On this day we commemorate Christ's death upon the cross. That death was a real death, with blood and pain and agony. None of this stuff, hinted at in the gospel of Judas, about Jesus being only a spirit that "seems" to die. None of the "swoon theory" silliness that posits that Jesus simply passed out on the cross, but didn't die. Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ gets it -- this was messy suffering and dying.
I'm astonished at how many Christians then don't get it. I don't expect understanding from pagans -- after all the cross is a scandal, a stumbling block, and foolishness. We shouldn't expect them to get it (though we should long for it). But then I hear amazing things coming out of the mouths of Christian teachers. One teacher I had at a local institution said outright that she didn't believe in the Atonement. She claims to be all about grace -- she believes that God understands that we're just human. Her analogy was her cat -- when her cat pees on the floor, she says "that's just a cat being a cat -- I don't expect her to atone for it." And the murmurs of assent that bubbled up in the room showed me that I was a stranger in a strange land (and how ashamed I am that I didn't have the quickness of mind to speak up).
Then there was an article in City Beat newspaper that talked about liberal Christianity. I could spend a lot of time working through the article, but there was one section that just floored me. It quoted a local pastor on the atonement:
"Often what has happened in Christian orthodoxy is it's turned into a sacrifice of an innocent one to satisfy an angry God, a substitutionary atonement...The whole notion of a god who requires a sacrifice to be happy runs contrary to the life of Jesus." He goes on to say that Jesus' death was a result of the establishment's resistance to his revolutionary message: "The reason that Jesus died was not to make God happy and save us from God's wrath. The cross is a symbol of integrity. He died because he stood up for what he believed and wouldn't back down. We don't see the death of Jesus as a good thing." The article says that this pastor regards Jesus as pretty much a mystical activist human "I don't view Jesus as the son of God, but rather that is more metaphorical. Jesus is a gateway, an approach to God. We're much more like Jesus than we are different. I believe that Jesus did not want to be worshipped and Jesus did not see himself as God, and the parts of scripture that say this are layers that were added later."
I guess I see things differently. The cross is the amazing intersection of holiness and compassion, justice and grace, divinity and humanity. It is the punishment that brings us healing. Indeed, by His wounds, we are healed. I certainly wouldn't have come up with it as a solution -- but I'm not God. Accepting the cross and the atonement as it is, blood and all, I suggest is a great act of humility. We don't fully understand God's ways -- but we trust this Jesus who died, and who rose.
As a wrap up to this, check out this article Michael Kruse linked to on his website: Mark Dever exploring the various "theories" of the atonement and showing why they all, especially the substitution, are necessary for Christians.
Soli Deo Gloria