Jesus "for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven," the Nicene Creed says, "And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate." That is plain, but when I tried to look into the mechanics, I began to realise that mechanics are not a good description of God's dealings with the world.My emphasis.
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a new book Tokens of Trust (Canterbury Press, £9.99) summarises different ways of understanding the atonement.
For a start, "it became possible to speak of Jesus as a sacrifice," he writes.
Jewish thinking had already formulated the idea that "a life of obedience was a kind of sacrifice", and Jesus's perfect harmony with God's purpose led him to his death.
Dr Williams notes other images. "Jesus's death is a ransom, paid to our kidnappers (the powers of destruction); it is a punishment that we deserve, voluntarily borne by another, who is innocent; it is even a triumphant nailing up of a cancelled invoice.
"It's important to be aware of all these images and try to see why they are used; equally important, though, not to treat them as if they were theories that explain why Jesus died. The single central thing is the conviction that for us to be at peace Jesus's life had to be given up."
While scripture speaks truly, misunderstandings should be cleared up. It is a repulsive invention to suppose that it is to Satan that Jesus pays a price for our release. Nor is a ransom paid to God.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Christopher Howse writing in The Telegraph: