Atonement as Blood Covering, A Fresh Understanding? 17 November

On Sunday evening I was talking ‘Atonement’ with assorted Derby clergy who do beer and theology once a month. I was presenting an understanding that the central problem with sin is the wounds we inflict on others. God deals with this by a covering of blood like a scab covering a wound to enable healing and prevent festering.

‘There goes my theology!’ said one Minister half-joking. He described himself as less Conservative Evangelical than he has been. He recognised that the ‘Blood Covering’ understanding has claims to be more Biblical than the classic Evangelical view.

‘Why haven’t I heard this before?’ asked a fired-up Minister’s spouse. He was aghast that he was hearing a Bible truth which he thought many others needed to have heard before. 

This understanding comes from Leviticus 16, the instructions for the Annual Dealing With Sin – Yom Kippur. ‘Kippur’ means, simply and literally, ‘covering.’ The blood makes a Covering, v 27. (‘Kippur’ was spread over the inside and outside of Noah’s Ark to prevent it leaking. There kippur is usually translated ‘pitch.’ A covering which protects, preserves, makes good.) When Wycliffe was translating into English he didn’t want to translate kippur as ‘covering’ (not sure entirely why not) so he invented a new word: ‘at-one-ment.’ For years we have thought that the blood ‘makes atonement’ whereas the Hebrew is more literally that the blood is ‘for covering.’ This has been known in theological circles for a long time. 

Where do we see blood covering? Blood is released by a wound and then covers the wound to form a scab. This covering by blood enables healing, repair, reconstruction, to take place under the covering. The covering by blood stops infection from entering the wound and hindering healing. (Similar to the pitch-covering stopping the waters of chaos from seeping into and damaging the ark.) Is this the fundamental understanding of what is happening to the sins of the people? Their wounds, especially the wounds they have inflicted on others, are covered by God-given blood so that healing and repair can happen, without the world, the flesh and the devil hindering the process of healing? This likening of the Covering by blood to the formation of a scab is probably a new insight.

A further insight from the Hebrew, which I have not fully thought through, is that the covering happens in the Holy of Holies, the blood being placed specifically on the top to the covenant box. We are used to this top as the ‘mercy seat.’ The Hebrew word is ‘kaporet.’ The same ‘kpr’ root as ‘kippur.’ The NRSV translation rightly notes that the Hebrew is literally the ‘cover.’ The blood–covering is placed on the cover. Does the blood renew the cover, annually? Is this like a damaged scab being renewed with more blood, covering the parts which have become exposed? 

Implications of ‘Blood Covering’ as how God deals with sin:

The primary focus is on what the blood covers rather than on the relationship between humankind and God. The primary problem with sin is that humans wound each other. This damage provokes God to anger, as any parent is angry against someone hurting their child. The anger means that there has to be a distance between God and the wounder. But the rift with God is not dealt with directly, even by an intermediary, leaving the wounds untouched. The rift with God is dealt with by the blood which covers and heals the wounds. Once the wounds are on the way to being healed, God’s anger can pass and the relationship with Him is restored. 

On the cross Jesus was pouring out His blood to cover all the wounds inflicted by humanity, thereby bringing healing, repair, to those wounds. By Hs stripes we are healed. The blood which oozes from cuts all over Jesus’ body, covers not the wounds to His skin and tissue, but the wounds we have inflicted on other people. On the Cross Jesus was extending His ministry of healing. He had demonstrated Himself as the Healer par excellence. As he died, His blood, His life, was made available for wound/injury-healing for everyone, everywhere. There is a clear connection between Jesus ministry and death, which are often separated in other understandings of the cross.

The world, the flesh and the devil try to make wounds fester. Festering wounds, in people’s bodies, hearts, communities, nations, are the work of evil, trying to hinder the work of God through Jesus. How much do we see this in our world, our news?

The blood stops the forces of festering. The wounds are then healed gradually. Jesus’s blood covers once and for all. ‘Under the blood’ the Holy Spirit works gradually to heal, repair, sanctify. The work of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with Jesus is seen to be integral. Other understandings of the cross don’t see the Holy Spirit as integral to the process.

The primary focus on the wounds we have inflicted (rather than on the rift in our relationship with God which is a consequence of the wounds) is the same as the Biblical focus in Judgement on ‘according to their deeds.’ (Mth 25:31-46 Sheep and goats, Rev 20:12,13 and many other places.) We are not judged for what we believe or how we have related to God. We are judged according to what we have done. (This goes against the understanding that idolatry is the central problem in humanity.) All of us have injured some people. That is our central problem to which we have to face up. (Our good deeds are irrelevant. The common view that the good deeds outweigh the bad is like making a defence in court on a stabbing charge by saying ‘I’ve donated millions to charity.’ What else we have done is not the point.) Have we inflicted injury? Was it our responsibility? How are we going to put it right? Those are the central questions. We need Jesus to put it right, heal the wounds we have inflicted, by faith in His blood shed on the cross. (Idolatry can and does lead to us wounding others and thinking it is justified for the sake of all kinds of false gods. Idolatry is a malign influence, but the wounds which idolatry justifies are the core problem. Think someone walking by on the other side because their understanding of religious purity, or of bad events being God’s will / punishment, trumps the need to help the injured traveller.)

This understanding answers the exact question ‘What does it mean that Christ died for our sins?’ ‘Christ died to cover our sins, the wounds we have inflicted on others, like a scab covers a wound, ensuring that, in the end, the wound is healed. Christ’s death, Christ’s blood, means that all sins are covered, ultimately healed.’ The classic Evangelical understanding says ‘Christ died for me. He died in my place. He took the anger of God so that it doesn’t come to me.’ This is answering a slightly different question: ‘What does it mean that Christ died for me?’ The Evangelical answer says my sins caused God’s wrath but leaves me in a good place and my sins untouched.

The primary focus on the wounds we have inflicted also echoes the ‘Life Review’ in Near-Death Experiences. This Review enables us to see and to feel all the wounds we have inflicted, so that we can acknowledge responsibility for them and have them healed by the Being of Light.

Is the Blood Covering understanding a fresh insight? Has the connection between covering by sacrificial blood and covering by a scab been made before?

Can the Blood Covering understanding be said to be more Biblical than the classic Evangelical understanding?

Please comment!

Roger Harper

 

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Please comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: