George MacDonald: Justice, Hell and Atonement

As I've written before in these posts about George MacDonald, reading MacDonald is what convinced me to become a universalist. And no sermon in Unspoken Sermons has had a more decisive impact upon me in this regard than the sermon Justice. This sermon, in my opinion, is MacDonald's theological magnum opus.

MacDonald begins the sermon by asking us to think about the nature of justice and punishment. Are justice and punishment the same thing? This is an important question because when Christians speak of hell as "just" they are implicitly drawing an equivalence between the "punishment" of sin and God's "justice." But MacDonald wants to push back on that notion, to suggest that justice is a far richer concept than punishment. And if this is so, no amount of punishment in hell gets God closer to achieving justice. To illustrate this MacDonald has us consider someone stealing our watch:

Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief; he is dragged before the magistrate, proved guilty, and sentenced to a just imprisonment: must I walk home satisfied with the result? Have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch?
The point here, obviously, is that a "just" result can't be found through punishment alone. No doubt punishment is a part of the picture. But, as any victim knows, "justice" isn't reducible to punishing the perpetrators. Crimes (and sin) create relational and psychological wounds that punishment cannot heal.

So what is needed for justice to be done? MacDonald suggests that justice involves the reconciliation of the victim and the perpetrator. Justice involves peacemaking and restitution:
[My watch] is gone, and I remain a man wronged. Who has done me the wrong? The thief. Who can set right the wrong? The thief, and only the thief; nobody but the man that did the wrong. God may be able to move the man to right the wrong, but God himself cannot right it without the man. Suppose my watch is found and restored, is the account settled between me and the thief? I may forgive him, but is the wrong removed? By no means. But suppose the thief to bethink himself, to repent. He has, we shall say, put it out of his power to return the watch, but he comes to me and says he is sorry he stole it, and begs me to accept for the present what little he is able to bring, as a beginning of atonement: how should I then regard the matter? Should I not feel that he had gone far to make atonement—done more to make up for the injury he had inflicted upon me, than the mere restoration of the watch, even by himself, could reach to? Would there not lie, in the thief's confession and submission and initial restoration, an appeal to the divinest in me—to the eternal brotherhood? Would it not indeed amount to a sufficing atonement as between man and man? If he offered to bear what I chose to lay upon him, should I feel it necessary, for the sake of justice, to inflict some certain suffering as demanded by righteousness? I should still have a claim upon him for my watch, but should I not be apt to forget it? He who commits the offence can make up for it—and he alone.

One thing must surely be plain—that the punishment of the wrong-doer makes no atonement for the wrong done. How could it make up to me for the stealing of my watch that the man was punished? The wrong would be there all the same. I am not saying the man ought not to be punished—far from it; I am only saying that the punishment nowise makes up to the man wronged. Suppose the man, with the watch in his pocket, were to inflict the severest flagellation on himself: would that lessen my sense of injury? Would it set anything right? Would it anyway atone? Would it give him a right to the watch? Punishment may do good to the man who does the wrong, but that is a thing as different as important.
Critical to this process of atonement is the full engagement of the one who did the crime. This is an important move for MacDonald: God cannot bring justice without our participation. As MacDonald notes, "God may be able to move the man to right the wrong, but God himself cannot right it without the man...He who commits the offence can make up for it—and he alone."

This twofold notion of justice--an act of reconciliation requiring the participation of victims and perpetrators--is at the heart of MacDonald's notion of God's justice and atonement. This is the notion that sits behind his "universalism." That is, God just can't ship people off to hell to earn the label "just." Neither could we view hell as a manifestation of God's justice. Because hell doesn't heal the wounds of sin. Hell doesn't mend. Hell doesn't bring peace. Hell doesn't atone. As MacDonald writes:
Punishment of the guilty may be involved in justice, but it does not constitute the justice of God one atom more than it would constitute the justice of a man.
After distinguishing between justice and punishment MacDonald then goes on to his second important theological move, the identification of justice with mercy. Too often in discussions about hell and God's justice it is argued that God's justice (manifested in sending you to hell) is in tension with God's mercy and forgiveness. That is, God will either punish you or forgive you. It's a binary, an either/or. Heaven or hell. Justice or mercy. Punishment or forgiveness.

MacDonald rejects all these as false dichotomies. Justice is mercy. Punishment is forgiveness. MacDonald walks through this identification of justice and mercy in an imaginary dialogue with a skeptical conversation partner:
Two rights cannot possibly be opposed to each other. If God punish sin, it must be merciful to punish sin; and if God forgive sin, it must be just to forgive sin. We are required to forgive, with the argument that our father forgives. It must, I say, be right to forgive. Every attribute of God must be infinite as himself. He cannot be sometimes merciful, and not always merciful. He cannot be just, and not always just. Mercy belongs to him, and needs no contrivance of theologic chicanery to justify it.

"Then you mean that it is wrong to punish sin, therefore God does not punish sin?"

"By no means; God does punish sin, but there is no opposition between punishment and forgiveness. The one may be essential to the possibility of the other."
How can this be? Forgiveness is punishment?! That's crazy talk, right?

It's only crazy talk if you've become confused about the nature of sin and salvation. As mentioned in my earlier posts on MacDonald, the great confusion is mistaking the consequences of sin for sin itself. Jesus came to save us from sin, not from hell. The confusion comes when people think that Jesus is saving us from hell, the consequence (the "just punishment") of sin. But the problem with this idea, as noted above, is that no amount of punishment gets us a just result. Nor does it address the sin still sitting in our hearts.

This really is a simple idea if you ponder it. If you have a child who is disrespectful or mean or dishonest do you really think they need forgiveness without punishment? The old "either/or" binary of heaven or hell? That the child needs mercy without justice? Of course not! These things are of a piece. You punish to save, love, and have mercy on the child. Salvation is hell in this case. And as any parent knows, the salvation of the child involves his participation. If you break Mrs. Jones' window you have to mow her grass and make it up to her. And, ultimately, even this punishment fails to save the child unless he becomes truly sorry and contrite. For only in that moment is the child truly "saved." Punishment alone doesn't bring either "justice" or "salvation." Punishment is only ever a tool toward these ends.

