The following is a comment I posted to Tribal Church as part of a discussion that started on the subject of atonement. This is something I’ve said before in various ways, but I think this is one of the shorter and more efficient formulations.
“And yet, I cannot ignore power in the story of sacrifice that still impels me. There was, for some reason, this thought in so many ancient religions that in order to atone for our sins, in order to appease God, in order to make peace with the divine, we ought to pour out life-blood, whether it was a pigeon, or a lamb, or what have you. There is this narrative that we carry within us. It is part of who we are as human beings.”
In the book Lamb (which is comedy, but also very insightful at times), the idea is put forward that one of the things that Jesus sought to do was to abolish the human practice of atoning sacrifice. I think this is a compelling idea.
So is it not possible that, while there was a human need for sacrifice to atone, Jesus’ sacrifice was the ultimate, definitive demonstration that this need for blood before reconciliation is demonic and always counter to God’s will? I mean, the crucifixion is the worst case scenario. God becomes a human being and after we meet God, we decide to ridicule, torture and execute God publicly…and we do it with relish. What could *possibly* be worse?
In continuing to see substitutionary atonement as positive, then, we might be continually propping up something that God thought was so perverse that God underwent it personally in order to demonstrate how it is never redemptive, never justice?
If one takes this view, then there is still the necessity, theologically and in terms of narrative, that Jesus be crucified, because it has to go that far, it has to come to that terrible moral and theological impasse, before we are shocked out of our need for retribution, our need for blood as a prerequisite for reconciliation. So, Jesus “died to save us from sin”, and Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection function to atone and to reconcile, but not because the sacrifice was *good*, but precisely because it was the most terrible evil one can imagine.