Sunday, October 19, 2014
The PSA and why we might be afraid to ask God questions.
I just read Randal Rauser's blog post, "Is there still a place to tremble before God?" It got me thinking about the Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) theory, how I think it goes off course, and how it results in a bad view of God, which inhibits us from asking theological questions. The PSA says that Jesus was punished for our sins in our place, and that this somehow fulfills justice. This is a difficult doctrine to defend, because it violates our basic idea of justice - a person is punished for their own crimes or sins, not somebody else's. We make exceptions when it comes to paying somebody else's fine for them. But we wouldn't tolerate the idea of imprisoning or executing an innocent person instead of a guilty one and consider that some kind of justice. So why do we tolerate the idea when considering the Atonement? We might try to justify it in all sorts of ways, but I think the bottom line is that we end up with an unjust and angry God. And who would want to ask that kind of God any questions? He might get really ticked off and zap us off the face of the earth.
I think the PSA is a misunderstanding of what was trying to be achieved in the sacrificial system of Israel. The sin offering was not a substitute for punishment. It was a way to remove sin, either from the Tabernacle and the holy things in it, or from the priests, or from the people. It absorbed their sins, or the contamination of their sins, onto itself. Then it was sacrificed, and its carcass burned outside of the camp. Or on the Day of Atonement, the one goat was driven out into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people on itself. So the sacrifice wasn't being offered as a substitute for punishment, but as a way of removing and destroying sin.
At this point someone might object, but isn't God still being unjust? Afterall, the sacrificial animal didn't do anything to deserve being slain for somebody else's sins. And that is true. It is innocent and doesn't deserve to be killed. But the point is that God isn't trying to achieve justice. God is trying to get rid of sin from our lives. From His point of view, sin is like snake venom coursing through our veins, slowly killing us. And the idea is to figure out a way to get rid of it without killing us. The animal sacrifice was a foreshadowing of the Messiah, who's death was a way to absorb our sins into Himself and destroy them. It might not have been fair to Him to endure this, but it was something He did willingly. And God raised Him from the dead and promises to raise us all, also, if we have faith in His Messiah.
Anyway, once our atonement theory is corrected, we no longer have an unjust and angry God who won't tolerate questions. He just won't tolerate sin.