Here is MacDonald pulling these threads together at the end of the first half of the sermon:
Justice then requires that sin should be put an end to; and not that only, but that it should be atoned for; and where punishment can do anything to this end, where it can help the sinner to know what he has been guilty of, where it can soften his heart to see his pride and wrong and cruelty, justice requires that punishment shall not be spared. And the more we believe in God, the surer we shall be that he will spare nothing that suffering can do to deliver his child from death.
Punishment and suffering, in this view, is trying to get us to confront our own sinfulness, to create in us a contrite and broken heart. To get us to loathe the sin in our lives:
The one deepest, highest, truest, fittest, most wholesome suffering must be generated in the wicked by a vision, a true sight, more or less adequate, of the hideousness of their lives, of the horror of the wrongs they have done. Physical suffering may be a factor in rousing this mental pain; but 'I would I had never been born!' must be the cry of Judas, not because of the hell-fire around him, but because he loathes the man that betrayed his friend, the world's friend. When a man loathes himself, he has begun to be saved. Punishment tends to this result. Not for its own sake, not as a make-up for sin, not for divine revenge—horrible word, not for any satisfaction to justice, can punishment exist. Punishment is for the sake of amendment and atonement. God is bound by his love to punish sin in order to deliver his creature; he is bound by his justice to destroy sin in his creation. Love is justice—is the fulfilling of the law, for God as well as for his children. This is the reason of punishment; this is why justice requires that the wicked shall not go unpunished—that they, through the eye-opening power of pain, may come to see and do justice, may be brought to desire and make all possible amends, and so become just...

For Justice, that is God, is bound in himself to see
justice done by his children—not in the mere outward act, but in their very being. He is bound in himself to make up for wrong done by his children, and he can do nothing to make up for wrong done but by bringing about the repentance of the wrongdoer. When the man says, 'I did wrong; I hate myself and my deed; I cannot endure to think that I did it!' then, I say, is atonement begun. Without that, all that the Lord did would be lost. He would have made no atonement. Repentance, restitution, confession, prayer for forgiveness, righteous dealing thereafter, is the sole possible, the only true make-up for sin. For nothing less than this did Christ die.
At this point in the sermon MacDonald turns to Christ and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Because, it might be asked, if all sinners are, in the end, making up for their own sins (think of that watch thief at the start of the sermon coming to you to make atonement) then where is the work of the Christ on Calvary in all this? If I, personally, am atoning for my sins, then how does Christ function as an atoning sacrifice for my sins?

MacDonald's response to these questions take up the second half of the Justice sermon. And his response to the doctrine of subsitutionary atonement is diverse and multifaceted.

His first response deals with the psychological appeal of substitutionary atonement. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement feels right to us because, as victims, we want wrong-doers to be punished. It's emotionally satisfying. We want people to go to hell:

The notion of suffering as an offset for sin, the foolish idea that a man by suffering borne may get out from under the hostile claim to which his wrong-doing has subjected him, comes first of all, I think, from the satisfaction we feel when wrong comes to grief. Why do we feel this satisfaction? Because we hate wrong, but, not being righteous ourselves, more or less hate the wronger as well as his wrong, hence are not only righteously pleased to behold the law's disapproval proclaimed in his punishment, but unrighteously pleased with his suffering, because of the impact upon us of his wrong. In this way the inborn justice of our nature passes over to evil.
In short, the appeal and logic at work behind subsituionary atonement is really just a symptom of an evil impulse within our own hearts. But this evil impulse doesn't describe God's justice. God only punishes as a means, not as an end in itself:
It is no pleasure to God, as it so often is to us, to see the wicked suffer. To regard any suffering with satisfaction, save it be sympathetically with its curative quality, comes of evil, is inhuman because undivine, is a thing God is incapable of. His nature is always to forgive, and just because he forgives, he punishes.
A further problem with the allure of substitutionary atonement--to have Jesus suffer the consequences of my sin rather than me getting into the hard work of repentance and reconciliation--is that it is selfish, a theological product of my sin. Substitutionary atonement is an attempt to cling to my sin ever more tightly! Let Christ suffer the consequences of my sin so I don't have to make amends and restitution. I'm off the hook as it were.

But you can't get off the hook. You can't shift the punishment of your sin onto Jesus. Why? Because God loves you! This is what parents do for their children:
Justice demands your punishment, because justice demands, and will have, the destruction of sin. Justice demands your punishment because it demands that your father should do his best for you. God, being the God of justice, that is of fair-play, and having made us what we are, apt to fall and capable of being raised again, is in himself bound to punish in order to deliver us—else is his relation to us poor beside that of an earthly father.
In short, there can be no "imputed righteousness." Rather, Christ stands beside you as you work through the process of repentance and atonement. And the attempt to try to avoid this outcome, as we noted above, is just an indirect way of embracing the sin in your heart, a way of not letting it go. And God will have none of that:
The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins, is a false, mean, low notion. The salvation of Christ is salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is a deliverance into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure, with the will and choice of the heart to be pure. To such a heart, sin is disgusting. It sees a thing as it is,—that is, as God sees it, for God sees everything as it is. The soul thus saved would rather sink into the flames of hell than steal into heaven and skulk there under the shadow of an imputed righteousness. No soul is saved that would not prefer hell to sin. Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; he was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins.
So what of the teaching of substitutionary atonement? Where is the work of Christ in MacDonald's view of salvation? As a beginning, MacDonald suggests that there can be no meeting of minds on this topic if we approach the issue from a textual/theoretical angle. For MacDonald the issues aren't biblical or theological at all. He really could care less about our "theory of atonement." It's irrelevant. All MacDonald cares about is having the mind of Christ, particularly in relation to our own sinfulness. For MacDonald the issue is pretty simple: Do you hate your sin? Do you hate your selfishness, meanness, pettiness, and falseness? Do you, in short, want to live like Jesus? If you do then MacDonald has a simple question: If going to hell would help you be a better person then would you go? The answer, according to MacDonald, is that if you have the mind of Christ then of course you'd go. Because the issue isn't about avoiding the wrath of God or the punishment of sin. The issue is our desperate desire to conform to the image of Jesus. And if that is what I really want and need then why would a theory of substitution hold any appeal to me? Or even make any sense? If I hate the sin in my heart how is substitutionary atonement good news? It's only good news for people who love their sin but want off the hook.

