The Deeper Magic: A Good Friday Meditation

From C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

"You have a traitor there, Aslan," said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund...

"Well," said Aslan. "His offence was not against you."

"Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?" asked the Witch.

"Let us say I have forgotten it," answered Aslan gravely. "Tell us of this Deep Magic."

"Tell you?" said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. "Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill...that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property..."

"It is very true," said Aslan, "I do not deny it...Fall back, all of you," said Aslan, "and I will talk to the Witch alone..."
The rising of the sun had made everything look so different - all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn't see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan...

"Who's done it?" cried Susan. "What does it mean? Is it magic?"

"Yes!" said a great voice behind their backs. "It is more magic." They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

"Oh, Aslan!" cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.

"Aren't you dead then, dear Aslan?" said Lucy.

"Not now," said Aslan...

"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitors stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards..."

"And now," said Aslan presently, "to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears."

And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.
Last week I read Christus Victor by Gustuf Aulen. Aulen's book is considered by many to be an important recovery of the original Christian understanding of the atonement. Most Christians tend to think of the atonement in terms of satisfaction, often with the legal twist seen in penal substitutionary atonement. In this view, which hardly bears repeating, Jesus dies in our place to satisfy God's justice. As Aulen notes, this view, while common among modern Christians (the Orthodox are the exception here), was not the original Christian understanding. Satisfaction theory was a more recent invention, taking full shape round 1027 with Saint Anslem's treatise Cur Deus Homo? (Why did God become man?). During the Protestant Reformation the notion of legal satisfaction (i.e., God's justice requires a death-sentence to achieve satisfaction), a slant going beyond Anselm's seminal work, took final shape and became the ascendent view in Western Christianity.

But for the first thousand years of the church a different view held sway, a view Aulen labels Christus Victor. It is also called the "classical" or "ransom" view of the atonement. Aulen describes the central idea:
[T]he central theme [of this] idea of the Atonement [is] a Divine conflict and victory; Christ--Christus Victor--fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to himself.
In the New Testament these "evil powers" are most closely identified with Sin, Death, and the Devil. In many places in Paul's writings Sin, Death, and the Devil almost function as synonyms. Collectively, these are the powers that hold humanity "hostage." We are the "captives" of Sin, Death, and the Devil. And without Christ we are doomed. Thus, according to Christus Victor theology, Christ comes to earth to do battle with and ultimately defeat Sin, Death, and the Devil. And by defeating these enemies Jesus sets humans free.
Colossians 2.20
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules...

Romans 8.37-39
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Corinthians 15.20-26
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
One aspect of ransom theory was how the first Christians interpreted passages like this:
Mark 10.45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

1 Timothy 2.5-6
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men...
Most modern Christians read these verses through the prism of satisfaction theory. In this theory the ransom is paid to God to satisfy God's demand for justice. But the first Christians didn't see it that way. The first Christians believed that the Devil held humanity captive and, thus, the ransom was being paid to the Devil. God, in this view, is wholly loving and benevolent. Satan demands the blood and the death. Not God.

I like to call ransom theory "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Theory" because, as seen above, it is the theology behind the actions of Aslan and the White Witch. Due to his sin, according to Deep Magic of Narnia, the White Witch has a rightful claim upon Edmund. As she says: "That human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property..." This is how the first Christians saw the fall of Adam and Eve and all humanity since Eden. Because of our sin the Devil "owns" us, our blood is the Devil's property.

So Christ, like Aslan does for Edmund, substitutes himself for us. Christ pays the blood ransom setting us free from the Devil's rightful claim. And thus are we saved. The White Witch kills Aslan instead of Edmund. The Devil kills Christ instead of Adam and his offspring.

But it gets even more interesting than this. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe something else happens beyond the substitution. The Witch kills Aslan, but that's not the end of the story. There is a Deeper Magic that the Witch doesn't know about. And this Deeper Magic brings Aslan back to life, cracking the Stone Table and, thus, ending the era of sacrifice in Narnia. But more than ending sacrifice, Aslan also defeats Death itself: "the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards..."

