Redemption and atonement

Redemption and atonement

By PETRA HELDT
September 24, 2009 14:41
2 minute read.

There are two ways of redeeming something, either by buying it or by defeating the one who holds it. Given that sin proceeds from human free will, this very freedom has involved us all in a depth of corruption. How then to redeem humankind from this abyss - by buying the evil from someone? In the Christian view, the Scriptures indicate the other option: When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, the deed was not done by buying Israel back from Pharaoh. God forcibly took his people from the evil doer. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans (6:6), holds the very same view when writing "that our old [sinful] man was crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be rendered inactive." Christians have it that Christ on the cross "trampled death by death," as the Byzantine Easter hymn says. Satan defeated himself by bringing death upon Christ. For Christians, Jesus is not simply the consciousness of redemption, but atonement from one's sins in very fact or, in other words, the redeemer is the at-one-ment, the one who makes at one the human being, created in the image and likeness of God, with its creator. Like Judaism, Christianity holds that humankind is slave to sin and offers a remedy for this bondage. But unlike Jewish teaching, Christian instruction about freedom from bondage and death asserts that being with Christ in baptism contains that at-one-ment with God. Those who live by that education, with all its implications, are the people who are "a fragrant odor to God," in Paul's words (2 Corinthians 2:15). How come that those persons who have been redeemed and are purportedly at one with God through grace by baptism, still sin? Is the devil, who is the father of all sins, not already defeated? Here we should not overlook the difference between the eschatological aspiration of church teaching and the present condition of reality with the human free will still extant. Ultimately, the defeat of the devil is assured, but in the meantime the option to sin remains. Eschatological hope does not discard realism. The choice between that narrow path leading through atonement to God and the broad way heading through sin to death is still acute. The easy road is doubtlessly an attraction. While the deceiver targets the leadership of any institution, the church leadership presents a particular goal. Whereas some church leaders unquestionably walk like children of God, overcome temptations and guide their flock on the way of life by their own example, there are others who fall short in all these ways. The temptations are great, in particular, for the international church bureaucracies. Because they call themselves the "world" this-or-that, some of them suppose that they can order the world around. Israel is a favorite target in the name of "peace." Yet these organizations are themselves sometimes rent by internal turf wars. They should remember the warning of Jesus (Matthew 7:1): "Judge not that ye be not judged." Fortunately, for Christians and Jews alike, most churches do not take orders from Geneva. Recently, the church-wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved by an overwhelming majority a balanced and fair-minded resolution about the Arab-Israeli conflict and rejected anti-Israel incitement. Likewise, the General Council of the United Church of Canada voted to "take no action" on four proposals that had called for a "comprehensive boycott" of Israel. Christian worship commonly begins with a confession of sins. This is the true Christian teaching: everyone in every nation needs to acknowledge sin, but first of all, we ourselves. The writer is head of the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel.


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