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I Do Not Get the Cross

“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Recently I came across an article whose subject was on the theological concept of Atonement which it excoriated. In our increasingly illiterate culture in the theological, you seldom see paper or cyber print used for this topic. To avoid the issue of speaking ‘christian’ let me explain briefly what the Atonement is and some of my thoughts on what the Bible says on the topic.

Atonement is forensic or legal in scope. A good definition as any is from the Anglican scholar J.I. Packer: “Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for a wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.” 1

It comes back to the issue of rightness verses wrongness, of justice. You cannot have, nor would you need, atonement without an offense that transpired first. A debt is owed and the bill must be paid. A wrong has to be made right; a grievance must be aired and recompense must be made. On its most basic level society cannot exist apart from this concept. The more intimate the relationship, the more essential this concept becomes. Any glance at the newspaper can tell you how pervasive the need for atonement in human relationships is.

It becomes a theological issue when we look at our relationship with God. On the physical level we cannot see God. We cannot speak to Him personally (Not without peril). We cannot go to His house, sit in His living room and have a cup of coffee or tea to chat. Personally, I have never heard the voice of God audibly nor have I seen any visions of Him. To be honest, I would be inclined to check myself into the psychiatric hospital if I thought I did.

So if I have not conversed directly or bumped into God on the street I wonder what he thinks of me? Are these fond thoughts coming my way or is He profoundly put-out, angry.

Even though I have no physical interpersonal interaction with God is He happy with me or have I offended Him in someway?

Well unfortunately there is a serious problem. We are sinners and God is not. Furthermore He is sinless, holy and finds sin odious. God finds sin offensive and there needs to be recompense.


Before you say, “Uh-oh,” you may say, “Wait a minute! How can God take exception to my behavior when I haven’t even seen Him? Furthermore, what gives Him the right to judge my actions? What right does He have to decide?” Fair enough questions.

It really all comes down to the question of His rights.

In modern America we have deified our ‘rights’; we have taken those ‘self-evident rights’ and contorted them in some truly amazing ways. We clamor for the right not be bothered, offended or in any way put-out and made to tolerate the rights of others. Therein is THE problem, we demand our rights almost to the exclusion of everyone around us while missing the obvious point that others rights may conflict with ours. But, others do have rights.

Ownership gives rights. If you ride in my car I have the reasonable right that if you want to roll down the window, ogle the ladies, wolf whistle and otherwise make an idiot out of yourself to expect you to refrain or allow you to walk. The same goes for someone’s house. Well, this is my Father’s world. God has the right of determination of standards of behavior, purpose and existence in line with His character. God is the one who gets to say that murder, theft, lying and adultery is wrong and out-of-bounds.

So, if he has the right of rule then He has the right to say what constitutes following His rule. Furthermore, He has the right to say what the breaking of those rules means for the ruler-breaker. Just as I, in the car, have the right to pronounce judgment on the fool-passenger and consign him to the sidewalk so God has the same right on us.

Now here is where the example of the fool-passenger comes short: how is the standard, the expectation conveyed to us. Here is where we rightly and definitely say, “Uh-Oh” because this river washes up on everyone. We know the standard but we don’t follow the standard.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:18-20 NLT)

“Oh, that is sinful, wicked people, whew!” You say. Not so fast…“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one…” (Romans 3:10). “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Furthermore: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Triple Uh-oh! We really, inside, know what is expected of us, we all are rule-breakers and it will kill us. Now we might be more inclined to pay attention to this whole idea of atonement. Atonement, simply put, in the spiritual, the eternal realm, keeps us alive; it is the necessary ingredient in the medicine that will cure us of the cancer of our rule-breaking, our sin.

This is where ownership and rights comes into play: God has the right to determine how satisfaction will be given and received.  We, conversely, do not. For starters, He, the creator, is the offended party. Equality is a factor in horizontal relationships of person to person but is not a factor in vertical relationships between God and humans. We cannot afford to loose sight of that critical component of God’s rights.