The Stone Table cracks because Aslan tricks the White Witch into taking an innocent victim: "Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation." Interestingly, some of the Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa in particular, articulated something very similar regarding Christ's defeat of the Devil. Specifically, in the Incarnation God hides himself in human form. Kind of like a Trojan Horse. The Devil can clearly see that Christ is special, perhaps even the Messiah, but still just a man. So Satan kills Jesus thinking he will thwart God's plan. In the words of St. Augustine, the Devil took the "bait." Like a fish taking a worm on a hook. Like the White Witch killing Aslan thinking that would be the end of the story.

So the Devil takes Jesus down into hell, his Citadel of Sin and Death, where all humanity, starting with Adam and Eve, are being held captive. There the Devil tries to lock Jesus up with the rest of humanity when--Surprise!--the Devil discovers that Jesus isn't just a man. Jesus is God Incarnate. The Devil has been fooled into letting God into hell. Jesus then leads a jail break, cracking open the gates of hell and freeing humanity, leading them up to heaven. These events are called the harrowing of hell and are recounted in a couple of places in the New Testament:
1 Peter 3.18-20a
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago...

1 Peter 4.6
For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Ephesians 4.8-10
This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men."
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Again, for the first thousand years of church history this was how Christians understood the atonement. Our modern theory of satisfaction didn't arrive until much later. But one of the reasons the modern version did take over was due to the fact that people began to be increasingly uncomfortable with the power afforded the Devil in ransom theory. Could the Devil really have a rightful claim on humanity? Does God really have to bargain with the Devil to free humanity? And isn't the whole notion of tricking the Devil into killing Jesus a little outlandish? Questions like these swirled around ransom theory from the very beginning, but they grew more and more acute until, finally, one atonement theory was swapped for another around 1027.

Now why am I going into all this for a Good Friday meditation? Well, because I agree with Aulen that something was lost when we turned our backs on the original understanding of the atonement. I agree with Aulen that we should return to the first Christian understanding of the atonement.

But the immediate objection to this is that if we were to return to the original Christian understanding wouldn't that mean readopting all those shenanigans associated with the Devil? The deal making, the trickery and all that weirdness?

Aulen says we don't. And his argument goes like this. All this drama about the Devil is just that, a drama, a story told to get across some very important ideas. Read literally, the details about Christ's defeat of the Devil are hard to swallow. But the theological truths associated with this drama are so very, very right. And right in ways that the modern satisfaction theory is so very, very wrong.

Aulen discusses, among others, three ways ransom theory gets it right.

First, it is true that all the deal making and trickery in ransom theory looks strange. But it points to a key theological insight: the non-violence of God. As Aulen writes:
[T]his whole group of ideas, including the semi-legal transaction with the devil, the payment of the ransom-price, and the deception, is presented, often explicitly, in order to deny that God proceeds by way of brute force to accomplish His purpose...He overcomes evil, not my an almighty fiat, but by putting in something of His own, through a Divine self-oblation.
This is a huge contrast between ransom theory and, say, modern penal substitutionary atonement. In penal substitutionary atonement violence is an intrinsic feature of God. God's blood lust and violence drives the whole mechanism. It's paganism all over again.

But in ransom theory God is non-violent. God demands no blood price. More, God even deals with the Devil non-violently. God overcomes evil by self-sacrificing. The Devil--like the White Witch--craves blood. Not Aslan. And not God.

Second, the legal transaction between God and the Devil--the White Witch claiming that Edmund is her "lawful prey"--shouldn't be taken to mean that God and the Devil are equals. Rather, as Aulen writes, "in the Fathers the essential idea which the legal language is intended to express is that God's dealings even with the powers of evil have the character of 'fair play.' Thus this point connects with the last. Evil is overcome not by an external use of force, but by internal methods of self-offering."