In short, for MacDonald the issue boils down to obedience, not exegesis or theology:
A man who has not the mind of Christ—and no man has the mind of Christ except him who makes it his business to obey him—cannot have correct opinions concerning him; neither, if he could, would they be of any value to him: he would be nothing the better, he would be the worse for having them. Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly; then first will there be a possibility of our thinking correctly. One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him. In teaching men, they have not taught them Christ, but taught them about Christ. More eager after credible theory than after doing the truth, they have speculated in a condition of heart in which it was impossible they should understand; they have presumed to explain a Christ whom years and years of obedience could alone have made them able to comprehend. Their teaching of him, therefore, has been repugnant to the common sense of many who had not half their privileges, but in whom, as in Nathanael, there was no guile. Such, naturally, press their theories, in general derived from them of old time, upon others, insisting on their thinking about Christ as they think, instead of urging them to go to Christ to be taught by him whatever he chooses to teach them. They do their unintentional worst to stop all growth, all life.
This lack of obedience has created a kind of faithless timidity about the true nature of salvation which has resulted in creating a system of salvation that preserved pagan notions of appeasement and sacrificial satisfaction. It's the only way we humans can get our minds around justice. Grace, real grace, is just too big to get our heads around:
Truth is indeed too good for men to believe; they must dilute it before they can take it; they must dilute it before they dare give it. They must make it less true before they can believe it enough to get any good of it...Unable to believe in the forgivingness of their father in heaven, they invented a way to be forgiven that should not demand of him so much; which might make it right for him to forgive; which should save them from having to believe downright in the tenderness of his fatherheart, for that they found impossible. They thought him bound to punish for the sake of punishing, as an offset to their sin; they could not believe in clear forgiveness; that did not seem divine; it needed itself to be justified; so they invented for its justification a horrible injustice, involving all that was bad in sacrifice, even human sacrifice. They invented a satisfaction for sin which was an insult to God. He sought no satisfaction, but an obedient return to the Father. What satisfaction was needed he made himself in what he did to cause them to turn from evil and go back to him. The thing was too simple for complicated unbelief and the arguing spirit.
For MacDonald these pagan notions and the legal subterfuge involved in subsitionary atonement make it a system unworthy of God:
The device [of substitutionary atonement] is an absurdity—a grotesquely deformed absurdity. To represent the living God as a party to such a style of action, is to veil with a mask of cruelty and hypocrisy the face whose glory can be seen only in the face of Jesus; to put a tirade of vulgar Roman legality into the mouth of the Lord God merciful and gracious, who will by no means clear the guilty. Rather than believe such ugly folly of him whose very name is enough to make those that know him heave the breath of the hart panting for the waterbrooks; rather than think of him what in a man would make me avoid him at the risk of my life, I would say, 'There is no God; let us neither eat nor drink, that we may die! For lo, this is not our God! This is not he for whom we have waited!' But I have seen his face and heard his voice in the face and the voice of Jesus Christ; and I say this is our God, the very one whose being the Creator makes it an infinite gladness to be the created. I will not have the God of the scribes and the pharisees whether Jewish or Christian, protestant, Roman, or Greek, but thy father, O Christ! He is my God. If you say, 'That is our God, not yours!' I answer, 'Your portrait of your God is an evil caricature of the face of Christ.'
MacDonald then summarizes all this, making a clear contrast between his view of salvation and substitutionary atonement:
To believe in a vicarious sacrifice, is to think to take refuge with the Son from the righteousness of the Father; to take refuge with his work instead of with the Son himself; to take refuge with a theory of that work instead of the work itself; to shelter behind a false quirk of law instead of nestling in the eternal heart of the unchangeable and righteous Father, who is merciful in that he renders to every man according to his work, and compels their obedience, nor admits judicial quibble or subterfuge. God will never let a man off with any fault. He must have him clean.
I'd also like to note that, in all of this discussion about substitutionary atonement, MacDonald offers the greatest verdict I've ever read about substitution theory and those who subscribe to it:
To believe it is your punishment for being able to believe it; you may call it your reward, if you will.
Nice. To believe in substituionary atonement is your punishment for being able to believe it!

But the question is still out there, how does MacDonald see Christ as our atonement? Toward the end of the sermon he offers his positive view:
I believe in Jesus Christ. Nowhere am I requested to believe in any thing, or in any statement, but everywhere to believe in God and in Jesus Christ...

Jesus, our propitiation, our atonement. He is the head and leader, the prince of the atonement. He could not do it without us, but he leads us up to the Father's knee: he makes us make atonement. Learning Christ, we are not only sorry for what we have done wrong, we not only turn from it and hate it, but we become able to serve both God and man with an infinitely high and true service, a soulservice. We are able to offer our whole being to God to whom by deepest right it belongs. Have I injured anyone? With him to aid my justice, new risen with him from the dead, shall I not make good amends? Have I failed in love to my neighbour? Shall I not now love him with an infinitely better love than was possible to me before? That I will and can make atonement, thanks be to him who is my atonement, making me at one with God and my fellows! He is my life, my joy, my lord, my owner, the perfecter of my being by the perfection of his own. I dare not say with Paul that I am the slave of Christ; but my highest aspiration and desire is to be the slave of Christ.

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56 thoughts on “George MacDonald: Justice, Hell and Atonement”

  1. Brilliant and astounding, Dr. Beck! I have been a fan of MacDonald since high school, but in my typical evangelical upbringing I felt I had to avoid his soteriological theological teachings. I want to frame every quote and leave them around my house.

    The thing that's so striking is that he leads you along with beautiful prose and it sounds too good to be true, and then he punctuates his point with a quote from Scripture, inconspicuously and without proof-text markers, that bolsters his assertion and anchors the ideas down.

    Absolutely wonderful. Thank you for posting this.

  2. This is a nice treatment of what "Catholics" believe or those who believe in the "Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man". But, one must believe that there is a God, before one can believe these "truths".

    Social order is maintained by such "standards". And MacDonald's theology is egalitarian, whereas Luther's was libertarian.

    The question remains in my mind as to how reconciliation can transpire when there are two opposing "views", values, or "goals"?

    For instance, if I believe that oil drilling is a "sin" against the environment, (and therefore, against mankind), then my goal is to oppose those who do not have "my view" or goal of protecting the planet. But, on the other hand, if my goal is to help prosper oil production because of economic reasons, then, I would be in a conflict with the "other side". How do we reconcile these differences?

  3. Thank You for this post
    It has answered the questions I had put to you before?

  4. The ideals of justice must include liberty. Liberty underwrites the individual's need to define, determine and value, while laws protect liberty from becoming licentious.

    Therefore, our nation values equality under law, because of our commitment to the value of liberty.