What is clear in the Bible is that God chose to atone for our rule-breaking by a sacrifice of a non-rule-breaker. Please look atRomans 5:6-21and you will see that Christ provided our atonement for sins, for our rule-breaking.

Please grant me the grace to give my thoughts on Jesus being the instrument of atonement by his death. My statement is not without peril to those who do read all of what I will say (If you don’t believe me that it is socially dangerous as a Christian to step out of line thought-wise just try posting something slightly off the grid on the social media. People will converge like sharks to correct you.) I will say this out of solidarity and understanding for those who are like minded.

I don’t get the Cross at first blush.

I don’t get God sending Himself in the form of His Triune Son to give satisfaction for what I or others have done. It seems grossly unfair. It seems, in my humanness to be anything but loving.

Although we know suffering and pain is a part of our human condition we willingly do all in our power to shield our loved ones from the scourge. But our ‘power’ is infinitesimal. God is the creator who creates Ex Nihilo, cannot He do better than to make amends by allowing His son to die horribly? What kind of a god can do such a thing? If you have buried a child the idea is virtually, beyond the pale.

But for those of us who have buried loved ones we long to see again, that reunion we yearn for is possible only because of that incomprehensible manner of atonement. We are dead apart from God and will stay dead unless He intervenes. If there is no other way to meet this end and we are clearly not able, then I begin to understand. Then I begin to get the Cross.

Please consider the following: only a good and orderly creator could make a world as intricate and ordered as this globe is, even in its present broken condition. If we take the time to reason it carefully and examine His scriptures it tells us so very much about His character. The clear declaration of His scripture is that God is love (1John 4:8).

How can we quantify this love that God is? It is His character andJohn 3:16tells us He loves the world enough to send His son to die for that world, to die for you and for me. He loves us and He knows us intimately.Psalms 139pulls back the curtain that we might glimpse the incredible level of knowledge that he has of us.

You have looked deep into my heart, LORD, and you know all about me. You know when I am resting or when I am working, and from heaven you discover my thoughts. You notice everything I do and everywhere I go. Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say, nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below, but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do. Your thoughts are far beyond my understanding, much more than I could ever imagine. I try to count your thoughts, but they outnumber the grains of sand on the beach. (Psalm 139: 1-4, 15-18 CEV)

Everything in scripture shouts to the mountaintop of God’s love for we broken humans. God knows us prior to birth, marks out all of our days and knows our every movement. Only a lover takes the necessary time to learn all of their beloved. The only logical conclusion we draw is that God gave His beloved son because we are also beloved and our atonement is of paramount importance. If God chose the cruel season of crucifixion for a satisfaction or expiation then we conclude there was no other way to do so less He deny who He is.

This moral goodness is hard for us to grasp because His moral goodness is tied to absolutes and ours is tied to the relative. Absolutes are not our current natural state; we gleefully color outside of the lines. We can rationalize and bend justice in our minds but God cannot. God is good; goodness is part of his very person in the Holy Spirit that indwells us. Mulligans are particular to humans and golf but not God and holiness.

“But God,” we say, “we are only human. We cannot be perfect. Religion doesn’t work.”

To this God says, “I know, you can’t. You can’t make the atonement. You can’t pay the bill, so to speak, so I did.” The Cross is the intersection of our inability to be truly, completely good and God’s ability to be truly, completely good for us. For the breaking of absolute goodness God found a way to work around our inability and still satisfy goodness and justice. He used His limber, flexible Grace to satisfy the absolute.

True love knows the beloved in all ways and works to meet the needs of the beloved.

Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.

Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.

When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst

humble thyself to be born of a Virgin.

When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou

didst open theKingdomofHeavento all believers.

Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of

the Father.

We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge.

We therefore pray thee, help thy servants, whom thou

hast redeemed with thy precious blood.

Make them to be numbered with thy Saints,

 in glory everlasting.

(BCP 1928)

1. Packer, J.I. (1993). Concise Theology, A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishing




Copyright © 2011 Brian Bailey, Author