Finally, what are we to make of the drama of "tricking" the Devil? What theological insight does that communicate? In response to this question Aulen writes that "behind all the seemingly fantastic speculations lies the thought that the power of evil ultimately overreaches itself when it comes in conflict with the power of good, with God Himself. It loses the battle at the moment when it seems victorious."

Here, then, is the dramatic power of ransom theory. The climax of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The upside down logic of Good Friday. The scandal. The stone of stumbling. The foolishness.

The lamb that was slain is the Lion of Judah.

There, on the cross, where it seems that death is now victorious, a Deeper Magic is at work.

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57 thoughts on “The Deeper Magic: A Good Friday Meditation”

  1. I really like the Ransom theory and utterly despite penal substitution. Still, I'm not satisfied that a ransom can work, even in an abstract sense, without a willful entity on the "other end" of the deal, an evil intelligence to defeat in spite of the fair play rules God is bound by. And since I don't believe in a divine evil being, that pretty much rules it out for me.

    I keep coming back to the Orthodox view, without any firm atonement doctrine, and see sin not as an aberrant state from which we are ransomed, but a natural state from which we will ultimately be elevated.

    As a side note, if you put credence in the Ransom Theory (which I would if I believed in a literal devil), universalism becomes irrefutable in my mind, and one's ransomed state is a done deal regardless of what, if any, religious doctrines one believes in.

  2. I agree. The ransom metaphor needs to be handled very, very abstractly. It's not used a lot and I think it simply is gesturing to the idea of humanity being held in bondage, captivity, slavery and that Jesus' death sets us free.

  3. I was looking for that verse to include in this post but couldn't find it and needed to go to bed. Thanks for posting it.

  4. thanks rich i am happy to know there is someone out there that thinks of atonement as a loving god restoring his good through himself for the good of creation. he is responsible and accountable to his good.

  5. Richard, I ask this with all sincerity: did the early Christians regard the ransom model as very, very abstract?

  6. "...if she could have looked a little further back..." The Easter narrative goes beyond anything we can know unless faith is a means to know (a very tricky question). The narrative takes us outside out situation, including our conceptual world. Kierkegaard offered arguments why apologetics is futile, and I suppose this is just a version of his rationale against Christian rationalization of Christian belief. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this meta-narrative, but I suspect I'll be spending the rest of my (temporal) life trying to come to terms--meta and practical--with it.

    Thanks for this. As usual, your posts are richly thought provoking.

  7. For a while there I thought I was reading Greek Mythology. How does 'Aulen's book being considered by many' carry any weight at all when we have no idea who these many are???

    "In many places in Paul's writings Sin, Death, and the Devil almost function as synonyms."
    Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death. . . ." Seems like a cause and effect relationship, no? 'Almost synonyms,' . . . not so much.

    "The first Christians believed that the Devil held humanity captive and, thus, the ransom was being paid to the Devil."

    I most certainly don't know what the first Christians believed; nor why I would care without knowing their specific credentials. But, I do know what God said in the Scriptures. Not this. The devil is always pictured in Scripture as tempting or deceiving humans to sin. Did he force Adam and Eve to eat or did he just lie to them? Nowhere do I find him with the power to 'hold humanity captive.' Just one verse to 'prove' this. (insert smiley face here). James 4:7 "So, submit to God. But resist the devil and he will flee from you." The one who holds us captive will flee if we just resist??? Really???

    The idea that 'ransom theory' and 'penal substitution' are in conflict is a misunderstanding of both.

  8. Just one verse to 'prove' this. (insert smiley face here).

    Acts 10.38
    God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

    2 Timothy 2.25-26
    Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

    Hebrew 2.14-15
    Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

    Luke 13.16
    Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

    Galatians 4.8-9
    Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

    I do like reading the bible!

