Understanding the Atonement

First I rationalize and say that it wasn’t really so bad. It wasn’t really a sin. It was okay. I  make up all sorts of reasons why the bad thing I did was not really bad. Second: I blame other people. I do this in three ways. First I say, “He did it too.” Second, I deny that I did it and place all the blame on the other person. Third, I might have done it, but the other person made me do it.

Everybody can understand this explanation of sin and the resulting actions which complicate and compound the sin. It’s there in the Garden of Eden story.

“Adam did you eat of the tree?”

“She did too. Eve made me do it.”


“The serpent made me do it.”

This is the downward spiral of sin. Mankind is wrapped up in this total syndrome of blaming others. This is the core of sin and the default setting. This explains what we mean by original sin–that not only do we sin, but we rationalize it away and blame others. Furthermore, this shifting of blame ends up in scapegoating and sacrifice. If the other person is to blame for the sin (and the suffering that comes from sin) then that person must be expelled, excluded and eventually destroyed.

Here’s the really sick part: when a person or a group do exclude and destroy, they feel good about it. They feel vindicated. They get a surge of good feeling about themselves. The enemy has been destroyed. The person causing the problems has been eliminated. We’re good to go! We’re good people after all! That bad person has been destroyed and the badness with him!

It gets worse: that surge of elation and power that comes from destroying the innocent one is like the false high of a drug. Consequently, the person or the group need within a short time to do it again in order to continue to feel good. Therefore they will continue to find an enemy–another person or another group to first blame, then exclude, then destroy.

Jesus comes into the midst of this and breaks the cycle. He does so by being the first person who has the authority (because he’s God) to accept the blame. He says to the whole human race who are busy shifting the blame–“You want to shift the blame? OK. I’ll take it. Go ahead and shift it over to me. You want to destroy someone and make yourself feel good? OK. Destroy me.” By accepting this blame and dying he destroys the cycle of sin. By embracing the blame he smothers it with love. By taking the responsibility for humanity’s murderous, twisted nature he replaces it with Life–with beauty, truth and goodness.

Suddenly these religious phrases are filled with deeper meaning. “Jesus died to save us from our sins.” I get it. Not just me and the naughty things I’ve done, but he delivers the whole of humanity (including me if I accept it) from the cycle of blame and destruction. He did this by shedding blood because bloodshed was required by those who were intent on destroying the enemy. So the idea that “his blood washes away sin” begins to make sense.

And that is why we call this Friday “Good”.