Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Meditation on the Atonement: Colossians 1:13,14

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (NRSV).

In his book Christus Victor, which helped restore the patristic view of atonement to prominence in the last century, Gustav Aulen speaks of the “dramatic” aspect of atonement. This in his usage refers to the cosmological nature of the atonement—its wide-reaching effects not just for individual souls but for the whole cosmos. This idea of dramatic conflict between God and the Satan, not just for the souls of the elect but for the shalom of the entire universe, is one that according to Aulen pervades both the New Testament and patristic literature. Whether or not Aulen’s thesis is correct, this passage certainly reflects such a perspective.

Paul’s view here is cosmic: God snatches away from the myriad powers of darkness and brings us into his new structure for reality, the kingdom of his Son. In Christ’s kingdom there is redemption, an economic term whose resonance for Jews recalls the Exodus (Exodus 6:6), the controlling metaphor for their understanding and experience of YHWH. This redemption in Christ is defined as “forgiveness of sins,” a phrase whose rich depths of meaning include ideas from personal salvation to God’s restoration of justice to the whole universe.

Whatever our view of the mechanics of atonement, we must affirm that his sacrifice has universal, and not just personal, dimensions. The cross is the turning point of history, the linchpin of God’s program for a new heaven and a new earth. Atonement is about new reality exploding into our lives, challenging our deepest assumptions and most cherished beliefs. Atonement is for the world: for our family, our neighbors, our countrymen and all of our fellow humans. Indeed, it is not just for them; it is for the creation that groans in anticipation for God’s redemption (Romans 8:22). For our own wounded souls, for the poor and powerless of this world, for the corrupted nature that assails us: Christ’s work is for all of these. And, as "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:19) entrusted with a "message of reconciliation" (v. 20), it is our job to proclaim the message of that conciliatory work to every inch of creation, through our words and our deeds, doing all to the glory of God.


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