  9. Rich: Excellent post. A great thought such a Friday as this.

    Paul D. - I have been mulling the idea about a literal devil for over a year now. Certainly the footnote commentary in the Harper Collins study bible calls the idea into question his role and place. (Wiki makes note of this as well:

    However, I'm wondering if there is a false dichotomy of the poles between the ransom theory and the plausibility of a literal devil. What I mean is this: Perhaps if we took a more psychoanalytic/existential view of the devil/evil/sin, we could find a certain type of "otherness" necessary to imagine a ransom theory without giving it such a full body as to assume a divine anti-god.

    The idea, obviously, is still very cloudy in my mind, but I think the work of Jung and his discoveries of the archetypes and collective unconscious could lend credence to reconciling the apparent disjunction. I think we can all agree that it seem there is a certain nebulous strata which evil appears to inhabit. It's completely understandable why great religions from time immemorial have imagined the world as a battle between two forces - because it's easy to wrap our minds around such a concept. But perhaps the ransom theory can also work without the need of a literal devil if we assume a certain metaphysical reality within the collective psyche.

    I'm trying to keep this idea from being to abstract and ethereal, but right now it's very infantile in my mind. I guess what I'm going for is that "the devil" could be, in a sense, a product of our total Self (in the Jungian sense) and the ambivalence inherent to our nature. If such really was the case (in all my naive posturing), then I think "ransom" would be appropriate. He would be saving us from ourselves, our imperfection, our death, and renewing all things unto his perfection.

    If you can't tell, I'm not really sold on this idea myself, but I'd love to hear what you (or anyone) think(s).

  10. You have bested me by a factor of 5. So, while we are all having fun let me just add that yes, 'reading the Bible' is good; but, grasping the truth of the Bible is much, much better.

    Acts 10:38 'power of the devil'
    Could this possibly mean that he had deceived them and they were living a life of sin leading to death?

    2 Timothy 2:25-26 'who has taken them captive to do his will'
    Same question as above.

    Hebrews 2:14-15 'holds the power of death'
    same question as above.
    'held in slavery...'
    Could this possibly mean that fear of physical death keeps people in a spiritual bondage of sorts which in turn leads to sinful choices?

    Luke 13:16 'Satan has kept bound ...'
    You of all people must know how the mind can 'control' the physical body. So, could this possibly mean that the spirit of verse 11 had so twisted her thinking that she had developed this terrible physical sickness?

    Galatians 4:8-9 'those weak and miserable forces'
    What can I say. Lies, lies, lies. We are all prone to them. But, they are weak and miserable forces compared to the truth of God. Satan is a deceiver; not a powerful despot. But, if you prefer to think of him as some sort of divine power, go for it.

  11. "grasping the truth of the Bible is much, much better."

    David, how can you style yourself as having "grasped the truth of the bible" when an hour or so ago you didn't even know these passages existed?

    You really baffle me sometimes...

  12. Richard, Richard, Richard....

    Talk about being baffling.

    1) I never said nor did I intend to imply that I had 'grasped the truth of the Bible'. As do you, I have opinions. Never would I say that my opinion is the truth. Would you?
    2) You have absolutely no idea of which verses of the Bible I do or do not know exist. I thought you would have let that tactic go after telling me that I ought to read Romans, one of my favorite books.
    3) To save you pain and suffering I only brought up one very clear verse to question your assertions. You on the other hand brought up 5 rather obtuse verses to buttress your point. Possibly not the best approach if clarity, truth, and understanding is the goal?
    3) You didn't answer any of my questions. I answer all of yours. Although neither of us owes the other any answers, of course.

    I'll just assume you are very busy today. Please do have a blessed Easter. (do not insert a smiley face here; I am serious in this)

  13. I don't think that there is much of a difference between ransom and penal substitution when all is said and done.

    In fact, watching the LWW movie made me realize how irrational it all is. The bad witch claims Edmund as hers because of the law. But all I could think was: "why would Aslan have ever agreed to such an idiotic law?" A law is based on a negotiation between parties. But Aslan had no equal, he had no reason to set up a law that would turn people over to the witch.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I think I'll have to check out Aulen for myself sometime, but for the time being, your post is giving me plenty to chew on. I participated in a lovely Good Friday gathering tonight but couldn't push my many issues with penal substitutionary atonement out of my head the whole time. Not during the prayer, not during the singing, not during Communion. I've never really thought about it before--it's always taken a backseat to other more pressing theological doubts/problems for me, but today once it got a hold of me...

