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Re-imagining Atonement

On Sunday, 9/24, the topic for Life in the Spirit was Salvation and Atonement. On the spiritual path, once we decide we want to grow, we are faced with another decision:  Who Christ is for us?, and a related question is"What does it mean to be saved?

What are the images of salvation and atonement that we were taught and that we still hear frequently in prayer and hymns? Traditionally, we say that Jesus “died for our sins” but what does that imply and are we able to grasp God’s unconditional love with that type of wording and without a fuller or alternative understanding?

The following is a synthesis of the understanding developed by Saint Francis of Assisi (the birdbath saint!) and his followers from the 13th century. This view of atonement and salvation has existed within Christian thought since then, but has not been the mainline teaching. It has now becoming a way of better and more broadly understanding these concepts at a time when we need new words and paradigms to understand God’s amazing love:

  • God organically, inherently loved creation from the first moment of the Big Bang.  Creation was a manifestation of the divine through matter/material.
  • The Christ existed from all eternity with and as God.
  • Jesus of Nazareth is the image of the invisible God from all eternity. There is simply a union to be named - a sort of reuniting humanity with God: "at-one-ment"
  • Jesus is the revelation of God's Plan A.  Jesus is not God's Plan B for Adam and Eve's mistake!

Traditional atonement theory implies that there needs to be a transaction or a debt paid for God to love what God created - which makes the idea of God’s unconditional love very unconvincing.
What if no transaction was necessary? What if no blood sacrifice was necessary? What if there is no “bill” to be paid? Think about these words, and then meditate on the following questions as you make your way through the week.

1. Often atonement and salvation are seen as one and the same thing, summed up by the phrase "Jesus died for our sins."  This implies a transaction or deal, so that God can love what God created.  God's acceptance is purchased through the death of Jesus.  Where do you see or hear echoes of this idea?  Does it fit in with your experience of God's love?

2. What is your image of Jesus in your mind's eye?  Does this have an effect on your prayer or how you receive God's love?

3. Al alternate view of atonement (at-one-ment) is that God's loves has always been unconditional, with no deal necessary.  Where do you see signs of God's unconditional love?  Be on the lookout this week!

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