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Why Atonement?

Atonement means being made 'at one' with God. Unfortunately, the idea of atonement has received a bad press. Partly because it implies that we are culpable and many do not want to acknowledge that. But also partly because many of us Christians who have tried to uphold the notion have done so with harshness, and have a narrow view of it. One such narrow view portrays God as an angry deity, characterized more by anger than by love, and who demands sacrifice to himself; it is as though God is himself subject to a higher law of sacrifice-giving. We have been guilty of misrepresenting God, who reveals himself as self-giving Love.

So I want to set out something broader and fuller. First, we have to recognise the reality of sin. Then we look at several ways of dealing with sin, of which the final and most satisfactory one is atonement.

The Reality of Sin

We are faced with the experience of what Christians call 'sin'. 'Sin' means 'things are not as they should be'. We all experience sin, in all our living. It is clearly seen in others and, if we are honest, we acknowledge it in ourselves sometimes. Sin is not just what we do, but something we are like - selfish, arrogant, unconcerned, self-pitying, grudge-holding and so on.

'Sin' is that which we know to be bad, we believe we should avoid and which we find wrong in others. Some people want to deny that there is such a thing as sin, but they nevertheless have a concept of 'things not as they should be', and use other names such as 'flaw', 'dysfunction' or 'problem', or some more specific word. For example, several times at a Green Party conference, I noticed that those who would deny that 'sin' is real used the word 'centralist' instead; as ardent decentralists, they hold that centralism is an utmost evil. They might have had a different view of what sin is; but they still have, deep down, the notion of sin.

Sin is not just a label we put on people; sin hurts and harms. What my green colleagues called centralism, for example, is arguably responsible for a huge amount of injustice, both social and ecological. Worse, the effect of sin multiplies and spreads, like cancer, like dry rot. For example, we have something out of proportion, are a little selfish about it, and want this thing for ourselves. Something gets in the way of our achieving it, and we get irritated. In our irritation, we are sharp with others in our family or colleagues, unintentionally hurting them. But that hurt is real, and when they leave the room, they meet someone else and are irritated with them, passing on the hurt. Worse, in their state of being hurt by us, they find it all too easy to remember other times when we have hurt them before. They brood in self-pity, and as a result of such brooding, over some time perhaps, they build up a dislike of us that makes them fear us or get irritated with us in return, and our relationship, while still cordial on the surface, jumps down a level.

And so it goes on. My original sin of selfish ambition activates someone else's sin of grudge-holding. Whatever sins they are, sin spreads. Another page holds a deeper discussion.

Seven Ways of Dealing with Sin

There are at least seven ways in which sin may be dealt with. To me, at least, only the final one is fully satisfactory and satisfying.

This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2009. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Part of his pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective.

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Created: 21 November 1999, partially, but not uploaded. Last updated: 29 December 2008, completed and uploaded. 1 January 2009 new .end. 28 April 2014 rid ../, new .nav.