"BLOOD." Are you washed in it? Under it? Covered by it? Plunged into it whereby you have your guilty stain removed forever? That has been the "good news" message for a really long time for Catholics, some in mainline denominations, evangelicals, and fundamentalists. Our hymnody, with what is referred to as the "blood hymns," has impressed such thoughts deep within our psyche. Few of us can think very long about the atonement without having the idea of Jesus shedding his blood for our sin ease into our thoughts.
I once heard someone express the notion that Jesus was not killed nor was he executed. No one would really be able to do that to him. Rather, he chose to die. He purposely went to the cross in a horrible act of suffering so that all who choose to trust him and believe that he died for us might be made right with God.
Question: If Jesus taught non-violence as the ultimate description of what the reign of God is to be like on earth, then why is this atonement matter so directly connected to an act of unspeakable violence? If Jesus is a decisive image of God, then how does it square that he reveals God's love and grace through such a brutal happening?
I know........many will say that sin is such an atrocious reality that it has knocked all of humanity off course and it takes this kind suffering and sacrifice in order for sin's offensiveness to be cleared in the presence of God and for our course to once again be set.
But I still must ask, "Why this?" "Why this way?" Is God not capable of simply saying, "I forgive?"
For a period of time now those folk who express themselves as feminists or as individuals of color aching for a way of equality, of peace, of reconciliation have slowly been teaching that God is capable of simply forgiving and that concludes the transaction. We are at one with God. The off-shoot of this theory is that we are to turn in reconciliation toward one another. God's acceptance of us mandates our acceptance of all our brothers and sisters.
Yes, Jesus did have a date with pre-mature death. In the very essence of his teachings he expresssed that God is God and Caesar is not. Two thousands years ago, that could get you killed. A cross was his destiny and we must reckon with that and try to understand why it happened.
Next, I will seek to articulate my own personal understanding of the atonement; an explanation that is always subject to change a bit. And then I will try to state how I think Jesus himself looked at this whole matter.