    The real issue is whether one holds to a positive or negative view of justice and whether one understands the need for underwriting a positive or negative justice in a given situation according to one's priority of values and the reasons that support that proiritizing.

  5. Thank you, Dr. Beck, for giving George MacDonald's Justice such a wonderfully thorough treatment. I had hoped you would, as I knew you would do it well, and I appreciate it much. This was for me, as well, a game-changer in my theology, and it's only been about 4 years ago for me. It made me realize that those who justify ignoring the things they've done/do in the name of JT theology really won't stand, if MacDonald is correct. He truly ups the ante of what it means to be "Christian," and not as a matter of an intellectual 4-point hell-avoidance "belief" system.

  6. I like MacDonald's take on substitutionary atonement. I don't like his redefining the word "justice". "Justice" means something, and "reconciliation" means something else. Trying to make "justice" mean "reconciliation" muddies the waters.

  7. Matthew,
    How do you view the differences between justice and reconcilliation.

    Reconcilliation seems to mean "peace", while justice means representational government. The two are compatable and incompatable, because of their dependence on "ideals", which are only representable in the particular....How do you "see" it?

  8. We found it at our local Mardel's. I grew up with Pac man in the 80s so I just had to have the shirt for the fusion of sentiment and video game nostalgia.

    I've looked online to see if the shirt is for sale anywhere on the Internet. Although a Google search of "love your enemies pac man shirt" gets a few hits regarding the shirt none of the links are to a retail outlet.

  9. Thanks Patricia. Your encouragement means a lot coming from someone who knows MacDonald so well and appreciates him as much as I do.

  10. Hi Dr. Beck. I'm Amanda. I've just recently found your blog through Rachel Held Evan's blog. And I'm glad I did. I grew up in Belton, Texas, in the Southern Baptist Church. Today, I am in Boston where I am working on my PhD at Boston University. I study the history of American religion.

    Your post speaks to the heart of why I left the Baptist Church ten years ago. I just couldn't get my mind and heart around substitutionary atonement and hell. I eventually became unable to worship this God-- it felt inauthentic.

    I appreciate you taking the time to write on this. It helps...even now, ten years after my exit. I wonder: have you read Hosea Ballou's "Treatise on Atonement"?

    I look forward to hearing more from you. I'm a fan!


  11. Thanks for the wonderful discussion on forgiveness and punishment; considering what I've already heard on how suffering refines people's characters, this view of justice and hell seems to bring everything together a lot more coherently.

    I do have one question - do you know where theologically MacDonald places the death and resurrection of Christ? Or, to use a standard evangelical phrasing, "why did Christ have to die?"

  12. Jesse, one cannot assume or presume how another will "take" their suffering. It is important to not assume that lessons "can be learned" other than "life happens", by choices that are made, either by the individual himself or another. Responsibility is important in determining a course of action and that also means, the impact upon another, as well as what is considered is "best" for oneself. Hopefully, in choosing our actions, we do not impose undue suffering upon others....

  13. I'm unaware of any fully developed articulation of MacDonald's Christology. My hunch is that, broadly speaking, his approach to the atonement fits best with a "moral influence" model. I do feel confident in saying that MacDonald would strongly reject any notion that God "required" Christ to die. The violence was the predictable product of human wickedness rather than a need in the psychology of God.

  14. Hi Amanda,
    Welcome! I was not aware of Ballou's Treatise; thanks so much for pointing it out.

  15. Jesse, here is a quote from MacDonald's Marquis of Lossie in which the characters discuss the nature of duty and suffering. I hope this helps. -Patricia

    "Everybody knows what few think about, that once there lived a man, who, in the broad face of prejudiced respectability, truth-hating hypocrisy, commonplace religion, and dull book-learning, affirmed that he knew the secret of life, and understood the heart and history of men -- who wept over their sorrows, yet worshipped the God of the whole earth, saying that he had known him from eternal days. The same said that he came to do what the Father did, and that he did nothing but what he had learned of the Father. They killed him, you know, my lady, in a terrible way that one is afraid even to think of. But he insisted that he laid down his life; that he allowed them to take it. Now I ask whether that grandest thing, crowning his life, the yielding of it to the hand of violence, he had not learned also from his Father. Was his death the only thing he had not so learned? If I am right, and I do not say if in doubt, then the suffering of those three terrible hours was a type of the suffering of the Father himself in bringing sons and daughters through the cleansing and glorifying fires, without which the created cannot be made the very children of God, partakers of the divine nature and peace. Then from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering, up to the loftiest pitch, the divinest acme of pain, there is not one pang to which the sensorium of the universe does not respond; never an untuneful vibration of nerve or spirit but thrills beyond the brain or the heart of the sufferer to the brain, the heart of the universe; and God in the most simplest, most literal sense, and not by sympathy alone, suffers with his creatures."

    George MacDonald,
    Marquis of Lossie.

  16. True that putting a thief in jail does not return to the victim either stolen property or the time and trouble for her having been robbed. Nevertheless, our human justice system has defined a penalty for an act that is arbitrary; but, one that it is willing to accept.

    The thief’s slate is wiped clean (well, almost) when he has incurred the punishment. The justice system is satisfied and this without the victim ‘getting the watch back.’ We are simply attempting to redefine justice to our own likings when we complain about the fairness.

    God defines what is just. He has defined eternal separation from Himself as the penalty for one’s sinful act(s). Nothing in His system is about Him getting back His watch. Nothing in His system is about the repentance of a person in Hell. He said He is willing to accept what Jesus did on the cross as a payment for human crimes. So what if this is not what I would have set up? OH, I forgot, I want to be God!

  17. The thief’s slate is wiped clean (well, almost) when he has incurred the punishment. The justice system is satisfied and this without the victim ‘getting the watch back.’

    "The justice system" may be satisfied, but justice, itself, is not met.

    We are simply attempting to redefine justice to our own likings when we complain about the fairness.

    I accept that "the justice system" is necessary and has its place, but it will always fall short of true justice, because it cannot bring about reconciliation or the change of heart.

    [God] has defined eternal separation from Himself as the penalty for one’s sinful act(s).

    I disagree, and I think MacDonald amply explains why that falls far short of justice.

    Nothing in His system is about Him getting back His watch. Nothing in His system is about the repentance of a person in Hell.

    There is much in God's "system" about the reconciliation and restoration of all things.

    So what if this is not what I would have set up? OH, I forgot, I want to be God!

