Monday, July 23, 2012

Looking for Atonement

Taken whale-watching off of Boston
Every week Linda and I encounter and meet with people who are looking for atonement. For the most part we see it on their faces, we hear it in their tone of voice. There is a desperation within them.

1. They have done evil and they know it. Recently, for example, a wife tearfully told us: "I have hurt my husband. I have made a breach between us." As she shared this she cried.

2. They are not possessed by a spirit of victimization. They are taking responsibility for their actions, and not blaming others for their own sins.

3. They wonder if this could ever be made right. This has two parts.

a. Can this ever be made right between themselves and those they have harmed?
b. Can this ever be made right between themselves and God?

Will they ever be accepted again?

They have failed morally and spiritually. This is their confession, not ours. We don't solicit such things. But we have seen this happen over and over again. (I'm now thinking of the movie Get Low, with Robert Duvall.)

They are looking for atonement. For a way to repair the breach. Is there any way they can make things better; any way they can make amends? Many people grieve and self-inflict over this. Our response is:

Self-atonement doesn't work. These people know this. We cannot "make up" for evil we have done. How, e.g., could the Colorado movie theatre murderer ever self-atone for the evil he did this past weekend? How could he "make it up" to the families he has forever devastated? Even if he wants to, it won't work. It won't satisfy.
  1. We can't change the past. Life is not a dvd with a button that says "rewind." We'll never be able to do it over again.
  2. What God has done in Christ, on the cross, is the Great Act of Atonement. God has accomplished what humanity cannot do. The shed blood of Jesus covers over ("atones for"; Hebrew kippur) our failure and sin.
  3. Embrace the atoning work of Christ. If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Even if you don't personally believe that #3 is true, you can admit that, if it's not true, then there is no hope for the morally convicted person, since at this point self-atonement strategies all fail to bring satisfaction.

The meaning of "forgiveness" is: the debt that you owe is cancelled. Therefore you don't have to pay any more. You are not indebted. When God forgave you and you received his forgiveness, you then went free. When other people forgive you (if they do), then your indebtedness is removed. Here is an example of how this works.

In the 1980s I served as a campus minister at Michigan State University. One day I received a call from a friend. My friend worked with a man who was just arrested for murdering his wife. This story had made international news for its shocking gruesomeness.

This husband discovered his wife was having an affair. He murdered his wife, chopped her body into pieces, placed it in the basement freezer, and put a lock on it. His story was that his wife was missing.

Three and a half years went by. The husband's daughter saw the lock on the freezer. She had been having nightmares of her mother being tied up in a place where she couldn't move. One day she broke the freezer lock and opened it.

She was a student at MSU. My friend asked if I would call her and meet with her. I called. She was very polite, but declined meeting with me.

Her father was imprisoned. My friend occasionally visited him. I was told that, in prison, this man turned to Christ for help. He was, it seems, living out points 1-3 above.

"What about his daughter?" I asked.

"She contacted him and forgave him for what he did to her mother."

That is the story as I remember it. If it happened this way, then the only road to real, breach-healing atonement had been found and walked on.

If you are seeking reparation today with your God, turn to him. Accept what he has done for you. And, if I can assist, please contact me: