The first issue for me is that of the story of the scriptures. I do not find, in either the gospel writers or Paul, a preoccupation with the idea of atonement. In general the theories are developed by taking a verse here and a verse there. The theories appear, to me, to be a reading into scripture rather than a reading from scripture. Ah, woe with me - it is ever thus - that I struggle with doctrine that does not necessarily involve a clear and straight forward reading of scripture. I have a tendency to feel that we take a very human issue and then read it into the scriptures to develop theories and doctrines. I believe that scriptures are not so much about the brain stuff as they are about a way of living for which we were created leading to wholeness and vitality.
And that is part of my issue with the theories of atonement. I don't think it is God's issue. I think it is ours. Ransom, Satisfaction, Penal Substitution etc. I think they stem from our own understandings of justice and our sense of unworthiness. I feel they devalue the amazing gift and strength of God's love. They develop out of our own sense of needing balance and payment. They do not allow for the fact that God's ways are not our ways. I believe that our biggest sin is shown in these theories. Our biggest sin is that we cannot accept fully God's free gift of grace and then live it out in our lives. We don't have enough faith in God and God's ability to have made us capable of following God out of and through love once we accept the freely and lavishly given gift of grace. And in the end, I believe they also demean that other freely given and beautiful gift - free will.
So how do I see the Incarnation and the Passion. I really don't know. It is something with which I struggle and more so at this time of year. I see the gospel stories as they are written. When it comes to the passages most pertinent for this time of year I see Jesus' passion and willingness to face the cross coming out of his love for God and for his people (meaning in the long run of time - for us). He had strong convictions stemming from his understanding of and relationship to God. He was willing to die for them. The resurrection shows that God will not be silenced and there is nothing we can do that will silence or defeat God.
At the base of all this is God as love. I keep going back to 1 John 4. I do so love that passage. God is love. The Incarnation is a manifestation of that love - God so loved the world (John 3:16). God gave the Law. God sent the prophets. Our hardness of heart prevented us from seeing those gifts fully and from responding. So God sends the Son. Pure love. In the Son, God gives us actions to fill out the words. God shows us what the Law and prophets attempted. We learn how to live in love with God and with each other. We learn that it can be done. But our own hardness, greed, and self centeredness - our own lack of faith in God and God's way - lead us to respond with blind violence - the cross. And out of that God's great love continued. Still God did not wash God's hands of us. Whereas we chose only to exercise our power of death, God chose to exercise God's power of life. Our puny attempts could not contain or limit God's love. The empty tomb and appearances of Jesus are proof to that.
For me, this is the beautiful story of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection. It is not atonement but Love. For me, the theories of atonement speak of our brokenness and inability to freely accept God's wondrous and vast gift of love and grace rather than the love and beauty that is God. Instead we cheapen this beautiful gift by instilling human ways and values up on it. Because we have been conditioned that there be balance and payment of debts and punishment for wrongs, we insist that the cross also have these meanings. And maybe our own sense of unworthiness plays into this. We are not worthy of so great a sacrifice of love on God's part. There has be a reason of more than just love for the cross. There has to be something that makes us worthy of God's love. Have I got news for each and everyone of us. We will never, never be worthy of God's great love. Never!!! We are too human, too broken. But this makes God's free gift of grace all the more great, powerful and awesome. Freely given out of love for us, bearing all the consequences of our brokenness so that we might learn and have life and have it abundantly. The Passion, Cross and Resurrection are solely and simply an outpouring of God's pure love for us. They are the actions of God willing to work through our brokenness to bring us the promise of and way to the fullness of life here and now and ever after.
Love and Prayers,
Love and Prayers,
(PS. I also believe that our preoccupation with sin, punishment, etc stem from a huge lack of faith in God and an extreme sense of self centeredness, but that may be a topic for another day).