I am greatly interested in the discussion stirred up earlier this week in my posts on the Atonement. The discussions were good, and well behaved. Indeed, I would say that the conversation was productive.
What fascinates me, is the interest we have in the discussion of the Atonement. The popularity of any particular blog post is still a bit of a mystery to me. I run about 700 views a day on a normal day, and up to 1200 or 1300 or a really good day (this often gets us listed in the “Top Blogs” at WordPress – though they don’t send you an award or anything). Tuesday-Wednesday’s posts on the Atonement had about 1200 viewers and landed us on the Top Blog list (at about 57th).
Having said all that (I’m sure you’re interested in the dashboard of this blog), I remained puzzled at the popularity of the topic. I suspect that the issue carries as much interest as it does because it’s as much at the heart of our faith as anything.
But here I draw our attention elsewhere (if I might) and say, even the Atonement, interesting as it is, is still about God – indeed it is all about God. I frequently suspect people of being interested in theological topics but not about God. God is harder.
The real issue with the atonement is not the preference of one theory over another, it is what it tells us of God and how it reveals God to us. It is why any theory of the atonement that loses sight of God as He is revealed to us in Christ is problematic.
God reveals Himself as good and the lover of mankind. In becoming man He empties Himself, and shows Himself willing to do everything imaginable to win us away from death and to restore us to relationship with Him. Any theory of the Atonement that loses sight of that fact is, in the last analysis, talking about some other God.
I read in an (Orthodox) critique of some other (Orthodox) writers on the doctrine, that they were guilty of Marcionism because they argued that the Orthodox version of the Atonement presented a “nicer” God than the Anselmian version. I pondered what would be superior about a theory of the Atonement if it presented God as meaner than some other theory.
There is, I believe, a general interest in Atonement theory, both on the popular and the scholarly level, precisely because it goes to heart of the question of what kind of God we worship. It reveals the character of God to us in a way few other things do.
I have attended Churches (not Orthodox) who cheered when a preacher spoke of all those who were going to hell. I’m also well aware of Orthodox who do much the same on the Sunday of Orthodoxy if they happen to attend a service where the Anathemas are pronounced. If you are the friend of God then you have no joy in anyone going to hell, or in anyone being anathematized. Hell there is, and anathemas as well, but a Christian who loves God should be friend to neither hell nor anathema.
In the end, it is all about God. He has acted in such a way as to reconcile us to Himself. He, we are told, is not willing that any should perish, and we should find no joy in it either.
My own thoughts are very much shaped by the fact that I think of hell as something that has already started for us (moreso for some) as has paradise (moreso for others). My experience with working with the tormented souls of hell (what else is pastoring about?) has never made me wish it on anyone or to take any joy in the existential pain of another creature. Atonement is about God – may He rescue us all and deliver us from destruction!