In recent years, it's been refreshing to perceive subtle changes in Christian thought - at least to my eyes. From an emphasis on blood atonement and the wrath of God, I have seen an increase in emphasis on the love of God for all of his children - the goodness of God and his mighty works in peoples' lives - gratitude to God for all he does for us. So, it is with dismay that I saw this article today called: What Jesus did — for us By John Roberts, in which the spectre of the atonement for mankind's assumed inherent sinfulness is once again raised and promoted - even celebrated. We'll blog about these ideas below, but here are a few snips from the article:
"Today we're going to look a bit deeper into the purpose of the Incarnation. We ask, "Why did the eternal Son of God become a man?" and the short answer is, "To atone for our sin and reconcile us to God."
"We are separated from God. We have no holiness before Him. We are entirely disposed to commit sin. We are therefore rightly condemned to eternal ruin. Each and all of us have hell as our certain destiny. Bad news, indeed. Very bad.
"...His holiness and love provided a just means to forgive our sin and reconcile us to Him, the great work of Christ that we call His "substitutionary atonement."
Click to read more
Should we fear God - or love him?
Finding The Urantia Book is for many like finding a cool spring in the middle of a dry, dusty desert. Reading this revelation from on high is refreshing and invigorating; one of the most soul-satisfying revelations is that of the loving and good nature of God as revealed in its pages. Like the article that I cited above here, many of us were raised to believe in a God that is quite different. It takes a lot of effort to find real love in these views of God:
The seemingly senseless God who would create a vast family of children in holiness and then condemn them to the stain of inborn sin;
the vengeful God whose idea of justice includes killing a highly favored innocent child for the sins of other, guilty ones;
the wrathful God who keeps a place of eternal torment for those guilty children who don't toe the line.
I think it's really a shame that so many people have fear of God. But with these kinds of ideas about God, who can blame people for being afraid of him? I was one of those, too. God was always a nebulous presence that seemed scary and not altogether rational. What is rational about killing an innocent child because a guilty one sinned? And how do we please such a god?
A wonderfully refreshing part of The Urantia Book starts right off the bat in PART I - all about God and his creation. Reading that part, I first became aware of the fact that God is a person...wait, what? God is a person? Yes, we learn in The Urantia Book that God is the "Father of personalities." Here's more about God's personality:
1:7.1 When Jesus talked about "the living God," he referred to a personal Deity—the Father in heaven. The concept of the personality of Deity facilitates fellowship; it favors intelligent worship; it promotes refreshing trustfulness. Interactions can be had between nonpersonal things, but not fellowship. The fellowship relation of father and son, as between God and man, cannot be enjoyed unless both are persons. Only personalities can commune with each other, albeit this personal communion may be greatly facilitated by the presence of just such an impersonal entity as the Thought Adjuster.
"Only a person can love and be loved."
And it suddenly made perfect sense to me, especially when I read more about that personality of God and also about the reality of personality itself. Here's a great link to our study on Personality that you might find instructive.
Knowing that God is a person with a personality is truly a revelation; now, it became possible to approach God, person-to-person. Trusting child to loving parent. Not only that, but the faith relationship that we establish between ourselves and our loving heavenly Father is one that bears fruit; it can be acted out - it can be lived, providing ample evidence in an individual life of the goodness of God. Such a relationship becomes the most important relationship possible for the child of God - a relationship of love with unlimited potential for growth.
How can one "act out" a belief in atonement, how can one live a life of progress and spiritual growth through fear of the unpredictable one who demands it?
1:6.8 God is spirit—spirit personality; man is also a spirit—potential spirit personality. Jesus of Nazareth attained the full realization of this potential of spirit personality in human experience; therefore his life of achieving the Father's will becomes man's most real and ideal revelation of the personality of God. Even though the personality of the Universal Father can be grasped only in actual religious experience, in Jesus' earth life we are inspired by the perfect demonstration of such a realization and revelation of the personality of God in a truly human experience.
When we know Jesus - when we hear him say that "He who has seen me has seen the Father," this is another huge evidence that God is a loving, tolerant, forgiving Father. Never in The Urantia Book do we see Jesus being anything less that a loving personality. He may become "indignant at sin" but he always loves the sinner.
Atonement - does it make sense?
Another of the greatest revelations of The Urantia Book for me was its teachings about the truth of the atonement doctrine. When I first read these teachings, it was as if I could finally exhale and relax a little bit. After all, the idea of the atonement is an idea that makes me pretty squeamish about God; but the book is abundantly clear on the subject of atonement. And when you read the passages about the love of God being a parental love, it's easy to see how a loving Father could never do what God's always been accused of.
The Urantia Book does not teach that mortals are separated from God; nor do the teachings of Jesus imply that we are inherently sinful, carrying some inborn sin that requires blood sacrifice to eradicate. These harsh doctrines are, in my view, primitive ideas carried over from primitive times, when blood sacrifice was thought to appease angry gods. With the arrival of The Urantia Book, we are given a view of God that is far more uplifting; a view that puts our minds at rest, clears up confusion, and helps all children of God recognize the family-centered, cosmic citizenship that we can all enjoy to the fullest.
From my own personal point of view, the atonement doctrine simply does not make sense, and is really a terrible confusion foisted upon the mind of mankind. If we posit a loving God, how can that loving Father condemn a child to eternal torment? How can a loving Father condemn an innocent child to die for other, sinful ones? Why does an eternal creator need vengeance? Can God do things that are not good?