    And then I came home and found this and breathed a sigh of relief. Not that I'm swallowing it whole without a little more exploration on my part, but just knowing that there are other ways of looking at the Cross that aren't totally baffling, that don't have me worshiping a bloodthirsty God with questionable logic [the equation of physical death for spiritual condemnation makes no sense to me] brings peace to my Easter.

    He is risen.

  15. I'm not sure I'd call that a "ransom" any more, but approaching evil and the devil as an archetype is an interesting way to go about it.

  16. I really do like the introduction of relatively obscure views/philosophies (relative to church teachings), and the resulting dialog. Clearly, a lot of thought is provoked by this blog. say God is non-violent seems to pretty-much ignore the old testament. n'est-ce pas?

  17. I had to Google the French there.

    Yes, you'd have to read the OT in a developmental way, the story of God slowly extracting Himself from the violence of Israel culminating with the full revelation in the Incarnation.

  18. I think where I'm going with the archetype idea is not so much that the "Devil" could somehow be equated to Jung's "Shadow", but rather a complex amalgamation of the collective unconscious (and perhaps other things?) that really does amass to a certain "power and principality" that is "out there" that we must be ransomed from.

    Again, the idea is still very abstract in my mind, but it's been mulling around for a while...

  19. The Jungian angle is certainly very interesting. Again, Paul uses sin, death and the devil as parallel powers, all of which have psychic, existential, and subjective manifestations. Consequently, even if your view isn't 100% of the picture a psychological liberation is definitely a large part of what is going on. Hebrew 2.14-15 seems relevant here as does Romans 7.21-25 where the external powers are manifesting as internalized subjective states of dualism, conflict, and fear.

  20. Then what about the idea a lot of folks get about Christ using the Cross to pay the Bride Price?

    I am a ransom theorist but worship with others who, in light of the Royal Wedding, are trying to co-op the festivities into our worship theme for the immediate Sunday after (which, theme-wise, is a long journey away from the lectionary).


  21. The experience of Christ is our redemption from the power of sin, this is what I remember from my baptism, the calling of Christ to his freedom and how it's effected is expressed in a variety of ways, 'to those under law, as under law' & co, yet clearly Jacob was a deceiver and tricked his way to the blessing and birthright, it was his sons who not getting this employed that customary violence of the righteous. Isn't there something being presented here?
    Dave - you obviously don't read your own letters you sound as if you've modelled yourself on the preacher in Von Trier's Breaking the Waves.

  22. OOPS, sorry, Doc Beck! I meant 'co-opt'. And I am feeling a bit held at ransom by Bride Price group. Any thoughts at this point would be most welcome. Thanks!

  23. The bottom line is: why can't God just forgive people because he is good? Why does he have to kill something to forgive?

  24. The devil had nothing to do with adam and eve. The snake was not the devil, it was just a snake. Just like the devil had nothing to do with Job. What we see as the "devil character" was just a generic "adversary" in the original.

    Like so many christians, you've been taught badly.

  25. Thanks a lot; you have really cleared things up.

    Now, I need to go cut some passages out of the Bible. That one about a talking snake in Genesis really ought to go. Since you told me that he was just a snake and we know that snakes can't talk. That has to be a myth. And also that one in Revelation (20:2) that seems to say that that serpent was the devil and satan. That one has to go too. Actually, I probably ought to also take out all those passages that tell us who Jesus is. They probably should go too. Thanks again for the clarification.