    For me, it's not about wanting to be God myself. It's about being unable to follow a God who is not good, who is not moral, who is capricious and unjust and hypocritical, who calls [his] followers to forgive their enemies but is ultimately unable or unwilling to do so [himself].

    Rather, I follow the God revealed in Jesus, and of all other conceptions of God I say, with MacDonald, "Your portrait of your God is an evil caricature of the face of Christ."

  18. Adrenalin Tim,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    The idea of ‘true justice’ comes up in your response. How do I know that reconciliation or a change of heart is part of it? Who is it that gets to define this concept? Surely not me?

    OK, you disagree with ‘eternal separation.’ Then, as just one example, how do you interpret what God is saying 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.” Something called ‘death’ is being compared to something called ‘eternal life.’ Death always means ‘separation’ in the Scriptures, no?

    “There is much in God's "system" about the reconciliation and restoration of all things.”

    True. And, I am sure you would agree that context is crucial. And, in the context of justice there is nothing about reconciliation for one who is on the way to hell and continuing to reject God’s free gift.

    “For me, it's not about wanting to be God myself.”

    How can one not be God and yet judge God to be “not good” or “not moral” or “capricious” etc. Now God seems to disagree with this portrayal. Doesn’t one have to be on a higher moral or intellectual plane to look down in this way on another and draw these sorts of conclusions?

    “Rather, I follow the God revealed in Jesus”

    With all due respect, there is no God revealed in Jesus. There is only my interpretation of the text. Again, I (relying on my rational conclusions) take on the role of God.

  19. You raise some good questions, David, and I'm sure we could go pretty far afield in a back-and-forth discussion. (We might even be able to rise to the level of conversation. ^_^ ) I'll restrict myself to comment on a couple of your points.

    The question "Who gets to decide?" shows up more than once in your reply. Whose authority determines what we regard as good and just versus capricious and hypocritical? I don't have an easy answer, but it appears to me that even Jesus affirmed some sort of innate, natural ability of people "though they are evil" to discern that which is good.

    Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Something called ‘death’ is being compared to something called ‘eternal life.’

    I'm not a Greek scholar, but I'm led to believe by those who are that zoe aionios, "the life of the ages", is not easily reduced to "going to heaven after you die".

    With all due respect, there is no God revealed in Jesus. There is only my interpretation of the text.

    Fair enough. I follow the God I see revealed through my interpretation of translations of texts written about Jesus (which texts were written decades after the events described therein took place).

    Again, I (relying on my rational conclusions) take on the role of God.

    I'm not sure I follow.

  20. Tim,

    I agree that these sorts of exchanges do usually diverge into futility. So, I too will try to keep it short and pointed.

    “Jesus affirmed some sort of innate, natural ability of people "though they are evil" to discern that which is good.”

    Seems to me you are referring to Matthew 7:10 or Luke 11:11. My response is that the level of discernment which Jesus attributed to a father in knowing that a snake is a poor substitute for a fish when asked by his son for a fish is light years away from the discernment required to judge God. So, no, I do not see God/Jesus giving man much credit for his ability to know what is really going on. Man, on the other hand, has no trouble believing he can figure out what is ‘good’ or ‘just.’

    “zoe aionios, "the life of the ages", is not easily reduced to "going to heaven after you die".”

    I didn’t mention heaven, did I? The point I was trying to make is that eternal (age long) separation is the penalty for sin. At least it seems that way in this verse. Yet, you don't agree. What support do you have for your view other than what makes sense?

    My comment about relying on my rational conclusions as putting me in the position of playing God led you to say that you did not follow that. Let me try this. The natural man can not understand the things of God. It takes the indwelling Holy Spirit to enable that. When a natural man figures it out in his own mind, then he is taking the place of the Holy Spirit (God) in discerning truth. Or, he is playing God.

  21. David,

    Thanks again for the interesting chat. (I still haven't decided whether it's a discussion or a conversation.)

    light years away from the discernment required to judge God

    If humans can't even discern whether a given conception of a deity is good or evil, how could they be punished for failing to follow the right one?

    The point I was trying to make is that eternal (age long) separation is the penalty for sin.

    The point I was trying to make is that "the life of the ages" is not necessarily a synonym for eternal/unending/infinite—much less is it a simple, face-value reading to regard the "death" in the verse as eternal/unending/infinite death/separation/torture.

    When a natural man figures it out in his own mind, then he is taking the place of the Holy Spirit (God) in discerning truth. Or, he is playing God.

    Interesting. To me, that appears to be setting up an anti-intellectuallism whereby one's theology cannot be informed by one's morality. It appears to me to be a recipe for trouble to surrender one's rationality and reasoning mind in favor of someone else's interpretation of scripture.

  22. Yikes. This conceptualization of justice, as reducible to a "system" that is "satisfied" without the full reconciliation of the parties (almost irrespective of the original offense itself!), falls far, far short of the picture the Bible presents, especially in Jesus. It would not be too strong to say that this picture is a full-blown caricature of Christological justice.

    The version of "salvation" that is implied by this emasculated picture of "justice" is, accordingly, profoundly stunted and only marginally desirable. Given the nature of the earliest sins - shame, jealousy, murder - any version of "salvation" that does not involve full reconciliation of the parties, both to one another and to God himself - is a cruel joke.


  23. Oops, forgot: In the above, I guess it's possible that qb could be wrong. But at least in this one instance, isolated and rare, it's not altogether likely. ;-)

  24. qb,
    Nice job, as you are a realist as to your vision of "outcome", but an "idealist" in practicality.

    I definately agree that without a full understanding of the actual losses involved, then there can be no reconcilliation. Justice involves addressing the losses. Forgiveness dismisses and minimizes them. One restores the relationship, as it addresses the issues, while the other is preventative for the individuals involved.

    I don't think though, that reconciliiation is possible unless both or all parties involved want to take full responsibility for their part of the rupture of relationship.

    People have differences in their understanding of what a "good relationship" means. And these differences have to be negotiated and sometimes compromised. But, definately, justice demands equality or fairness of treatment, as to those differences.

  25. Gentlemen: Please allow me to jump in here.

    David, I read Romans 6:23 as "death" in the sense that one's heart stops beating, not "eternal separation from God". Going back to Paul's discussion about death from Romans 5 confirms this. At this point Paul does not say, "eternal separation" but simply "death".

