Monday, 6 August 2012

Atonement & all it means (part five)

What is atonement?

The common understanding of the term atonement is that it is reparation for a wrong doing. Namely; a consequence of doing something wrong and an action to make things right.  We've seen in previous posts that it is quite clear that when it comes to the relationship between God and humanity that humanity has done something (a lot) wrong, so it is understandable that some sort of atonement is needed.  Atonement is what would allow the human race to avoid the previously mentioned result or punishment of sin.

Atonement is not always offered however.  2 Peter 2:4 (ESV) shows us that "...God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment..." so we see that in the case of angels there was no chance for atonement... they had to live with the consequence of their sins.  So God could have rightfully chosen as part of his perfect justice to hold all humans accountable for all their sins, without a chance or reparation.  His love for us is evident in that he has always offered a chance for humankind to atone their wrongdoings. Even before Jesus, God had instituted a form of atonement.

"The Hebrew word most commonly used in the Old Testament for the various types of atonement is kaphar... The word literally means 'to cover.' One was delivered from punishment by the interposing of something between one's sin and God.  God then saw the atoning sacrifice rather than the sin.  The covering of the sin meant that the penalty no longer had to be exacted from the sinner."
~Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p822

So we see that the old sacrificial system in the Jewish religion held a certain atoning quality.  The death of animals appeased God's wrath so that humans wouldn't die for their sins.  The blood of the animal 'covered' the sins of the people.  The animal was the thing that 'interposed' between one's sin and God. This however was not a complete atonement, because the humans had to continuously sacrifice animals to keep covering the guilt of their sins.

So the ultimate atonement needed to be made, because us humans could never completely be atoned by the substitution of another creature.  This is why the cross, Jesus' death, is the perfect atoning sacrifice.  Tomorrow we will see why Jesus alone could be our atoning sacrifice, but for now we must understand that it is only through atonement that we can expect God to let us live.

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