  26. To add to this list, in my bible study this morning I was examining the discussions between Jesus and his detractors in Luke 11 where Jesus describes the coming of the Kingdom of God ("the Kingdom of God has come upon you") as his ability to overpower the "strong man" (the Devil) who holds humans captive. Again, this story shows the close associations in Jesus' message between the overthrow of the devil, the forgiveness of sins, and overcoming of death.

    It should also be noted that in the gospel of Mark it is Jesus' power as an exorcist that most decisively gives his message "authority." That is, Jesus wasn't just Torah-smart. He was casting out the Devil. Real authority. Real liberation from evil. Christus Victor.

  27. I do not wish to sound disrespectful or argumentative. But, I'm unsure what is meant by "developmental". It almost sounds as if you are suggesting that God has changed over time, changing into a non-violent being. The OT is full of violence instigated, or ordered, by God; Genesis 6 (the flood), Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Deuteronomy 7 ("you must destroy them totally") almost every book until the coming of Christ. As much as I prefer the God described by Jesus and the New Testament, Penal Substitutionary Atonement actually seems more consistent with the God of the old testament.

  28. My thoughts too! God gets to set the rules, yet they appear much more 'man-made' than God-made.

    Satisfaction theory- this requires blood, and it doesn't matter whose '- pervades the OT. And it smacks of man trying to fit a theology around the observed, attempting to match cause with effect but mis-matching them.

    Ransom theory has more credibility, but has a fabulous quality about it, involving divine trickery and sleight of hand.

    I suspect God is far greater than either of those theories.

  29. No worries about respect or argument. I'm fully aware that a developmental reading of the OT isn't going to sit well with many. Still, that's how I see things. To be clear, I don't think God has changed. Just Israel's understanding of God.

  30. Richard, loved the post and overview of Aulen. Some of the discussion seems not distinguish well between "penal substitution" and "penal satisfaction." Substitution, in the sense of become vicarious humanity and Second Adam, is not the issue for me and I suspect it is not for others. The problem with Father needing satisfaction is the idea that the Trinity was split into a schizophrenic state where part of the Father is love but part needs something to happen to change his mind about humanity and the Son provides enough suffering to relieve the Father's dis-satisfaction. That truly a travesty in understanding the Trinity, the full implication of the continuing Incarnation and ignoring Paul's clear pronouncement that "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them."

    Your post reminded me that in John 12:32 the Greek simple says "will draw all___ to myself" and what all modifies is determined from context. That context seems to more clearly suggest "will draw all judgement to myself." In fact "draw" is too mild a translation when it is used elsewhere as in "dragging nets" or being "dragged into court." I think Aulen would have liked "will drag the judgement of all humanity to myself."

  31. It is very interesting indeed to see you proposing Christus Victor on here and in particular the Ransom version of it.
    I too have great sympathy for this model but I am not convinced that it presents God as entirely non-violent as you suggest...
    Yes, there is 'deep magic' associated with the atonement WHATEVER model/theory we endorse and yet I still believe that for Satan (again, who I still take to be a literal personification of evil and emperor of demonic/dark forces) to be defeated it would have to be a battle.
    Our salvation IMHO was never going to be won in the context of a kindly debating society. Instead, an evil usurper of that which was God's was going to have to have this wrested back from him - WHATEVER the cost. Even is this incurred the need for deceit, violence and bloodshed...

    "Shenanigans associated with the Devil..." I just LOVE this phrase... :)

    Sometimes Richard you profess not to be a theologian. I would have to contest this. If YOU are not, it leaves little hope for the rest of us!

    Instead, I like to think that ALL followers of Christ are theologians, whether they want to be or not, and the only issue is whether they are good or bad ones (and by this I mean, do they put any thought, reflection, consideration, debate, research, prayer, time, love and creativity into it...)
    So, as one theologian to another, I say Richard - thanks for a truly worthwhile Good Friday meditation.

    I look forward to many more on here...

  32. A battle is required? What exactly would have prevented God from saying 'Poof, your outta here, satan' and there would be no more satan? Does satan have any power, small as it may be, that is not because God grants it?

  33. Richard, thanks for an excellent article. You've articulated some of the things that I've been pondering over this Easter and I love your incorporation of the Narnia parable. I have many questions, here are some of them..
    1. Penal Substitution. The crisis that mankind faced in terms of sin was as a result of the LAW, Paul tells us that the power of sin is in the law. If this is true, then it seems ridiculous to suggest that God would pursue a legal solution to the LAW. You can't use the Law to solve the problem of the Law, Paul tells us that there is no righteousness to be obtained by the Law. Jesus wasn't too concerned with observing the Law, he didn't enforce the stoning of the adulteress, he healed on the Sabbath, he touched the unclean, he hung out with the sinners etc.. thoughts on this?
    2. Ransom. I like the idea of Ransom but the question that I have is we all belong to God anyway, you quote scriptures about being under the power of Satan, but this is an illusion, we are God's offspring, we belong to Him, the prodigal son was always a son. The lost coin, always belonged to its owner, the lost sheep always belonged to the shepherd. Legally we are His. Thoughts..?

  34. Hi Martyn,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree, I think we are all theologians.

    When I say I'm not a theologian I'm mainly trying to clarify, particularly to professional theologians, that I'm aware that I'm not doing theology as much as filtering and explaining the theological work of others. I'm often in "literature review" mode in the blog. However, literature reviews, done well, can be creative forms of scholarship in their own right. I think my main talent is interpreting theology for non-professionals. That is, I think I have a knack for hearing something complicated and expressing it more simply and dramatically.

  35. Richard, is there a book you might recommend that would go into more detail about this - including what the practical implications are if penal substitution as we understand it is at least partially wrong? I'm not sure that I could digest a *purely* academic book, but something that goes into this more thoroughly would be great. When I read this post something in it rings true and I just get the sense of it being *aligned*, but I need a larger breakdown of what this is really saying and what the difference is practically, and where the precise errors may lie.

  36. Do you mean a book going more in depth into Christus Victor theology? I'm not sure there is a popular book on this subject, but Aulen's book isn't too academic. And it's very short.

  37. It's a good question isn't it?
    In my opinion, that would have meant God having to operate outside the constraints He's put Himself under. In other words, God has made an ordered and not a chaotic universe; a universe with cause and effect and one in which only rarely (during miracles for example) does He choose to act in a way that is beyond normal comprehension.
    In this instance, normal comprehension requires an adversary to be defeated and overcome and when good confronts evil there is always a point of frisson (to say the least!) and in this case it was a full-blown power-conflict, in other words a WAR.

    This is how I perceive it anyway....

  38. Pf- further to your question "Why doesn't God just forgive people because he is good?"...

    It struck me in the middle of the night that this is EXACTLY what God does- and did during Jesus' time on earth.

    Jesus whole ministry BEFORE his death was one of healing ('Take up your bed and walk') and forgiveness ('Your sins are forgiven')- and in Jesus view the two were synonymous ('Which is it easier for me to say...?").

    All this took place BEFORE his death, with no qualifiers to say the forgiveness was in anticipation of a future event. His message was that his/God's nature IS one of love, forgiveness and fresh starts.

    If this was contingent on the cross, you would expect that the bulk of Jesus' ministry and message would have been delivered AFTER his resurrection- 'I have died and risen and paid the debt to God, NOW I can heal and forgive, NOW I will show you the good news'.

    But his ministry and message were all BEFORE his death- the good news was already out- God is a loving, forgiving God, not the grumpy, vindictive God of Judaism.

    What if we apply those grand verses such as 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" to Jesus' LIFE rather than his DEATH? That to my mind shows a greater, grander view of God than one who still demanded violence and blood and death before He would forgive- and one that certainly gets my awe, respect and allegiance!

    I know this runs counter to the epistles and church orthodoxy, but I find it a refreshing and joyous view.

    But what then do we make of the cross? Was it simply the violent reaction of the establishment of the time to a radical ministry? Was God's plan the LIFE more than the DEATH of Jesus?