    Therefore, Paul is not talking about a fork in the road between "death" and "eternal life". Instead, he is saying that because of sin in the world (Genesis 3) we are all subjected to death. We all die. Why? Because the creation (including us human beings) were subjected to futility (Romans 8:20) in hope that we will be set free from bondage to decay (which includes death).

    Thus, instead of Paul describing a fork in the road between death and eternal life, he is saying that we are all stuck on this road that leads to death because of sin, but in Jesus Christ we are offered a free gift of eternal life along the way.

    Just my 2 cents...

  26. Tim,

    I too had no idea how to parse conversation and discussion. Just above my paygrade, I guess. ;-)

    “. . . how can they be punished . . .”

    GREAT question. My take: We indeed all (at least most of us) have the ability to make rational decisions. BUT, given who we are, we WILL NOT choose rightly (this is the original sin consequence) unless God first changes us. The usual term for this change is regeneration, I believe. Unless God does this and gives us the faith to believe the truth, we simply will get it wrong and God holds us accountable. This again gets into sovereignty; is it me or God who is in charge?

    Regarding your point about the Bible’s use of the term ‘eternal:’ How would you describe the life that God has? Is it temporal? Is it eternal? Is it outside of time? Well, I think the writers of the Scriptures came up with ‘aion - age lasting’ as the best way to convey the concept which is clearly outside of human experience. In any case, it is this kind of ‘God life’ that I see being described as the gift in Christ. So, what does one with the image of God have if not this kind of life? Ans. eternal death or eternal separation from God.

    “It appears to me to be a recipe for trouble to surrender one's rationality and reasoning mind in favor of someone else's interpretation of scripture.”

    Agreed and not the end to which I was pointing. Without the Holy Spirit I WILL get it wrong. It is God who sovereignly gives the Holy Spirit. So, as an intelligent individual (hypothetically speaking, of course :) ) I will continue to try to figure it all out. But, if God does not step into my life first, I won’t get it. Nevertheless, I (without the Holy Spirit) will feel quite smug that I have it all figured out and don’t need Jesus.

  27. Qb,

    Yikes, indeed. I did not realize that I could be so misleading. I am truly sorry for the confusion.

    I have no idea how to remedy this misunderstanding since NONE of what you apparently saw in my comment was what I wanted to convey.

  28. Bailey,

    You thoughts are definitely worth more than 2 cents in my opinion; but what do I know? ;-)

    So, if I understand, you see Romans 6:23 comparing something temporal (physical death - God’s payment for our sin) with an eternal consequence (life in Christ).

    Romans 5 is definitely talking about physical death which could also be described as separation from physical life. The connection to eternal life is that if one dies without having accepted the free gift of eternal life then their temporal physical death is the entry into eternal spiritual death or eternal separation from God. There is no purgatory or second chance in the Bible I am reading.

  29. given who we are, we WILL NOT choose rightly unless God first changes us. (...) Unless God does this and gives us the faith to believe the truth, we simply will get it wrong and God holds us accountable.

    In what way is it just for God to "hold us accountable" for something that God failed to do? It appears that you are saying that humans are punished for a divine failure.

    (this is the original sin consequence)

    I guess the problem I see with that, aside from the above, is that the "consequence" is meted out in such an egregiously unequal way across the world. This is the idea of "moral luck" that Dr. Beck has written extensively about: a victim of war crimes or sexual abuse, or an Indian born to a Hindu family, is orders of magnitude more likely to not be given regenerating faith than a middle class WASP American.

    I think the writers of the Scriptures came up with ‘aion - age lasting’ as the best way to convey the concept which is clearly outside of human experience.

    I would say the "age to come" is supra- human experience, not super- human experience, if that makes sense.

  30. Tim,

    “In what way is it just for God to "hold us accountable" for something that God failed to do?”

    Sorry for being slow; but, could you be a little more specific about what it is you believe God has failed to do?

    “the "consequence" is meted out in such an egregiously unequal way across the world.”

    I hope you understand that I agree with you completely about the apparent ‘unjustness’ in all of this. On the other hand, I have no idea if more Hindu’s than WASP’s receive eternal life. I believe there is more discussion (or is it conversation??? ;-) ) about ‘saving faith’ here; but, that doesn’t necessarily mean that much.

    What I can say is that having lived as an atheist for 43 years and then having been given saving faith (about which I knew nothing and in which I had no interest) I trust the God that I have come to know. He is not evil and capricious and simply toying with us. Although He most certainly did order the extermination of the Amalekites!!! Of course, I may be the most deluded person alive with regard to who this God really is, if He is.

    “I would say the ‘age to come’ . . . ”

    Supra vs super does indeed make sense.

    Still the question of what supports your view of the consequence of our sin not being 'eternal separation.'

  31. could you be a little more specific about what it is you believe God has failed to do?

    If I understand correctly, in your schema, if a person does not manifest saving faith, it is because God has not given it to them (for Godsown reasons, of course). So God holds us accountable for a decision that God has made. God fails to give an individual faith, and then punishes the person for the lack thereof.

    I have no idea if more Hindu’s than WASP’s receive eternal life. I believe there is more discussion (or is it conversation??? ;-) ) about ‘saving faith’ here; but, that doesn’t necessarily mean that much.

    Are you divorcing "saving faith" from "knowledge of Jesus"? I'm not sure I can make sense of what you're saying here otherwise.

    I trust the God that I have come to know. He is not evil and capricious and simply toying with us.

    On this we agree, at least. :)

    Although He most certainly did order the extermination of the Amalekites!

    I cannot accept that the genocide and utter destruction of man (both soldier and noncombatant), woman, child, infant, animal, and vegetation came from the same God that I know.

    Of course, I may be the most deluded person alive with regard to who this God really is, if He is.

    I think we all have our own delusions when it comes to knowledge of that which is beyond words.

    Still the question of what supports your view of the consequence of our sin not being 'eternal separation.'

    The consequence of sin is death—you cited it yourself. I don't have a reason to regard death as having the last word to God.

  32. God fails to give an individual faith, and then punishes the person for the lack thereof.

    Personally, I would have God bring every human to eternity with Him. Alas, that is not the plan that I find in Scripture. Have a look at Romans 9:14-23; particularly verses 19-20. How do you understand that passage?

    God says ‘believe me.’ He doesn’t say I promise to give you saving faith so that you will believe me. What God holds us accountable for is not choosing to believe Him. So, we already have the ability to believe Him but we do not have the inclination to do so. For that, He holds us accountable.

