c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: The Moral Mechanics of Propitiation

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Moral Mechanics of Propitiation

There is an understandable objection to the idea that God punished his Son, Jesus, for the sins of humanity.  It has been called divine child abuse, despite the fact that Jesus was not a child and gave himself for us voluntarily.

Some have another, related concern about the nature of God, that he is portrayed as wrathful and not loving.  This view persists despite the obvious logic that love would provide atonement, saying that God does not want to be angry with us.  This is a simple Sunday school verse away from being universally accepted, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son …”  It is an ethos that forms a complete circle when we realize that all sin is a sin against the divine nature, which is love, love being the law of Christ.  Now, love must be freely given.  In the atonement, then, we see God taking in his own body on the tree the consequences for the condition he himself created in making humanity free to sin.  In the cross all is set right and mankind is presented with propitiation “to be received by faith.”

The more interesting question, though, is how a sacrifice for sins works.  We can assume that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are purely prophetic of the Lamb of God.  But since the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world has been made, what exactly happened that a meritorious cause of our salvation was accomplished?  How can one man’s death atone for the wickedness of another?


Scripture says that Jesus “became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” and that he became a curse for us, “for anything hung on a cross is accursed.”  These are ontological statements, which require that we understand the moral universe in which we live.  A moral universe is different from a magical or speculative one in which God merely declares one righteous while another abides under wrath.  When Jesus died, for instance, there were religious, cosmic, geological, and anthropological phenomenon that serve as signs that something happened that day, once for all time.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two, the sun was darkened at midday, there was an earthquake, and some were raised from the dead.


The moral law is that evil be met with evil and good rewarded with good.  But in Christ the good was subjected to unspeakable evil.  Jesus absorbed all the evil that exists in the world like a dry sponge absorbs water.  Sponges come from the water where they naturally live and grow.  Taking a sponge out of the water and making it dry prepares it for absorbing water by the will and use of man.  Jesus came from heaven, where he naturally belongs as the man of heaven.  Yet in him God was incarnate, contrary to nature by a miracle of the Virgin Birth, and he lived in perfect obedience to God.  His virtuous life and obedience made him the perfect sacrifice for sin.  He reversed the flow such that if we give up our sins to him he takes them away.  “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

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