The Old Time Religion proclaims that Jesus atoned for our sins through his death on the cross. The logic goes as follows:
- We are crippled by the original sin of Adam and Eve, so…
- we are destined to live less-than-perfect lives, which means that, inevitably…
- we will suffer divine punishment for our wayward ways.
- Yes, God is forgiving, but the divine sense of justice means God can’t ignore our sinfulness, so…
- the only way out for us is for a sacrificial lamb, namely God’s son, to pay the price for our sins, and die for us so that we don’t have to.
This logic made sense in a primitive Jewish society in which blood sacrifice was understood as the means to atone for sin, but it no longer has meaning for people of our time. If the Christian message is to continue to bring life, it must be retold in language that makes sense to people who no longer believe in an anthropomorphised supernatural being who harbours anger and is prone to punishing people for their moral misdemeanours, demanding sacrifices to mollify the divine wrath..
Instead, let’s deconstruct the word, atonement, to at-one-ment. If sin is estrangement from God, then perhaps at-one-ment describes the restoration of our relationship with the Divinity, i.e. once again at one with G-O-D. This certainly seems more attuned to modern thinking, but it is still hard to understand how the mechanism of crucifixion restores the relationship.
Jesus said that to gain the Kingdom of God (another term that will need to be defined), one must be ‘perfect’ or whole or complete, i.e. ‘at one’; no longer fragmented. Lao Tzu once said that to know oneself is to know God, which psychoanalyst Carl Jung also believed to be true: to be at-one with oneself is to be at-one with G-O-D, Christians believe that Jesus modelled the complete human being, that is, he was the picture of at-one-ment.
At-one-ment is not something that anyone, including Jesus, can provide for us; however, he did demonstrate what it looks like, and invited us to follow, saying: (s)he who would save his/her life will lose it, but (s)he who loses his/her life will gain it. The path to the cross was a symbolic statement of this key to life; to at-one-ment.