    Are you divorcing "saving faith" from "knowledge of Jesus"?

    People with ‘knowledge of Jesus’ includes (in a Venn diagram sense) all those with saving faith. The converse is not true. Matthew 8:29 shows (I believe) that even demons have ‘knowledge of Jesus.’ I am quite sure they did not have saving faith. So, it is necessary in some sense; but, certainly not sufficient.

    I cannot accept that the genocide and utter destruction of man (both soldier and noncombatant), woman, child, infant, animal, and vegetation came from the same God that I know.

    How many Gods are there? I know there are many gods; but, as far as I know there is only one God. Thus, at least one of us must be referring to one of the gods as if he is God. And, the OT writers got it wrong when they called their god God?

    I don't have a reason to regard death as having the last word to God.

    Agree. But, as for man, that’s it regarding salvation. I find lots of Scripture that teaches us what to do for eternal life while alive; nothing about what I ought to do after I am dead (physically) if I didn’t accept it while alive. So, on what basis is God going to save me after I am physically dead?

  33. David, I'm going to bow out of the tête-à-tête. I've enjoyed the exchange, but think we've probably reached a point of diminishing returns. (In addition, I'm about to go out of town for the weekend and will have more limited internet access.)

    One point of clarification: by "knowledge of Jesus", I was not referring to knowledge about Jesus, but "knowledge" in a relational ("biblical") sense. Your reticence to say that more people in a Christian society than in a Hindu society would receive the gift of faith led me to wonder if you weren't marginalizing Jesus in your soteriology.

    There are arguments on interpretations of scripture (Dr. Beck wrote up a detailed review of a book proposing a rhetorical reading of Romans a few months ago, for instance), but for me, it boils down to what I fundamentally know about God: God is good.

    Better than that.

    God is better than can be imagined or articulated, and thus any doctrine that doesn't promote that is to be discarded as a caricature.

    "Whoever thinks he understands divine scripture or any part of it, but whose interpretation does not build up the twofold love of God and neighbor, has not really understood it. Whoever has drawn from scripture an interpretation that does fortify this love, but who is later proven not to have found the meaning intended by the author of the passage, is deceived to be sure, but not in a harmful way, and he is guilty of no untruth at all."
    - Augustine, On Christian Teaching

    You're welcome to have the last word.


  34. that is certainly a moving quote, Patricia. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks Dr Beck and Angie for replying - I'll be mulling over this.

    Angie, I'm not quite sure if I followed your message completely. I was referring to Paul's talk on why the resurrection is so essential; I was trying to see how George MacDonald's view of heaven and hell would affect the reading of that passage.

  35. If reconcilliation means "peace" then heaven would be when all is reconcilled. This is the resurrection of the "Body of Christ" in a metaphorical sense.

    But, the reality is not so easily negotiated, as we live in a diverse and complex reality. Different views of everything hold sway over the 'ideal" of reconcilliation. This is why metaphysics is useless, as far as I am concerned. Real problems deal with real complexity and negotiate to real solutions....not "metaphorical images". But, this is my personal preference. Others might find it helpful to use such terminology.

  36. Jesse,
    Another "problem", as I see it, is that theology, or any type of group thinking allows others to define your "ideals". Definitions are important for individuals themselves to evaluate and determine.

  37. I would highly recommend to you to take a listen to RC Sproul's latest podcast titled "Justice, Mercy, and Grace" in itunes.

  38. Mike, R.C. Sproul's treatment of these issues are reformed. And they answer the question of what is "good" with "God's will", which is "revealed in Scripture". This view is not any different than Islam's view. as Allah's will is to be done, even at the point of death. What is "good" is what is good, irregardless of one's faith commitments or lack thereof. But, such definitions have contexts that also assume particularity of values....

    Evangelicals and fundamentalists Christians believe that John 3:16 and Matt. 25 (the Great Commission) define what is "God's will". But, think about this for a moment; what kind of God would crucify his son willfully or even as an exchange in payment for sin? Would a loving parent do such a thing to save others? I don't believe so. Those that would believe that child sacrifice is needful for "salvation", also could be considered murderers, under our judicial system. And would they be? What if "God had spoken" to someone about sacrificing their son to save another? Would God do such a thing? Wouldn't most think that this person were psychotic?

    Even if you suggest that God sacrificed himself in Jesus, so it was self-sacrifice that was of the ultimate in demonstration of God's love, you are really suggesting that love is demonstrated by what one volutarily chooses to do with one's life. Whatever someone chooses to do with their life, irrespective of belief or unbelief, is the 'sacrifice of their life". What is "good" is what is pursued by that individual for their own life. It is no longer defined by theological reflection, but by the individual himself.

  39. "What kind of God would crucify his son willfully or even as an exchange in payment for sin?"

    I guess I'd just ask you to ponder how in the bible, this very truth is spoken as a "stumbling block" to those who don't believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20-30) The Jews rejected this idea for the exact reason you just mentioned.., and I believe for the same reason Muslims reject it (as well as all other faiths). Because the idea is "How could a holy, perfect God resort to such barbarian methods? The greeks struggled with it as well because to the 'wise' was 'foolish'.

    "How could a loving God do such a thing!?" But that's just the point. We are to come before God in great humbleness that while our works do NOTHING to merit ourselves before a perfect God; He has extended himself to us at his own sacrifice.

    I think you have to be carefull when trying to make direct comparisons between God's relationship with Christ; and a Human Father with a human son. I believe while specific truths can be learned about the character of God by doing this, it falls apart in other areas (such as what we're discussing). This is why Jesus did not "always" resort to "human relationships" in His parables but actually used parables of "Money" such as the parable of the two debtors in Luke 7, or the the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.

    -in love

  40. Mike,
    Jesus is said to have made the comparison of God. the father, to a human father, himself.
    "If you being evil, know how to give good gifts, then how much more does your heavenly father"....the comparions signifies that earthly fathers fall short of what would be considered 'goodness'...human or natural affection is not evil, as Romans says that "grevious days will occur where men will not have natural affection"....the natural state of man is not "evil", only limited.

    So, how do you understand such discrepancies in understanding child sacrifice?

    Some have understood the development of thought, as to God...

  41. Well, thats why i said "he does not 'always'. Also, you need to continue that verse. Jesus is not saying that God gives 'good gifts' as 'men give good gifts'. He's specifically talking about people who "request the Holy Spirit".