Even if we compare this vision of God with a flawed human parent, how can we reconcile the idea that the wrathful God seems less compassionate than many earthly fathers? Shouldn't God be the model of fatherly love? If a human father would not do such awful things to his children, how do we accept this kind of belief about our Spirit Father - our Creator? In fact, the actions ascribed to God in the Old Testament might earn jail time for an earthly father in our 21st century world - and rightly so. The adolescent Jesus, when faced with the Scriptural ideas of the wrathful God, said to his father, Joseph:
125:0.6 "My father, it cannot be true—the Father in heaven cannot so regard his erring children on earth. The heavenly Father cannot love his children less than you love me. And I well know, no matter what unwise thing I might do, you would never pour out wrath upon me nor vent anger against me. If you, my earthly father, possess such human reflections of the Divine, how much more must the heavenly Father be filled with goodness and overflowing with mercy. I refuse to believe that my Father in heaven loves me less than my father on earth.”
2:6.1 In its true essence, religion is a faith-trust in the goodness of God. God could be great and absolute, somehow even intelligent and personal, in philosophy, but in religion God must also be moral; he must be good. Man might fear a great God, but he trusts and loves only a good God. This goodness of God is a part of the personality of God, and its full revelation appears only in the personal religious experience of the believing sons of God.
More sane advice for believers about the fallacy of atonement
From: The Goodness of God
Righteousness implies that God is the source of the moral law of the universe. Truth exhibits God as a revealer, as a teacher. But love gives and craves affection, seeks understanding fellowship such as exists between parent and child. Righteousness may be the divine thought, but love is a father's attitude. The erroneous supposition that the righteousness of God was irreconcilable with the selfless love of the heavenly Father, presupposed absence of unity in the nature of Deity and led directly to the elaboration of the atonement doctrine, which is a philosophic assault upon both the unity and the free-willness of God.
The affectionate heavenly Father, whose spirit indwells his children on earth, is not a divided personality—one of justice and one of mercy—neither does it require a mediator to secure the Father's favor or forgiveness. Divine righteousness is not dominated by strict retributive justice; God as a father transcends God as a judge
103:4.4 Jesus swept away all of the ceremonials of sacrifice and atonement. He destroyed the basis of all this fictitious guilt and sense of isolation in the universe by declaring that man is a child of God; the creature-Creator relationship was placed on a child-parent basis. God becomes a loving Father to his mortal sons and daughters. All ceremonials not a legitimate part of such an intimate family relationship are forever abrogated.
The death on the cross - what does it mean if not atonement?
That's a fair question. The horror of the cross of Jesus has always been seen as God's will so as to fulfill the sacrificial nature of the Son. In The Urantia Book, we discover that the death on the cross was not God's will for Jesus at all; nevertheless, when the death on the cross appeared to be the natural end of Jesus' life, the Father did desire that Jesus submit to his fate, and Jesus accepted that. He could have died of any number of maladies or even old age...but that was not how his life played out. The cross was his fate, but it was a fate decided by wicked men - not God.
The Urantia Book is entirely sympathetic to the idea of Jesus' devotion to this idea as the true meaning of that terrible death on the cross; its teachings set us straight and present us Jesus as devoted Savior, not sacrifice. In that section we learn:
The cross of Jesus portrays the full measure of the supreme devotion of the true shepherd for even the unworthy members of his flock. It forever places all relations between God and man upon the family basis. God is the Father; man is his son. Love, the love of a father for his son, becomes the central truth in the universe relations of Creator and creature—not the justice of a king which seeks satisfaction in the sufferings and punishment of the evil-doing subject
The triumph of the death on the cross is all summed up in the spirit of Jesus' attitude toward those who assailed him. He made the cross an eternal symbol of the triumph of love over hate and the victory of truth over evil when he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." That devotion of love was contagious throughout a vast universe; the disciples caught it from their Master. The very first teacher of his gospel who was called upon to lay down his life in this service, said, as they stoned him to death, "Lay not this sin to their charge."
Mortal man was never the property of the archdeceivers. Jesus did not die to ransom man from the clutch of the apostate rulers and fallen princes of the spheres. The Father in heaven never conceived of such crass injustice as damning a mortal soul because of the evil-doing of his ancestors. Neither was the Master's death on the cross a sacrifice which consisted in an effort to pay God a debt which the race of mankind had come to owe him.
Before Jesus lived on earth, you might possibly have been justified in believing in such a God, but not since the Master lived and died among your fellow mortals. Moses taught the dignity and justice of a Creator God; but Jesus portrayed the love and mercy of a heavenly Father.
Jesus lived and died for a whole universe, not just for the races of this one world. While the mortals of the realms had salvation even before Jesus lived and died on Urantia, it is nevertheless a fact that his bestowal on this world greatly illuminated the way of salvation; his death did much to make forever plain the certainty of mortal survival after death in the flesh.
If you are someone who has always had a niggling uneasiness about God - a tendency to fear him and be afraid of his wrath, I urge you to do a little reading about him in The Urantia Book. An excellent place to start is with Paper 1 of Part I - The Universal Father.
And after you've read about God, you'll find him anew in the life of our human brother, Jesus, in PART IV - the Life and Teachings of Jesus. And truly, once you have found out more about God in Part I and then see the Father by seeing Jesus in PART IV, your fear of our wonderful Father will evaporate.
Jesus told us that the truth would set us free - and that was one of his aims in coming here - to tell us the truth about the heavenly Father...the truth about our familial child/parent relationship with him. And when we finally know the truth about God (personified in Jesus), we are then free to live lives of originality and true freedom before him. We can actually partner with him through the ministry of his indwelling Spirit and co-create our lives with him - lives of joy, peace, truth, beauty, and goodness - not fear.
Jesus was always positive in his teachings; knowing this, we must also know that God the Father is a positive deity. There's little of the positive in the atonement doctrine, but a lot of sorrow...little of the goodness of God, but a lot of fear.
Isn't it time to put this tired doctrine to rest? The teachings of The Urantia Book - and the life of Jesus - give us abundant reasons to do so.