the deal with evil, anyway? Why does a God who is all-powerful and all-compassionate allow evil to exist? He either wills evil to exist -- which makes him despicable -- or he's powerless to stop it, which makes him uninspiringly weak, to say the least. Both bite. What's up?") One of the questions I have God address in that book is: "What's the whole 'Atonement' thing actually mean?"
Below is part of how, in Penguins, I have God answer that question. I'm going to use that answer here, because ... well, I think it's about as good an answer as I can write. (Note: If you're a Christian who's offended by the literary conceit in Penguins of putting words into the mouth of God, please bear in mind that I didn't write this book for Christians; I wrote it for non-Christians, who of course aren't likely to share such squeamishness. Please also remember that in The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a' Kempis also put words into the mouth of God, and for 500 years Christians considered that book nearly a second Bible. Thanks.)
So here's some of what "God," in Penguins, has to say when he is asked what the whole "Atonement" thing actually means:
The At One-ment (Hey! I’m Hooked on Phonics!™ Wait—no I’m not) refers to that act in which I allowed myself to get brutally murdered so that all humans could be forever cleansed of the guilt associated with the things they do or think that do not, shall we say, represent their finest moments.
I let myself be tortured to death so that you could live free of pain.
But, hey, no pressure or anything. I don’t want you worrying about it. I was glad to do it. Seriously. No problem. It was a Friday. I really didn’t have all that much to do but hang around anyway. ...
Still, there was a job to do, and I was the man to do it. And so I did: The “it” in “It is finished” refers to the establishment of the means by which all people, forever, could have access to real and lasting salvation. I know I just said this, but if anything in the universe bears repeating, it’s that what my dying on the cross secured was the means by which, from that point on, all human beings could have rinsed from their hearts and minds their guilt (however “naturally” they acquired it), which, without my divine intervention, must otherwise fester inside of them, where at best it severely undermines the quality of their lives, and at worst compels them to contribute to that wretched, twisted cause that seeks to drag all of humankind down into the pits of degradation.
Do you see? I won the battle between good and evil by paying, in full, with my body, any and all karmic debt that might ever be incurred by anyone doing evil.
You might owe the phone company, the electric company, the credit card company, and your landlord. But you don’t owe me, or the world, anything. I’ve already totaled you out.
I’ve already atoned for your sins.
Which means that you and I, forever, are copacetic.
As long as you believe in me, that is. As long as you believe that as the Christ I took human form and stepped into human history for the specific purpose of removing from all people—by which I most definitely and forever mean from you personally — the debt incurred by any and all sin.
Believe that, and it’s all about you and me, friend.
Don’t, and you’re on your own.
But you believe it. You have to. Cuz you know who’s on your side, don’t you? You know who’s got you covered, don’t you?You’re feeling the love. You know you are. C’mon. Admit it. Who loves you? Who? Who cares about you? Who gave his all so you could delight in life instead of being bogged down by true existential angst?
Who’s your daddy?
That’s right: Me. The Father. Jesus. The Holy Ghost.
And what do really good fathers do? That’s right: They fork over the big bucks to cover the cost of every single thing their kids could ever think of doing.
Do you really wonder why such infinite numbers of people have always signed on for Team Jesus? Do you really think they’re all just lazy, shallow simpletons?
Well, they’re not. What they are is debt-free. Which is to say that, spiritually speaking, they’re forgiven.
By God Almighty!
Man, I just don't know what else you could possibly want from me.
--from Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang, copyright 2005 by John Shore
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