    I do believe that man does have an understanding of 'good'...but that understanding is grace upon mankind all together. Without God, no body would have that 'limited' understanding of goodness. But naturally...we are evil. (Romans 3:10-20) (Isaiah 1:9)

  42. Thank you.

    I've been reading MacDonad for a year now.

    I am still puzzled by "atonement" but, this was helpful.

    How then is Christ's sacrifice in death to be understood?

  43. Well, I guess you aren't going to tell me what the next line might be.

    On the other hand, you want to deal with "lap dogs."

    You say: "Do you at least admit to insulting the readers of this blog by calling them "lap dogs"? I've quoted you correctly there, right?"

    Actually, that is not an accurate quote. What you have done is to take these two words out of context. The beauty of that is that now you can make them say whatever you might wish. (Not an atypical strategy that many use when explaining the Bible either.) The actual quote of what I said is: "Or, are these drive by shootings of yours and your lap dogs here OK because you all just know what I meant."

    An objective read would show that I was not addressing your readers in toto; but, only the one or two who are guilty (IMHO, of course) of 'drive by shootings.'

    Well, with the context hopefully clarified, I do sincerely apologize. I am ashamed to have stooped that low. I do hope you will forgive me. Not that I am threatening you with more comments; but, I promise to try even harder in the future to avoid such despicable prose.

  44. I saw the results of people who allowed themselves to behave badly, because they were forgiven. I was a minister in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. We lived under grace, and made an enemy of the Jewish law . No matter how many times I pointed out the grace and mercy found in the law. No matter the emhasis of the hard work of being human. And no matter how much I said these things in love, they were taken as the Law, the enemy of grace. I left the church because their theology allowed people to remain stunted human beings, and not fully realized. I believe that true maturity looks more jewish in nature. Feet planted firmly on the ground, as opposed to having it so far in heaven, one is only concerned about their own salvation, and total control of other people. Growing up is good for a child. He no longer needs to hold the parents hand, he can also take responsibility for being a better person without having to be told to do so.

  45. I would very much like to believe what MacDonald and many of you believe about Hell being a corrective punishment through which to pass. I'm struggling with passages like Luke 13:22-30, however, and was hoping for some clarity from a believer. Any takers? It would mean the world to me.

  46. I think that Christ's own statement clearly defines the atonement, in John 15:13. It is as if the bible repeats itself endlessly in the necessity of substitutionary atonement with the whole Old Testament system of sacrifice and ritual being only a shadow of the work of Christ. We would all dearly love a God like the one MacDonald espouses, indeed he was a bit like that "in times past" when he winked at our sin. But there can be no more of that now, not after the work of Christ on the cross.

    I  am in agreement with MacDonald on some points though, particularlily the "cosmic" nature of the atonement in reconciling the world and his view of Heaven (the final chapters of Lilith). But a "great chasm" lies between he and I on the nature of the atonement.

    C. S. Lewis himself tries to redeem MacDonald from his Universalist views in the Great Divorce (I don't remember the exact passage.)

  47. Unlike a good portion of the people replying to this post I am heading the other direction and meeting you all here on my way out the other side of the room. I was raised in a certain universalist environment as a confused American Catholic, where substitutionary atonement was not even discussed, despite it being all through the liturgy and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. No one explained to me why Christ was crucified and resurrected until I was 16, long after I had gone through the rites of confession and communion. I would later graduate from a liberal arts college chartered and funded in the 19th century with the stipulation that there were never to be any religious courses. So I was nurtured and raised on humanism and psuedo-Christianity. As an adult I have veered away from that eternally gray area towards a more traditional or fundamental belief and view as a Christian.
    I very much like George MacDonald and understand his logic as well as that of the author of this post. But I still find a portion of it to be at odds with what I read in the Bible. To say that a loving God would not require sacrifice as tribute for our sin is to totally disregard the entire old testament where God requires constant animal sacrifice as atonement. To call that "pagan" is to be entirely confused as to the definition of the word "pagan". Pagan by definition is a blanket term attributed to non-Abrahamic religions. It was Abraham himself who prepared to sacrifice Isaac at God's behest. Granted that is something that Judaism shares in common with many pagan religions, but it cannot be described as a pagan thought.
    I would agree that we are not to rest on Christ's laurels and "sin so that grace may abound". But I believe our efforts to "sin no more" are to be in tandem with the perfect sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice we could not make ourselves. It is no coincidence that God has not required sacrifice from the Jews since Christ. He was the final and ultimate sacrifice. To deny that is to truly have created your own religion. I think too many recovering evangelicals and fundamentalists end up in this quandary where they don't necessarily believe in the doctrines of Christianity anymore but are afraid to leave the Faith entirely so they create this wonderful, utopian, middle ground where they are allowed to believe what they want to as loving, caring, modern, intellectual Christians. I lived there the first half of my life so I know it's quite comfortable. But it strikes me as "lukewarm, neither hot or cold" which puts one in greater peril than Christopher Hitchens I believe.
    If this sounds like accusation, I apologize. I am practicing a certain level of truth and honesty these days. I really enjoyed the post and ended up here as a George MacDonald fan. I believe he was foundational in confronting the flawed severity of 19th century Calvinism, and may have just over shot the mark with his stance on substitutionary atonement.
    God Bless you all and please forgive my grammar and spelling. It is late and I am lazy.

  48. Hi Dave

    I'm not sure whether you will get this reply given that it is 11 months later, but I think you may be confused as to the meaning of Old Testament sacrifices. In Judaism, they were never seen as acts of appeasement. Rather, they were symbolic acts that brought home to the sinner how terrible the sin was.

    The effect of the sacrifice was to bring about a broken and contrite heart in the person presenting it. This would bring them to a stet of repentance and utmost regret.

    If you don't believe me, simply ask a person of orthodox Jewish faith how they view sacrifice and how their forefathers viewed sacrifice.

    I've done that for you here:

    How do you feel when you partake of the sacrament of communion? Do you feel broken and deeply regretful of your sin? If so, that is exactly the point and is the very purpose of sacrifice of Christ.

  49. The doctrine of the atonement between God and mankind is fairly simple. Mankind sinned and lost his relationship with God. Jesus Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to make atonement for that sin. At his second coming he applies the benefits of the atonement to all of mankind and those who accept the sacrifice and forego sin enter into God's kingdom. Faithful Christians receive the benefit of the atonement before the remainder of mankind and before the establishment of God's kingdom on earth.

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