Photo credit- Pinterest
Atonement is one of those words you’ll likely hear in church or see on Christian blogs. But what does it mean? Surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) atonement is attached to a few controversies within Christianity. My goal here isn’t to exhaust those controversies but instead to simply explain what the word atonement means, as well as to give you a picture of atonement.
Simply put, the word atonement means reconciliation.
It refers to the condition of being one with others. More specifically atonement is a reference to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made in order to reconcile sinners to a holy God. Wayne Grudem summarizes this well when he says, The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation. It might be best to illustrate atonement and tell the story of atonement. Consider Mark 10:45.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –Mark 10:45
What does it mean that Jesus gave his life as a ransom?
In order to answer that question we need to go back…way back…back to the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 1:29 we see the Fatherly heart of God. He has given the first couple everything they need. If they need it, God has provided it. Genesis 1 is the wide angle picture of the creation account and Genesis 2 is the more personal encounter. In Genesis 2 , as the camera pans in on Adam, we see his need for a suitable helper. This need is fulfilled by God. Genesis 2:18-25 is a picture of God fulfilling what he said in Genesis 1:29 . Everything they need will be provided by God.
In Genesis 3 we find something the first couple does not have. And the serpent magnifies it. He shines a spotlight on the thing which they do not yet have. They do not yet know the difference between good and evil. And the serpent uses this lack to convince them that their Father is ripping them off. The serpent suggests how they can get what they lack.
In this moment the goodness of God is questioned. “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father”, and the serpent questions this. He convinces Eve, and later Adam, that there is something good which has not been given to them. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. This is his not so subtle way of saying, “If you want something you’ve got to take it yourself”. The serpent wedged his cloven hoof into the heart of man and woman, dug in a little, and created a void in their heart. Then he said, “I’ll tell you how to fill it”.
Their story is our story.
An important point in the story happens in verse 7 of Genesis 3 :
The eyes of both are opened, and they know that they are naked.
Let that statement sit there for a moment. Pretend that you do not know the story.
But you do know that story, don’t you? You know that story because it is our story.
What will Adam and Eve do at that moment when they feel their emptiness? What will happen when their brokenness cries out to them? What happens when your eyes are open to not only your brokenness but also the shame and guilt that come with sin?
What do you do when the guilt of fudging the numbers on your taxes starts to creep up? What do you do when you sought out love and affection on a computer screen? What do you do when you’ve gotten a little too close to that co-worker of the opposite sex? What do you do when you blow it as a mommy or daddy? What do you do when your eyes are opened and the shame and guilt of failing is nagging at you? What do you do? Where do you go? How do you get the nag to go away? How do you get that conscience to quiet?
The answer to these questions is related to the word atonement.
What you are longing for in those moments after you’ve fallen is atonement.
The English word is a combination phrase originally meaning “at-one-ment” or “at-one-with.” It means that you feel in every bit of your being the fracture in our relationship with God and you desire for it to be made right. That doesn’t mean you desire God, necessarily. But it means that you are created in the image of God and you know things are not as they were meant to be.
So, what did Adam and Eve do in that moment? “And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” They were laid bare before each other and before the Creator of the universe. Their solution shows us how deeply sin had already penetrated their hearts. They did not think of going to the Father who said he would provide everything they need. Instead, they attempted self-atonement.
And we have been doing the same thing ever since.
But it doesn’t work……. to be continued