Atonement and Abraham Lincoln Part 1

An Overview of Atonement

Christopher Schwinger

An Overview of Atonement
National Judgment and Personal Suffering

Abraham Lincoln's 2nd inaugural address is a to-the-point, compassionate, and thoughtful examination of the Civil War which was still going on but now in the North's favor. He obviously was reading his Bible a lot as he sought to understand the war as a national judgment ordained by God, and the address includes a lot of Biblical quotations. One of the last sentences is this:
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
I don't know how literally he meant it about the duration of the war being a type of direct punishment for the number of slaves who were wrongly beaten. He was clearly just speculating about why the war went on so unnaturally long and affected so many people who weren't responsible for the evils of slavery. But this seems like an interesting subject to explore about what atonement means.

The word atonement actually means "at-one-ment," a Middle English version of the Latin verb adunare meaning "to unite", which comes from ad unum, "toward one." Over the centuries, theories of atonement have been proposed about how God, mankind, and Satan interacted when Jesus was crucified, whether God was subject to a certain law which required Jesus to be killed, and more tangential issues. Penal substitution is emphasized in some settings a lot, especially those with a Calvinist leaning, with the focus on God being the originator of the rules and us universally deserving His wrath, the only remedy for which is Jesus taking the punishment, in a courtroom metaphor. The other aspect of the crucifixion besides justice was love, because He chose to die for us and created humanity while knowing in advance what He'd later suffer, because in order to have a meaningful relationship with mankind He had to give Adam and Eve the ability to choose.

One thing that's never really explained in the Bible is why bloodshed is required for forgiving sin, but the idea seems to be an innate one because this was believed throughout the ancient world, indicating a spiritual need for reconciliation with God. Except for Jesus Christ's, sacrifices could not do anything except make people feel better. Only Jesus' did anything because His innocent nature meant He didn't have to have His own sins atoned for, because He didn't have sin. Thus the Virgin Birth was necessary, so He would be human but not a product of sinful people's bloodline. It wasn't bloodshed per se, but that Jesus died, which made His death effective, as a total representation of sin leading to death. He could've been injured with a loss of several drops of blood and it wouldn't have done anything spiritually effective. His death involved bloodshed, but it isn't His blood that saves us, but His death, technically speaking.

That's my understanding of the basic principles of the atonement of Christ. Lincoln speculated about why God prolonged the Civil War or allowed it to be prolonged. (Or are they the same?) We have similar questions about national disasters when they have clear spiritual causes. One is that they're God's active judgment, another is that He removed His special protection, and the third is that He let the laws of nature take their course and doesn't really have "special" protection or curses for anyone in particular. If Europe wants a low birth rate and wants more Muslim refugees, that's letting the laws of nature take their course, with increased terrorism and the loss of traditional culture as natural results of this. If God doesn't stop a terrorist attack, and there were clear warning signs that this could happen with so much immigration, there's no need to get mystical about God judging the particular individuals and nation involved. In one sense, it doesn't matter whether God actively judges homosexuals with AIDS or just lets nature take its course, because nature operates according to how God set it up. But in another sense, the distinction between these three ways of describing God's judgment for sin is important in how we view God's intentions. It depends on whether you're talking to Biblically literate people, and also depends on the subject matter. Jerry Falwell caused a lot of trouble by claiming God was punishing homosexuals with AIDS, rather than speaking compassionately about how this is what happens when we break our Creator's rules for how to govern our bodies. Everyone knows that the way America's southern border and Syrian refugee issues are discussed has been full of headaches due to Donald Trump's lack of delicacy. This kind of delicacy is equally important for how we view God's role in the world, especially when bad things happen.

Image Credit: Alexander Gardner; "The inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, 1865"; 1865; Public Domain

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | God-Father  | Hardships  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 2-13-17