Tuesday, April 11—The Need for Atonement

Atonement—it’s a word we don’t use in everyday language that represents the recompense that is given to make amends for a wrong-doing or injury. Conceptually, atonement is a form of rebalancing after the disruption of a relationship; a payment of equal value is given to the person who has been negatively impacted by a wrongful action in order to settle the score.
 
We learn at a young age that we need to apologize when we do something that hurts another person. Apologies represent the simplest form of atonement, and they are socially acceptable ways to offset relatively minor infractions; however, apologies generally are believed to be insufficient in situations were more serious damage is done.
 
Mankind has developed complex laws to systematize atonement in society. These regulations define the degree of “wrongness” and assign seemingly appropriate levels of reparation. Of course, views regarding the effectiveness of these legal approaches vary widely and are influenced by many situational factors. In countless real-life cases, the injured person firmly believes that no amount or form of payment ever could provide sufficient penance for the offense that had been committed.
 
So now, stop and consider the theological implications of atonement. The offended party is God—our creator, who is sovereign over all of mankind and the world around us. He sees all and knows all. He is love incarnate, but He also is the law-giver and judge. He is so holy that every minor misstep we make must seem enormous to Him, generating huge rifts in our relationship with Him. Furthermore, our day-in and day-out repetition of sinful acts causes the wall between God and us to grow progressively thicker and higher—ultimately becoming insurmountable.
 
As the Bible tells us in Isaiah 59:1-2. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Revised Standard Version)
 
Clearly, there is no payment we could make that would satisfy the wrongs we have done to God—no way that we ever could atone for our sins and rebalance our relationship with the almighty. If we accept this reality, we are faced with the message that the Bible tells us in so many ways. Fortunately, as we begin to remember Christ’s walk to the cross and His resurrection, we already know how this horrifying truth was converted into a new beginning for each of us—not through our own efforts but through the sacrificial atonement God granted to us through the death of His son, Jesus Christ.
 
Paul said it so well in Romans 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Revised Standard Version)
 

Prayer Suggestion

Use this standard prayer of confession to open your hearts and minds in order to obtain a deeper understanding of your need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Then, add your own personal confessions.
 
“Eternal God, our judge and redeemer, we confess that we have tried to hide from you, for we have done wrong. We have lived for ourselves, and apart from you. We have turned from our neighbors, and refused to bear the burdens of others. We have ignored the pain of the world, and passed by the hungry, the poor, and the oppressed. In your great mercy forgive our sins and free us from selfishness, that we may choose your will and obey your commandments; through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
 
Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), p. 54.