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Atonement

 

Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have
no imagination? —George Bernard Shaw, Saint Joan, Epilogue
The atonement—what a concept. Who wouldn’t like someone else to pick up the
tab for their every indulgence and transgression? However, no matter how good the
atonement sounds, no matter how much people want it to be true, the critical question is
whether it has a basis in revealed truth. Will the atonement be there on the Day of
Judgment for those who rely upon it for their salvation? Or will the untold billions of
anxious human souls be struck with downcast faces when God announces He never
promised any such thing?
Some believe that, should the atonement not be there for them on the Day of
Judgment, God will accept their apology. Others understand life to be a proving ground
for the hereafter, and that our books of deeds close when we die. After all, if an apology
on the Day of Judgment will suffice for salvation, what need for hell? For what sinner won’t offer sincere repentance when faced with the reality of God’s punishment? But
what weight will such an apology have, really? A righteous life demands denial of sinful
pleasures and sacrifice of time, effort and worldly priorities. Forgoing hedonistic delights
for the sake of honoring God testifies to a person’s faith. That testimony will have
weight. But what weight will a person’s repentance have on the Day of Judgment, when
the game is over, leaving no sins to be avoided, no worldly effort or compromise to be
made, no righteous life to be lived and, in short, no deeds to be performed which might
testify to a person’s faith?
So authenticating the atonement is of critical importance. If valid, it’s God’s
greatest blessing to mankind. But if false, the atonement has no more value than a forged
check—it may convey a sense of security and satisfaction as long as we carry it around in
our pocket, but the moment we try to cash it, it will prove worthless.  Who, then, authored the atonement? If God, we would be foolish not to endorse it.
But if authored by man, we would have to question the authority of those who claim to
speak for God, if not the prophets.
As discussed in the previous chapter, the chain of responsibility is clear in this
life. Both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Holy Qur’an, stress individual
responsibility and teach that nobody bears the burden of another’s iniquities. But where
does Jesus say his case is different? And if he was never crucified in the first place (as
discussed in previous chapters), the doctrine of atonement crumbles from the foundation.
Those who find satisfaction in the loose interpretation of the alleged words of the
disciples, Paul, and other para­prophet personages may not research their individual
codes of religion any further. Those who find firmer footing on the teachings of the prophets perceive that God promises nothing of good in the hereafter to those who duck
accountability to Him in this life. Jesus reportedly stated that belief, in and of itself, is not
sufficient for salvation: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the
kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
When asked how to achieve salvation, he reportedly taught, “But if you want to enter into
life [eternal life, that is—i.e., salvation] keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
But where in the New Testament did Jesus counsel his followers that they could
relax, for in a few days he would pay the price and they could all go to heaven on nothing
more than belief? Nowhere. For that matter, when Jesus was allegedly resurrected after
his alleged crucifixion, and returned to his disciples, why didn’t he announce the
atonement? Why didn’t he declare that he had paid for the sins of the world, past, present
and future, so now it’s time to party atonement­style? But he didn’t, and we should
wonder why. Could it be the atonement isn’t true? Could it be that someone scribbled
wishful thoughts into the margins of scripture?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
So where did the atonement come from in the first place? And would anyone be
surprised to hear the name, “Paul”? Another questionable doctrine coming from the same
questionable source? So it would seem. Acts 17:18 reads, “Then certain Epicurean and
Stoic philosophers encountered him [Paul]. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want
to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached
to them Jesus and the resurrection.”
Paul directly claims to have conceived the doctrine of resurrection as follows:
“Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). Sure enough, the concept of Jesus Christ dying for the sins
of mankind is found in the epistles of Paul (e.g., Romans 5:8­11 and 6:8­9), and nowhere
else. Nowhere else? Not from Jesus? Not from the disciples? Is it possible they neglected
the critical details upon which Christian faith rests? Curiouser and curiouser!—as Alice
would say.
At this point, discussion should properly return to the law, for nobody can be
faulted for suspecting that someone played fast and loose with the design of Christian
thought. Jesus, being a Jew, lived by Old Testament (Mosaic) Law. Among his recorded
teachings are, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew
19:17), and, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come
to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one
jot [Greek Iota—the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet] or one tittle [a stroke or dot] will
by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17­18). Some apologists
assert that all was “fulfilled” upon the alleged death or resurrection of Jesus, allowing the
laws to be restructured subsequently. But that reasoning doesn’t work, for every Christian
believes Jesus will return to vanquish the Antichrist close to the Day of Judgment. So if
Jesus’ mission upon planet Earth is the endpoint, all has not yet been fulfilled. More
likely, “all being fulfilled” is exactly what any sensible person would assume it to mean:
the conclusion of worldly existence at the Day of Judgment. And referencing the above
quote, the heaven and earth have not yet passed away. Furthermore, there’s no sign of a
returned Jesus on the horizon. Yet two thousand years ago, Paul said that not just a jot or
a tittle, but the entire law has changed.

 

 

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