Sunday, June 11, 2006

Deep Magic

Exploring the writings of contemporary theologians on atonement, I came across articles by Edith Humphrey. She is from Montreal and taught for several years at Augustine College in Ottawa.

Here is a sample of her writing on atonement.

    When we try to ask questions about the necessity of the cross, about the necessity that the God-Man should die for us, words fail. Immediately as we say this, we remember that in the garden, Jesus had a choice, and that is what makes this act all the more wonderful. Rev. 5 speaks of the Lamb, the one who is given as Saviour and Spouse to God’s people, slain from the foundation of the earth.

    We are, to use the words of C. S. Lewis, in the realm of “deep magic”, “magic from the dawn of time.” Perhaps, shrinking from the numerous ways that this part of the story is told in the Scriptures, we want to ask, “Why wouldn’t the righteous, perfect life of the Last Adam be enough to effect reconciliation?” Many answers have been given to that, including the importance of God’s justice, and the like.

    We may want to speculate, along with a few of our elder brothers and sisters in the Church, that the incarnation might have been sufficient for God to share with us his glory, but because of the fall, the depth of human experience, crucifixion, death, and the utter descent, abandonment, had also to be plumbed. Or, to change the metaphor, the wages of sin is death; Or, to change the metaphor, the Lamb must be a slaughtered as well as a standing victorious Lamb.

    Sometimes contemporary theologians point to the multiplicity of images in Scriptures for this great mystery in order to relativise, or to avoid the pictures that they find uncomfortable. What a desolation! The effect of the pictures is to point to a truth that is deeper, not less disturbing or challenging than the stories we currently shy away from -- the atonement was more costly, not less, than a earthly sacrifice; the battle was more intense, not less, than a human conflict; the journey was more arduous, not less, than the toughest human exploration; the price paid was beyond all human reasoning.


    In the end, we go back again and again to Scripture, and to the enacted event of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the Eucharist, to be nourished and to have formed in us the mind of Christ. There, we see hear Paul and the gospels insisting on the historicity of what has been done for us, of God’s actions for Israel and through Messiah Jesus for the world, and of the mystery of Victory over sin and Death through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord. There we see them also glorying in the far-reaching aspects of this victory, a victory so deep and intimate that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, it declares innocent but also changes the person, each person who is in Christ, so that “glimpsed” glory becomes increasing glory.

    Both Paul in his letters, and John in his visions, bring together the different variations of the story, reminding us that we need all the pictures, all of them accentuated, each of the songs played with all the stops out, each story taken to its fullest climax, without being used to qualifying or nullify the another. In Romans 5:9-11, we hear these words:

      "9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

    Here Paul speaks of atonement as justification, as the effect of blood sacrifice, as the removal of God’s wrath, and as reconciliation. John, in his vision, shows to us the Lamb: the Lamb who is both Victim and Victor, the Lamb who Interprets the meaning of the world, opening the scroll of mystery, the Lamb who also Mystifies, showing things that are beyond our ken, the Lamb who makes his dwelling with us, and is to be our Spouse, and the Lamb who invites -- invites to the tree and water of life.

Note: That was a pretty short break. However, these are just things that I am reading, not part of the earlier story which was the first chapter of my blog. I guess I won't stop reading.