    Richard- help us out here!

  39. I am not sure how your making the leap from Ransom to universalism, but at the same time I am not sure how you can come to the conclusion through Biblical study that the devil isn't a literal being. Care to enlighten?

  40. God doesn't require a substitutionary scapegoat for sin because HE needs it. we do. it is the human sense of justice that requires a payment before the slate can be wiped clean. hebrews used a sacrificial lamb; the cross opened the forgiveness to everyone through a purer lamb. why did God make the world this way? you can ask that about anything and spend your life doing nothing doing nothing but spinning your wheels. He is God, he does what he chooses--that is the first issue to accept. The most important, and the hardest for most people.

  41. Sorry, fishwife, "he does what he chooses" is not an acceptable answer IMO. Translated, it means: "it doesn't make sense, an I don't understand it, but I'll assert it anyway."

    Also, we only need a scapegoat because god is mad at us. If he wasn't, we wouldn't need to pay him, or he wouldn't require a payment or whatever.

  42. Stu, what you say is agreeable to me, but 2000 years of christian theology says otherwise. Christianity is about the meaning of jesus's death and resurrection and almost nothing to do with his life and teaching.

  43. Pf, I think this line is an unhelpful and false dichotomy. No doubt the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the cornerstone of the Christian confession, but it is shorthand for the 'Christ event' which cannot be reduced in the way you suggest.

    If anything, the early church views all of its theology (if we can call it that) through the lens of 'incarnation' not 'atonement'. The cross is imbued with meaning because it reveals the profound reality of God dwelling among us in Jesus: not even death can separate us from God's nearness. It has of course been a tendency for much of the church's theological history to view the incarnation in light of the cross, but this does not seem to follow from a close reading of the early church's witness.

  44. actually i said a great deal more than 'he does what he chooses,' you have ignored most of what i have said and keep going back to the fact that you think that God is 'mad' at you. if God were only angry with mankind why would he put so much effort into redeeming it, and why set up a plan whereby he himself would be sacrificed for that redemption? there is much more to God's feelings than being 'mad,' which is a perjorative word and hardly describes the depth of God's grief and sadness at the loss of his people.

  45. Are you really so dense that you don't understand that a talking snake is not the same thing as the individual known as Satan? There is nothing in the text of Genesis to suggest the snake was the individual Satan. As in Job, the text says nothing of an entity named Satan, it just says lower-case "adversary."

  46. Mrs. Fish: "Mad" was imprecise, I admit. Use a different adjective if you please, though, and the question remains. You or I don't need blood or death to forgive. Why does God?

    And "he himself' was sacrificed? I thought it was his son?

  47. @4c5a708ffb368a906dc8f3bdc3f1558c:disqus , and anyone else for that matter,

    Given that none of us have perfect and complete knowledge about any of this stuff, and given that we are all at different places of belief/unbelief, and supposing that we'd all like to help each other move along to a better understanding of these matters, why don't we refrain from using divisive openings like "Are you really so dense..." It doesn't really create an atmosphere for cooperative exploratory dialog.

  48. pf,

    “a talking snake is not the same thing as the individual known as Satan”

    I agree and am sorry to have given you the idea that I thought they were of the same ontology. A snake is just a created physical creature; satan is just a created spiritual being. Now a talking snake; well, no such creature was part of creation. As to thinking the snake of Genesis is a 'generic adversary' …. I guess I don't have any idea how to conclude that from the text.

    You are also right to point out that Genesis says nothing about the snake being satan. But, you must know that Scripture does a lot of interpreting of itself. So, my question is how do you deal with Revelation 20:2 as it might relate to this 'talking snake?'

  49. It's also possible that Adam and Eve spoke
    Parseltongue. But that might take us in a different direction...:-)

  50. Indeed it would....

    But, thanks. Now I am not the only person on the planet who doesn't know what Parseltongue is. :-)

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